First, I would like to apologize to my bosses at the Admissions Office for this delayed post. There is undoubtedly a correlation between the amount of work I have and how late in the week I write my post, so the fact that I’m posting this on Friday is not a good sign. This week, appropriately, I would like to talk about one of the least interesting, but most pervasive topics at this school: course load.
When I was visiting schools, I made sure to ask two questions on every tour: (1) how much work there was and (2) how much sleep students got. Every school’s tour guide, including Amherst College’s, gave me inconclusive responses. I am telling you now: I average about 8 hours of work (outside of class) and 5 hours of sleep per day.
Don’t let those numbers startle you. First, every college you attend will have a heavy course load. Second, there is a way to make the work work for you. I will explore this second statement with a series of FAQs I usually get. Keep in mind that I am speaking from the experience of someone who takes courses mostly in the social sciences and humanities.
What kind of work do you get?
College professors structure assignments very differently than high school teachers. In high school, tests are biweekly and on 3-4 chapters worth of material at a time. In college, most classes just have a midterm and a final each encompassing copious amount of reading. In high school, your grade is buoyed by busy work you have to complete for every class. In college, your grade is determined by three, at most four, papers. Even though graded assignments are sparse, readings are heavy and necessary to participate in class. Sometimes the reading are enjoyable – a few chapters of a novel. Sometimes they are enjoyable in a different way – academic essays filled with inaccessible jargon.
How do you do the work?
Coming from a relatively easy public school, I found myself utterly unprepared for my first semester at Amherst. I did not know how to write academic papers. I was not used to how quickly classes moved. I did not know how to approach the sheer amount of readings that every class assigned. It was a sharp learning curve for sure and especially because I tried to muscle through it on my own. There are so many resources on campus that can help. First, the writing center. You have to make appointments at least a week in advance and prepare a rough draft, but the writing center gives you a valuable chance to hear a second opinion on your essay. They will not just mark your papers up and send you home feeling worse than you began. The writing associates will work with you to strengthen your argument, make your paper flow better, and help you resolve contradictions. For students taking math classes, there is the Q center. I discovered the Q center midway through my multivariable calculus course during my first fall and it saved me. Located in the science library building, the Q center has peer tutors available to help you with your homework and study for your midterms. No appointment is needed, you can just drop by. Third, professors are the best resources here and something you can hold over your friends who decide to attend large universities. Professors genuinely want to help and genuinely want to learn about you. Sometimes I will drop in during office hours to get help with a problem set or think through a paper idea. Other times I will drop by uninvited to talk about my life – what is bothering me and what is exciting to me. Again, professors are the best resources here – academic or otherwise.
Why do you do the work?
This is the most important question and it is what I remind myself during late nights when I’m struggling through an especially dry reading or working through a nuanced argument for my paper. I do work because I love it. What is it exactly? It changes. It can be the subject matter. It can be learning itself. It can be how I use this work after school.
In my experience, I have found it more valuable to spend my time involved in extracurricular clubs and activities, than to spend those hours sitting in the library. Whenever I go to a Divest Amherst meeting, I am reminded that I learn to become empowered. Whenever I write a post for AC Voice, I find myself confronted with questions that I can only begin to find answers for in essays or readings assigned in class. Every activity I do outside of academic work reminds me that course work is worthwhile and allows me to return to it motivated and passionate.