It’s that time of year people! No, I’m not talking about New Year’s or Christmas, and it’s definitely not my birthday (although that is coming up soon…cough cough December 12), but its registration period at Amherst College! Personally, registration period is a cacophonous mix of anxiety, relief, stress, and excitement. With nearly 37 different majors and over 800 course offerings, not to mention the ability to craft your own courses, Amherst’s open curriculum trusts students to take the reign, clearly communicate clearly their goals and objectives in learning, and experiment in different fields.
With an open curriculum, Amherst students are not required to take distribution requirements. The only mandatory course is your First-Year Seminar, which introduces you to your future liberal arts education. From the beginning, we are expected and have full responsibility over our course load. Now this can be both a curse and a blessing.
As a first year, I was convinced that I was going to be a Psychology/Spanish double major. In fact, I remember going to meet with my first advisor for the first time with a list of every single course I was going to take neatly written in an excel sheet. Seeing as this was our first meeting, she wasn’t sure if she should laugh or call my parents, but she did inform me that as a first year who had yet to take ANY classes in college, I should wait to see what I was interested in and then go from there. She encouraged me to explore different majors during the “Add/Drop” period and then choose classes that would be practical, interesting, and somewhat challenging. Granted every class at Amherst meets that requirement, I ended up taking a Spanish course, my First Year Seminar, an LJST (Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought) course, and a Political Science course. It turns out, I loved the LJST major! I subsequently dropped my aspirations to be a Psych major and while I did take a ton of Spanish courses and studied abroad in Madrid, Spain, I decided to only major in LJST (Amherst doesn’t have minors by the way).
Over the past four years, I have done my fair share of exploring. With courses in everything from Sociology to Theater and Dance, Astronomy to Art History, and European Studies to Math, I feel confident that I received a comprehensive (and might I add intense) course load that I sought when I applied to Amherst. Yes, sometimes the open curriculum was daunting, but with the help and guidance of my advisors, deans, coaches, and peers, I had the necessary support system to make the best choices for me. Although after graduating from high school, I looked forward to never having to take another Math or Science course (ever), he encouraged me strengthen (instead of run from) the skills I needed work on. In my more challenging courses, various deans as well as my coaches made sure I understood the material, and when I didn’t they were quick to find me a tutor. Furthermore, my peers were extremely helpful when it came time to pick classes by telling me their experiences with previous professors, their likes/dislikes about the material, and how it would fit with other courses in regards to the workload.
If there’s one thing I like most about the open curriculum, it’s the atmosphere it creates. When you open the gates to intellectual learning and remove barriers from the students, you’re left with passionate learners who ACTUALLY WANT TO BE THERE. Rarely (read: if ever) have I been in a class where there’s not active learning, focused questions from both students and faculty, and deep discussions that carry over into the dining hall, our dorm rooms, or student/alumni forums. That type of intensity is special and the result of the trust and impact such intellectual freedom can have.
As I contemplated how I wanted to bring together the final semester of my Amherst College experience, I thought about how far I had come as a student. I was less concerned with what grades I anticipated in each course, but rather how each course was going to compliment my studies, internships, and experiences thus far. With all of my requirements within my major fulfilled (meaning I have taken 11 courses within my major), I am free to take whatever my heart desires in the spring of 2015. I chose to take the following courses: Ethnographic Film (Anthropology and Sociology), Guantanamo (Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought), Life is a Dream (Spanish), and a Special Topics course in LJST I created on “The Wire”. If you want to know more about why I chose each of these courses, send me an email! I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions about Amherst.
Until next time friends...Ciao!