As I headed into this semester’s midterms, I tried to figure out how I was going to study for my four exams. The stress of the semester had culminated in the challenge of attempting to ready myself for my tests while keeping up with regular class work as well. Most of this semester has been triage, figuring out which assignment requires the most attention, resulting in others that aren’t completed to the best of my ability. I’ll be honest, time management has never been one of my strongest skills. Knowing that, I booked a McGraw Center appointment to try and navigate the nightmare that is a Princeton B.S.E. schedule. Even after a productive meeting, I realized something extremely important. It’s impossible to manage time that doesn’t exist.
I value mastering the skill to perform under pressure. That being said, I also find gaining thorough knowledge of a subject equally, if not more, important. I don’t want to just get by in classes. I want to walk away from a class feeling like I’ve mastered the subject and can now use it to further my scholarship. I don’t feel I’m able to accomplish that goal when I’m forced to take five classes in a semester. Princeton needs to start giving credits based on the workload and time commitment of a class.
Taking a certain number of classes to meet a requirement doesn’t ensure mastery of a subject. Regardless of degree, there are always going to be classes that require much more time and attention than others. By not acknowledging the commitment those classes require and the difficult schedules they create, Princeton isn’t encouraging mastery in a subject.
The amount of time and effort that it takes to juggle multiple classes makes it difficult to ever feel like I’m learning. As students, we should have the time to explore the ideas being taught in certain classes without being weighed down with the work from others. I spend so much time studying for the next quiz and completing the next problem set that I don’t gain the understanding that comes from devoting time to a subject. This stems directly from having too many classes in order to meet the classes needed for my degree.
Last semester, a professor told me: “I could care less about your grade; what’s more important is that you know the material.” At first, I dismissed his statement. Coming from a mentality that grades were everything, it was foolish to ignore the impact my GPA would have on future endeavors. That mentality is a big part of what got me into Princeton. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized the professor was right. I can name numerous classes that I’ve gotten an A in without learning the material. Grades are not a true reflection of your knowledge.
Instead, classes need to be weighted by the workload and time that they entail. If a student is taking classes that include multiple meetings per week with a heavy amount of homework, they should be able to lighten their load from other classes. This would allow a better mastery of the subject and give a student more time to learn the information being taught rather than just making do.
One could argue that no student is actually “forced” to take such a challenging semester. But with an odd number of credits needed for A.B. and 36 credits needed for a B.S.E., a student will eventually have to take a five-semester schedule. And while some try to alleviate their schedule with summer classes, the tension caused by overburdened schedules is never addressed.
Princeton prides itself on being a difficult school. It’s one of the reasons that makes it, in my opinion, the best college to attend. Nevertheless, the difficulty should not restrain students from gaining mastery in their field. Students should get the credit they deserve for taking a time-intensive or a heavy-workload class. Allowing students to fully grasp the material they are taught creates better scholars. Isn’t that the point of college?
Thomas Johnson is a freshman Computer Science major from Satellite Beach, Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.