If you google “advice for college students,” many of the resulting articles will suggest that you “try new things.” For example, a Huffington Post article titled “The Only College Advice You’ll Ever Need” advises, “Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone.” Many writers expound on the benefits of being adventurous during college. Most people scoff at this overplayed cliché. While the recommendation may lack originality, I find it valuable.
The advice to “try new things” applies to many areas of college life, one of them being course selection. My first semester at Princeton, I followed this tip when selecting my courses. I could have taken courses that were similar to the ones I took in high school. Yet, in the back of my mind, I remembered that cliché drilled into my head by my parents, teachers, and counselors: try new things. I took the plunge and took two courses that were extremely new for me — COS 126: Computer Science, An Interdisciplinary Approach, and HUM 350: Battlelab — The Battle of Princeton.
In high school, I took standard core classes; my most thrilling course decision was to take chemistry before biology. When I arrived at Princeton, I encountered an abundance of options. This was equally overwhelming and exhilarating.
Before taking COS 126, I didn’t know anything about computer science. I had never heard of “data types” — ints, doubles, or strings. (For non-coders, my lack of knowledge was comparable to trying to write without knowing the alphabet.) While I was nervous to try such a new class, the concept of coding excited me. I decided to challenge myself and enrolled.
HUM 350 was also very novel. The Battlelab is an interdisciplinary course that examines narratives of the Battle of Princeton, a major turning point in the Revolutionary War fought throughout the town. Archaeology is a large component of the course; we went to the battlefield and excavated the site multiple times during the semester. Before taking the course, I had no idea what ground-penetrating radar was, I had only seen metal detectors in movies, and I had never held a shovel. My knowledge of archaeology did not extend beyond the plot of Indiana Jones. The class, however, seemed interesting.
My experiences in COS 126 and HUM 350 were tremendously different.
HUM 350 ended up being my favorite class of the semester. Archaeology fascinated me. Before taking the course, I did not fully appreciate archaeology’s ability to aid our understanding of the past. Now I recognize the dozens of conclusions that can be drawn from an artifact as seemingly insignificant as a shard of ceramic. Every week, I looked forward to going to the battlefield to see what history we would uncover. I am now considering a certificate in archaeology.
COS 126, on the other hand, was far from my favorite class. I spent a large percentage of my semester in office hours, and I was relieved to receive a “P” after electing the pass/D/fail option for the course. While I will probably never code again, I am still glad that I broadened my horizons.
Trying new things can have both positive and negative outcomes. You might find something that you love, or you might waste your time doing something that you hate. While it is easy to be wary of experimenting, given the chance that you may not enjoy your experience, I believe that even “bad experiences” can have long-term benefits.
For example, it may appear that my decision to take COS 126 was a mistake. Although I may not use the coding skills that I learned in COS 126, I do not regret taking the class. Enduring such a challenging course taught me to be persistent, to have confidence in my abilities, and to seek out help when necessary.
Princeton offers an abundance of intriguing courses in over 100 subjects. Most students are only at Princeton for four years, and the number of courses that each of us will take is limited. General education requirements may seem like bothersome distractions, but I urge you to use them as an opportunity to experiment.
Katie Goldman is a first-year from Western Springs, IL. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.