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Bookbagging, advising and stress, oh my!

While the end of October marks the culmination of one spooky season, yet another is just beginning for us here at dear old Duke. The start of bookbagging for the Spring semester is a stressful time for many, riddled with unease and uncertainty as students wade through DukeHub searching for the perfect schedule. Tis’ the season when Google searches for “T-recs?” spike, students frantically cross-check RateMyProfessors for red flags and the frustration of adhering to a ‘Long Range Plan’ reasserts itself. For seniors, the thrill of finally being first or second to register competes with the bittersweet reality of their final semester. Meanwhile, underclassmen will find plenty of relatable meme content to soothe the pain of watching every class in their bookbag fill with upperclassmen. 

Though these decisions about what to take next semester are in many respects personal, the calculus that informs them is constantly clouded by the ideas, opinions and priorities of others that compete for dominance as we go book-bagging. We are pressured by the administration and our advisors to “explore new horizons,” “to branch out” and to “take advantage of new opportunities” through Duke’s extensive liberal arts curriculum. At the same time, grad schools and summer programs alike are constantly reminding us not to neglect our GPAs, creating a stressful, seemingly irresolvable conflict during scheduling.

Amidst this chaos and emotion, the two weeks offered between the start of book-bagging and class registration, nonetheless, provide a rare opportunity for reflection and for growth. It forces us to confront both our anxieties and our ambitions as we decide how best to reconcile them. While getting input from as many advisors, upperclassmen, alums, family members and friends on what classes to take may be helpful, it is worth taking time to consider your own personal goals. Maybe this takes the form of a long-term ambition, like going to graduate school, in which case carefully choosing your classes might be the most important thing. Perhaps instead there is a project you have been working on, a certain topic you would like to learn more about, or a professor you have been waiting to get to know better. Regardless of where you fall, there are a multitude of options to get what you want most out of the upcoming semester, beyond searching for courses.

Overloading, for example, is not only for the serially ambitious. Plenty of course combinations make for a manageable five-class semester. Similarly, consider the possibility of adding a half-credit course to engage with a subject in a more casual setting, or taking a class at a neighboring university—the cost is included in your tuition! For classes that look more interesting, but are incompatible with your GPA goal, auditing is always a possibility, as is the opportunity to take the class pass/fail. Creating an independent study to explore a particular subject of interest could also be worthwhile. Although it is not necessarily advertised well, undergraduates also have the opportunity to take graduate classes both in their majors and at other schools—for example, the law school. 

With so many possibilities and so much information being flung from all directions, it can be hard to make sense of the best path moving forward into the Spring of 2019. Certainly, advising at Duke is not always the most coherent. From randomly assigned pre-major advisors to well-meaning, yet often overcommitted major advisors, advice may do more harm than good. When advisors seem to be out of their depth, do not be afraid to encourage them to suggest other faculty or students who might be more familiar with the topic. And in a similar vein, your assigned advisor is not the only person capable of helping you parse your options. Be empowered to reach out to other faculty whose opinions you respect, while bearing in mind that these are classes to build your semester and yours alone.

So much about the upcoming year is uncertain. Will the juniors returning from abroad have anywhere to live on campus? Will banning tables in K-Ville change Duke for the better? Will we get to see snow? Will President Price ever get contacts? And yet, in the midst of these uncertainty, our lives go on. Bookbagging and registration should be no different, as long as we give ourselves permission to do so.


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