Unwanted Schedules Offer Hidden Opportunities

CJ Blair, Columnist

Getting into college can be a chore, especially when high school students are aiming for colleges like Oberlin. When all that’s taken care of and students are admitted into prestigious schools, it makes sense that they would feel entitled to the resources at hand when they arrive. This may be the primary reason that course registration is such a stressful time for almost all students. They’ve worked immensely hard to get here, and now that they’re enrolled, why should it be difficult to get into the classes they want?

Frustration with class registration is serious and justified for many students. When upperclassmen are unable to take classes they need to meet requirements and graduate, it’s perfectly logical for them to be angry. This flaw signals a clear need for re-evaluation of the current system.

This isn’t the case for everyone, however. For that reason, I focus here on the situation as it applies to students who aren’t as negatively affected by unplanned schedules, particularly firstand second-years. For this crowd, the response to conflicts is more likely to be disgust or confusion rather than anxiety. If you’re a potential Biochemistry major, what purpose is a humanities class going to serve, and why is the only one left “Musical Analogues” of a country you’ve never heard of ? The simple answer would be that distribution requirements are designed to produce well-rounded students who don’t think in a singular way, which is more or less the motto of every liberal arts college in America.

I believe the answer runs deeper than this cliché, however, and perhaps deeper than anything specifically designed by Oberlin’s faculty and staff. Imagine if there was a fixed trajectory of classes for each major that laid out every specific course required, and everything else was something general like “Humanities 100” or “Introductory Social Studies.” Seems absurd, right? I had a creative writing teacher once who told me that power lies in details and specificity. While any class at Oberlin will promote thinking and analyses, they would all be superficial if they weren’t grounded in a very specific topic.

Though this focus might result in course titles so weirdly specific that they can be off-putting, it ensures that the curricula will home in on details such that students can really explore the subjects with sufficient depth and rigor. It’s the difference between learning to drive by taking a simulated course and actually getting behind the wheel and getting the feel for the quirks of your dad’s Honda.

While this may justify why Oberlin students should take a variety of classes at Oberlin, it doesn’t quite deal with the scenario of getting a less than ideal schedule. First off, I would argue that having the notion of an “ideal” schedule, in many cases, isn’t really a helpful mindset. When most students picture an ideal schedule, they’re really thinking about the most logical sequence of classes to get them to the next step: life after college.

Of course college is designed to equip its students with the education they need to go into the world, but there’s something to be said for taking advantage of the resources available while you’re enrolled. With the “ideal schedule” mindset, Oberlin turns into a mere means to an end. But college classes, where the focus is so finite and the study so intensive, are the perfect environment for finding and sorting through interests. The fact is, you can’t say for sure if you really like Russian history until you’ve rigorously studied it.

In this sense, college is less a place to pursue a predetermined course of study than it is one for experimentation. When you step back from the dominant “pick a major, get a degree and leave” mentality, it can become apparent just how many opportunities there are to be happily spontaneous with the classes you take and to figure out what you may love. With this mindset, that curveball schedule you might end up with becomes less of a disappointment and more like a painter’s palette — where every color is worth a try.