Tom Ye leading an admissions tour at Amherst College.

Thomas Ye ’25 gives a campus tour during Be a Mammoth, an open-house program that gives admitted students the opportunity to sample life at Amherst through firsthand experiences.

Add/Drop period can be one of the most intense—yet fun—times of the semester.

During the first one or two weeks of every semester, we can “shop” for classes across Amherst and the Five Colleges. [The 2024 Add/Drop period runs from Jan. 29 to Feb. 7.] Most classes (that aren’t already filled) are open to any student to sit in and try it out before deciding to enroll. You can pretty freely add one class and drop another from your schedule after trying them out. It’s built-in flexibility to your schedule and, best of all, free education!

During your first year, it’s an amazing opportunity to spread yourself across subjects and get a feel for each department. There’s no limit to how many classes you can shop, so if you don’t know where to start, I recommend trying to fill your first few days with as many classes as you can. Just scroll through the course catalog and pick a few purely based on interest. Then you have plenty of time to make decisions after the first day of classes.

Figure out you don’t actually love Greek philosophy? Switch! Don’t vibe with the professor’s teaching style? Drop it and add another course! If you want to go the extra mile, look at the course syllabus, ask for old exams and even just talk with the professor. All the information you need to make a decision about taking a class is at your fingertips. The only caveat is that you need to juggle all the classes’ workloads to figure this out—so stretch yourself only as much as you can handle.

As a second-semester sophomore, Add/Drop can be a little more stressful than before. This is the last semester to declare a major (if you haven’t), so you have to be much more deliberate with your choices. Since I’m thinking about double majoring and studying abroad, I also have to map out major requirements for my remaining semesters.

And beyond these overarching academic goals, there are always other factors to consider when picking classes. What kind of workload do I want? A balance of qualitative/quantitative (e.g., two humanities, two STEM), or skew it one way? Are some classes only offered in the spring or fall semesters? Which professors do I want to take classes with? (Talking to friends is very helpful!) Do I want mostly morning classes or afternoon ones? Do I want no classes on Fridays?

Professor Jakina Debnam teaching an economics class.

Professor Jakina Debnam Guzman teaching her popular “Economics and Psychology” course.

Finally, do I want to hone any specific skills (writing, public speaking, logical thinking, coding, etc.)? This is perhaps the most overlooked but most important thing to consider. It’s easy to register for only courses and departments you are strong in, but I encourage you to utilize the full strength of the open curriculum and take classes you aren’t that skilled in.

All that said, the first week of classes doesn’t have to be this much of a headache for everyone. What’s great about Amherst is that this extra work and stress around crafting your academic route is exactly the power of the open curriculum: I really feel like I have control over my education.

In contrast to other large universities that may force you to choose a major before even arriving at the school, or clog up your schedule with “general education” requirements, Amherst actually gives us the final say in everything we learn. It’s not just about checking boxes off a requirement list. And that’s what the liberal arts are about.

Here’s what I ended up taking in the Spring 2023 semester:

  1. “Groups, Rings, and Fields.” (Math 350). Math major requirement.

  2. “Justice.” (Political Science 135). “Inside-out” classroom model taught at a local prison. Probably my most unique class ever! 

  3. “America’s Death Penalty.” (Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought 334). Six-person seminar class—working on a research project with the professor.

  4. “Cryptography.” (Math 252). Very interesting math/computer science applications elective.

Some other classes I was shopping: a Russian literature course, philosophy (“Population Ethics”) and data science.

One important thing to remember: No one can have a perfect schedule. I am definitely going to make some mistakes along the way, take a class I don’t like or miss out on a good one, but I think I will come out feeling most fulfilled about my college education.

Because at least I got to make the choices.

This article first appeared in February 2023 as a blog post for the Office of Admission, on one of many student blogs meant to offer “perspectives to prospectives” so that applicants can get a sense of the College. Thomas Ye ’25, of Chappaqua, N.Y., is a double major in math and political science, a hurdler and sprinter on Amherst’s track and field team, and a cellist for the Amherst Symphony Orchestra. On his blog, he has written about his “free (did I mention it was free??)” private cello lessons on campus, the robust culture of student feedback in the math department and being “brutally embarrassed” by the entire crowd in the Russ Wing at Valentine Dining Hall singing “Happy Birthday” to him on his big day.