With 50 majors, 47 minors, 24 interdisciplinary certificates and hundreds of classes offered at Duke—that’s 437,989 unique academic combinations, according to the Duke website—choosing a path for the next four years may seem rather daunting. As freshmen gear up to register for classes and begin to plan the next four years, we thought it worthwhile to reflect on navigating the myriad academic offerings at Duke and how to choose the “right” courses—if indeed they exist.
A brief perusal of the course catalog on ACES might yield curiosity piquing courses like “Anime: Forms and Mutations,” “Drugs and the Law,” particularly relevant to those Northwestern states, or “Nuclear Weapons” for those interested in international relations. With unexpected courses like these, perusing the course catalog is not unlike shopping on your favorite online sites—there is even a “bookbag” option to add more classes to your wishlist than is physically possible to take. As you first amass your list and then begin to whittle it down, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
First, though subject matter is a seminal factor in choosing a course, getting the most out of a class often transcends the chemical reactions to be memorized or the papers to be written. Professors, for example, can greatly alter the experience of a course. Some professors rely on lectures and powerpoints and others focus on discussions. Some pose more questions than they answer and others provide facts and reactions to memorize. Finding a professor whose teaching style resonates with you and whose enthusiasm for the subject slowly infects you is important not only for engaging with the material in the classroom but also for developing mentors and friendships beyond the classroom walls. Online tools such as RateMyProfessor and talking to upperclassmen can provide initial starting points for finding professors, but going to office hours, even for professors you have never met before, can be invaluable.
For those who have yet to declare their majors—in particular the incoming class of 2018—the first years are an opportunity to explore different disciplines. Perhaps, in high school, you were the math whiz, the next Nobel Prize physicist or the Shakespeare reincarnate, and you have already decided which major to pursue. To prematurely close off potential paths or to choose classes simply for an easy A would be to miss the value of a liberal arts education. A documentary studies course may stoke new passion, a math course may reverse the post-high school “never again” mentality and a decision to enroll in a neuroscience class might provide a new perspective on your interest in economics. Exploring new disciplines through classes can reinvigorate preexisting passions or change an undergraduate trajectory altogether.
With hundreds of courses to choose from, the challenge will be whittling the class roster to just four or five, rather than struggling to find classes to fill the day.
Editor’s Note: This editorial was written by members of staff rather than The Chronicle’s independent editorial board.