We all have that one class. For many of my friends, it was chemistry or calculus or Econ 100. And for me, it was taking the Advanced Biology sequence the first quarter of my first year at UChicago.
Looking back, the signs were all there. I had been warned by numerous upperclassmen before the school year had even begun, many of whom were finishing the biology major themselves, to drop the class as soon as possible. When the quarter started, I went through three lab partners, as one by one they decided that they didn’t want to devote so much of their time to one subject at the expense of their other classes, being active in RSOs, and enjoying a social life in college. I insisted on taking the class anyway, and regretted every moment.
Now, I’m not saying that Advanced Biology (or chemistry, or calculus, or econ for that matter) is a horrible course. I’m not saying that any of these are hard classes, either. Obviously, each person has different strengths, and sometimes classes can be surprisingly easy or difficult depending on your skillset. For me, the first couple weeks of Advanced Biology were overwhelming; it felt like everyone else had a better grasp of the molecular biology we were studying, while I was always slightly behind. Yet, for many others sitting in the same room as I was, the class was rewarding. They felt like they were taking the first steps in pursuing a lifelong career in biology.
Now, I know what you, an incoming student to the University of Chicago, are thinking: “Well, I have had a lot of experience taking difficult classes in high school, so I can handle anything this place throws at me!” Or perhaps you’re on the other end of the spectrum: “Everyone here seems to be so much smarter than me; how will I ever be able to manage?”
Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, the experience I had with Advanced Biology is extremely common here at UChicago. As we all come to one place from different backgrounds, histories, and experiences, it follows that we will have varying levels of comfort in different areas of learning. And don’t forget: Nine times out of 10, the “smart” kids in your classes are just better at nodding confidently at the professor than you are. Just ask my Advanced Biology classmates who, despite seeming to understand everything during lecture, still struggled to complete the P-sets just as much as I did.
Throughout our four years at UChicago, we hope to take our varying talents and use them to find the subject matter that interests us the most, which ends up shaping our majors and later, our careers. But what about *now*? How can we make sure we’re taking the right classes at the beginning of our college careers, instead of struggling through dozens of classes we can’t stand?
No need to panic! There is a very simple way to customize your time here so that it is the most fulfilling and rewarding for you: adding and dropping classes.
Seriously, it’s that easy!
Dropping classes was not a thing at my high school, so I wasn’t comfortable at first with what felt like just “giving up” on a class. I considered myself a driven student and was willing to devote every waking hour to Advanced Biology rather than dropping it first week and moving on simply because doing so felt like admitting defeat.
Ultimately, I didn’t even do badly in the class, but I came to realize that, especially at UChicago, the grade isn’t the only thing that matters. We have hundreds upon hundreds of subjects, courses, and professors to choose from: Why spend a quarter or a year taking a class I don’t even like, when there are so many other things I could be learning? Within the biology major alone, there are multiple different sequences to take instead of Advanced Biology. I chose to opt out of the winter quarter continuation of the sequence, and instead took some classes that not only challenged me, but actually made me feel happy as well.
At UChicago, add/drop lasts for the first three weeks of each quarter, so you can switch up your classes without any penalty. (Just remember, some classes—such as language classes—need to be added in the first week of the quarter, but can still be dropped for the first three weeks.) If you dislike a class, feel free to drop it and add another one. If you think that your placement in a class wasn’t high enough and you want to be challenged more, it’s easy to request to take a harder class. The whole process is efficient and there are no questions asked if you decide to drop a class—you don’t even have to talk to the professor if you don’t wish to.
I recommend using add/drop to your advantage. If you’re trying to add a fourth class to your schedule, consider “sampling” multiple classes by sitting in on them (after asking the instructor for permission, of course) and then decide which one to add based on what seems the most interesting. Conversely, if you’re a first-year unsure if you can handle a four-class schedule, start by taking four classes and, if necessary, simply drop the fourth class a week or two into the quarter. Keep in mind, in order to be considered a full-time student at UChicago (which is likely a condition to your financial aid), you must be taking at least three classes a quarter.
Good luck to all of our new students at UChicago! I hope this is a place where you can thrive, take command of your schedule, and truly come to enjoy!