Beat the System: How You Should Sign Up For Classes
The biggest mistake I made my freshman year was signing up for all the interesting classes.
I was dazzled--as you may be--by the course catalog’s array of seductive titles like "Murdering, Marauding, Merriment: A Pirate History" or "Imagined Politics in Terry Pratchett Novels."** One week of classes later, I realized that I had fallen for the bait.
Never choose a class by its title. Always choose by professor.
A good professor can turn any subject into your new passion. So, ask your upperclassmen friends, or browse through RateMyProfessor reviews (with a grain of salt: "Gave me an F. Made me cry.” is not a valid review.) Once you find a professor you like, you had better sign up for anything they are teaching, no matter what it is.
This is how I found myself in the deceptively simple-titled "History of Spain" with Jeffrey Bowman, and in "Introduction to Postcolonial Literature" with the prone-to-yelling-in-Spanish Ivonne Garcia. I took the bafflingly named "Identity Formation in the Global South" with Celso Villegas, and the dry-sounding "Political Anthropology" seminar with Zohra Ismail. These classes quickly became my all-time favorites, simply because the teachers were worth it. All of the professors, whether hilarious, terrifying, or a little bit of both, were people I wanted to work my butt off for.
But how do you, as a lowly freshman, get into these classes in the first place?
Everyone hates the online registration system, except for the ladies in the Registrar's office, who, up until last year, had to file our classes in person, by hand. Online registration streamlined the process but also challenged our reliable tradition of talking our way into classes we shouldn't really be able to get into. It was so easy to drop by a professor's office and explain why you needed to be in a class that was two levels above your head; if you could demonstrate that you were truly enthusiastic, they would sign you in and that was that.
While this is no longer easy to do with online registration, you can still employ face-to-face negotiation during Add/Drop period, early in the semester. When the computers shut you out of all your classes, don't panic. Simply visit your professors of choice and argue your case. You might not get in anyways, since the class might be overenrolled, but at least you'll be on the radar for the next time around. I've had teachers over-enroll classes to fit me in, or reserve spaces for me years down the road. The online registration system might be out to screw you, but professors want to help.
Pick teachers, not classes.
You can talk your way into anything.
Be curious and enthusiastic.
**Sadly, these classes do not actually exist, but if they did, I would still suggest thinking critically about flashy course descriptions.