When course selection comes out right after the grind and frustration of midterms, it's tempting to seek out the classes whose course evaluations promise an “easy A.” Another semester of all-nighters in Sherrerd Hall sounds less appealing than two hours of lecture a week, one hour of reading, and an in-class midterm plus final. But, as we plan for our limited semesters here, we should keep in mind that it is this academic rigor — the constantly challenging material and ambitious curriculum — that drove us to Princeton in the first place.
We too often grow frustrated with the intense workload and find ourselves comparing our lifestyle to that of peer institutions. But before you slide into the classic “love to hate” rhetoric that permeates campus culture, consider the unique thrill and pride that accompanies the intense courses. The feeling when Professor Douglas Massey connects the race constructs rooted in the Constitution after you read about 900 pages on the subject. The feeling of pride and accomplishment when your code runs after 10 hours in lab TAs. The feeling of satisfaction when you perform well on the orgo exam that you were nervous for and way over-prepared for. This is why we take hard classes at Princeton, and this is why we get so much out of being here.
When selecting courses — some of us for the last fall ever — keep yourself accountable to pursue rigorous and rewarding classes. By junior year, many of us are jaded and looking for an effortlessly fulfilled distribution. But we all remember those classes freshman fall where we not only did all the readings, but also typed up notes, a summary, questions for precept, thoughts, opinions, feelings, etc. The classes that were intimidating, but that we invested ourselves in anyway. My favorite class at Princeton remains the first one I took, Ethics and Public Policy with Professor Stephen Macedo. My first semester on campus I had no idea what was going on, but I dove into the readings. I read the additional materials. I went to office hours with my preceptor. I discussed the issues constantly outside of class. My obsession branched from a variety of factors. It was the first time I was exposed to applied ethics, and it became my passion that I have pursued throughout my semesters since. Also, the class was well-taught and well-structured. But most influentially, I completely invested myself in the coursework in a way I have not since. Looking back to that course and comparing it to my “easy A” endeavors, I realize how much more you can get out of a class that you chose to get a lot out of.
Many of my friends studying abroad have spoken to this feeling of “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” Outside of the Princeton bubble experiencing new curricula, students are surprised by how much they miss the rigor and intensity of Princeton courses, this same rigor that we curse aloud and roast in course evaluations after exam season. Nina Rodriguez ’19, who is spending the semester studying in Madrid, explained that her classes “don’t even come close to challenging me the way my courses at Princeton have the past two and a half years. People say that studying abroad gives you break from the rigor, but I truly miss my seminars and lectures where I was pushed to think critically about global issues surrounded by my extremely intelligent classmates.” Graduates share a similar sentiment of missing the intellectual stimulation and excitement of coursework once they’re in a career.
As a junior, I am gearing up for my last two semesters of course selection. The fewer semesters left, the more important every course seems. We all have lists of courses we want to take: specific professors or impactful classes or crucial life curricula. As time is running out, remember the excitement and motivation of taking a course you are passionate about, no matter how tough the work ends up to be. The “easy A” is a tempting cop-out, but the experience of stimulating intellectual curiosity and pushing our comfort zones is what makes Princeton special. To grow intellectually, we need something to push against, to paraphrase Newton’s third law. Despite the long hours in Firestone and late nights that come with it, we, as Princeton students, must take advantage of rigorous courses rather than take the stimulation for granted.
Jessica Nyquist is a junior in computer science from Houston, Texas. She can be reached at email@example.com.