Things I Learned in College, Part II


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I don’t like tests, I find them useless. So I didn’t take tests after my sophomore year of college. Instead, I developed an elaborate, basically insane but wonderfully enriching method of choosing courses. The end result was that I spent an absurd amount of time course shopping each semester, as well as hondling and petitioning with professors to cater to me. Ninety nine percent of the time, the alternative program that I proposed involved me doing more work (”Instead of your test, I’ll write a 10 page research report on [insert esoteric topic here]“). In the end, I got my degree on time from my nice school in Philadelphia without bothering to complete my history requirement, life science requirement, or most of my humanities core requirements. And I didn’t take a foreign language.

The other day I came across this brief piece I wrote back in the fall of my junior year when I was applying to join a leadership organization at Penn. I believe the question I was responding to had something to do with the type of way in which I show leadership, rather than following. Yes I really wrote this, and yes it’s really true:

Each semester, I aim to take at least one class on a topic about which I know absolutely nothing. The course must have a professor who will captivate me, and students who share my desire to learn. To find such classes, I treat course shopping like guerrilla warfare. This semester alone, I’ve enrolled in and attended 14 different courses so far just to settle with the 4 that I am currently taking. The result is that in my two years here, I’ve taken seminars on middle eastern gender studies, travel writing, trickery, comparative history of genocide, and, currently, love and death in Japanese drama.


Some friends of mine have asked me over the years to try to write about how I approached this maniacal process. It always varied from semester to semester, but here’s a shortlist of what I looked for in my classes:
- Class does not meet before 10:30am
- Class does not meet more than twice a week
- Class does not meet in a building more than 4 blocks from my apartment
- Class does not require gratuitous use of Blackboard
- Classroom has at least two windows, preferably facing south
- Professor must speak English as a first language, or understand enough of the language to know what a 6-4-3 double play is
- Professor must show ability to make jokes
- If professor laughs at own jokes, jokes must be funny
- Class does not require that I take tests
- Class rewards in-class participation
- Class does not contain more than three members of the basketball team

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