The Bowdoin experience extends well beyond academics, but a large part of college is unavoidably spent in the classroom—a Bowdoin student with four classes will spend on average 12 hours in class per week, and much more than that hitting the books in the Hawthorne-Longfellow or Hatch Libraries.
The days of evenly-spaced periods of history, math, science and English are over: you are no longer obligated to have a well-rounded schedule. It is well worth your time and effort to put some thought into choosing courses first semester. This is the time to experiment with new disciplines and to see what you like and what you don’t; try not to confine yourself to the handful of departments you liked most in high school.
Though some first years may have mapped out your whole life in seventh grade and already know exactly what you will be taking all eight semesters of college, most will be going into first semester with only a hazy idea of where your academic interests lie.
Find below a few thoughts on how to figure it out:
The critical factor in course selection. Classes with fascinating descriptions can be mind-numbing and awful when entrusted to a boring professor. Conversely, the most eccentric, niche courses taught by a passionate and engaged professor often end up being the ones you will enjoy and remember.
If you’re having trouble narrowing your list down to four, ask upperclassmen for advice, starting with the proctors in your dorm. Go through the course reviews on the Bowdoin Student Government’s website.
Keep in mind that it’s not a com- prehensive database and some reviews are outdated, so it’s a good idea to double-check with someone in person. Online reviews tend to oscillate between extremes—those who post reviews probably took the time to do so because they had either a fantastic or terrible experience and wanted to encourage or dissuade others from making the same choice.
The first professor you will likely interact with is your pre-major adviser, and you’ll probably be able to tell what kind of resource he or she will be pretty quickly.
Some professors will tell you exactly what courses they think you should take; others will let you to chart your own course and only give advice if you ask for it.
My pre-major advisor of the latter sort, and I personally found it very frustrating that he didn’t do much more than sign my forms. If you find yourself in a similar situation: fear not! Use it as an excuse to get to know other professors who can fill that role.
Meeting Bowdoin’s requirements is pretty painless. It’s really just three, maybe four classes that you will have to budget out time for—the rest can be taken care of in the course of completing your major, and the first year seminar is mandatory.
People will tell you that you have to finish the distribution requirements by sophomore year; this is a suggestion, not a rule. I’m a junior and have yet to fulfill my natural sciences requirement. If you aim to get one out of the way each semester, you should be in the clear come senior year.
If timing is everything for you, you can probably make it work so that you never have class before 11:30 a.m. If you’re really strategic, and do not plan on taking science classes, you may never have to set foot in a classroom on a Friday.
Figure out what you want the structure of your day to be, which will automatically help you narrow down classes. But let that be a guideline, not a hard and fast rule; a great professor, or a class you are psyched about taking is worth waking up a bit early for.
Lastly, but most importantly, nothing is written in stone until the end of add/drop period. If you go to a class on the first day and get a bad vibe, or see the syllabus and realize it’s not quite what you thought it would be, switch into another class. Fifteen weeks is a long time to be studying for tests and writing papers on a topic that doesn’t interest you. The semesters when I was too lazy to follow that advice have been my least favorite at Bowdoin.
More advice on choosing classes from upperclassmen
“As a freshman, avoid taking two classes in the same department in the same semester...Ask your advisor what class (in another department) they wish they could take. Be it because the material looks interesting, the professor is one of their best friends, or they always harbored a secret desire to learn about something like archaeology or volcanoes, it will be good advice. Don’t waste a Credit/D/Fail in your first two semesters. Seriously.”
—Drew Zembruski ’13
“Take the time and go to each building you have a class in, to make sure you know where to go when class time rolls around.”
—Joe Sise ’14
“Take a wide variety of classes at the beginning. Even if you know exactly what you want to major in and which prerequisites you have to take early, it is definitely worth it to embrace your first semester of college by trying a bunch of different things. Fill a distribution requirement, take an unexpected intro class, and do something just for fun. If you’re like me you will discover a department you had never considered trying before, and end up minoring in it.”
—Emma Johnson ’14