One of the most liberating parts of the college experience is being able to, maybe for the first time, completely choose what you want to study. Rutgers has thousands of courses spread through more than 100 undergraduate programs. While many of those have mandatory prerequisites, many intro courses are just that: introductory, so any student can enroll.
Most of the credits for full-time students will, naturally, come from courses centered around their major, which is probably the subject in which they are most interested as well. And then another class or so, possibly from the chosen minor, likely another subject of interest — maybe even more so than the major.
Most majors offer room for at least one or two courses where you have freedom of choice. Some of these can go toward fulfilling other requirements for graduation, such as the core requirements for the School of Art and Sciences.
But even for these graduation requirements, each core goal or area of inquiry can be satisfied through a wide variety of classes. The Social and Historical Analysis can range from a class on Middle Eastern comics to medical ethics or criminal justice. The Writing and Communication goal is similar in the breadth of options, with the exception of Expository Writing, which is strictly required.
While many students strongly dislike the core requirements or see them as a waste of time that demands a significant credit load, students should try to make the most of the situation by taking courses that meet their interests rather than what may be easiest to complete.
For pure math and hard science enthusiasts, taking any course in arts or humanities might rarely happen without the requirements to do so. Similarly, humanities majors may never take a course centered around quantitative reasoning.
At the end of the day, I would question how useful it truly is to hyper-focus on a specific area, as many want to do. Besides basic information, much of the information from college courses may be forgotten after entering the workforce. The information that is needed for working will likely have come from just a select few courses.
Higher education is meant to be a culmination of learning for most students who attend the University. Really, besides the degree, the thing that lasts after graduation are the skills and knowing how to learn and think rather than a focus on the content of courses. Those skills can come from any class but can be maximized through taking a variety of coursework.
Writing, for example, is a skill that is needed in practically every field. From emails to idea proposals, there is no job where being able to read and write relatively quickly is not a valuable skill.
Having a more balanced worldview is also naturally important and somewhat easily attainable in college — at least more so than after graduating. While knowing history or geography may not be relevant to everyday work, having a greater understanding of the world we live in is the primary purpose of higher education.
Taking more "random" courses of interest can force you to think critically in order to form coherent arguments. Exposure to different fields, students and professors in these "random" courses can allow you to develop analysis and creativity skills that are widely applicable beyond just specific topics.
From a purely practical standpoint for passing classes, it is also important to take a relatively balanced semester load when possible. Taking, say, five courses on computer science to graduate a semester early may not turn out to be beneficial for everyone, even if it may save time and money.
It can be difficult to manage taking four or five classes that have similar structures. Even if some material overlaps to make studying easier, taking several of these classes usually means having overlapping due dates: multiple exams, essays and assignments all due within short time periods.
With academic burnout being more prevalent, having an abundance of similar coursework would only worsen the chances of experiencing burnout. Losing interest in the major due to overloading yourself with classes ultimately wastes significantly more time and effort than what was saved by attempting to rush through it.
As there is such a wide range of classes at Rutgers, it makes little sense to completely limit yourself to a small field of study. Universities are meant to be places to broaden learning, so all students should make an effort to take advantage of this opportunity.
Tyler Tran is a first-year in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and minoring in Economics. His column, "Hung Up," runs on alternative Fridays.
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