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An Ode to Course Offerings Day

<h6>José Pablo Fernández García / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
José Pablo Fernández García / The Daily Princetonian

Every semester, in the wake of midterm’s stress, there’s always one day that feels just like Christmas: the day the Office of the Registrar releases the course offerings for the upcoming semester. For me, it feels like the academic equivalent of running down the stairs on Christmas morning to discover what magically appeared under the tree overnight. There’s an element of surprise, of possibility, of newness, and even a bit of discovery shared between the two days.

It hasn’t always been this way for me, though. The first time I browsed the Registrar’s website in search of my freshman fall courses, the dominant feeling was more a mix of intimidation and fear of the unknown.

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As a prefrosh, Princeton’s classes and professors are still a mystery. There are courses in topics you’ve never previously heard about that seem too unbelievably advanced for you. There are professors for whom a quick Google search reveals them to be leaders in their field — winning Nobel prizes and serving presidents — and it’s hard to believe that you can have a seat in their classrooms.

And somehow, in the midst of all this, you’re supposed to find the right four or five courses with which to begin your Princeton career. It’s all a lot to grapple with while simultaneously acclimating to a new campus and trying to form your first friendships.

Course offerings and selection didn’t stay like that, however, as I grew more comfortable with Princeton’s academics and became more sure of my place here. In the semesters since that first one, a new slate of course offerings has instead brought me all the feelings I described at the start of this essay. Most immediately, Course Offerings Day brings a bit of a reprieve to the current semester.

Caught in the thick of it, with midterm results returning, new assignments piling up, and now as a junior, independent work intensifying, I look forward to finding a refreshing break in browsing through next semester’s potential courses. It lets you get excited about school without feeling overwhelmed by any academic stress.

In a more literal sense, the day simply brings an opportunity to put a pause on your current coursework and procrastinate by browsing the offerings and imagining what your courses and life in general will look like during the next semester.

It’s this opportunity for rampant imagination that most likely produces the greatest excitement on Course Offerings Day for me. In the days leading up to it, I imagine all the possibilities, wondering what classes I previously missed out on that might return and anticipating all the newly-offered and once-in-a-lifetime courses to be discovered.

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Then, as soon as a click of the refresh button reveals the new offerings, there’s a shift in my imagination. Every course description and sample reading list sparks different potential journeys ahead — all leading to wildly different ends. So then it becomes an imaginative exercise in devising all the different scenarios for the next step in my academic journey.

As I bookmark courses and finagle with the tetris game that is putting together a workable course schedule, I’m not only deciding what requirements to fulfill, how many pages I’ll have to read per week, or how many essays and exams I’ll have to complete. I’m also deciding who I want to be at the end of the following semester, as starry-eyed as that may sound.

Now with a handful of Princeton semesters under my belt, I can’t ignore all the ways Princeton courses have shaped who I am — both intellectually and personally. Had I not taken FRS 166: What to Read and Believe in the Digital Age during my freshman spring semester, I likely wouldn’t have committed myself as much to The Daily Princetonian at the time or be in my position as an editor today. Had I not taken FRE 211: French Theater Workshop and ART 212: Neoclassicism through Impressionism during my sophomore fall semester, I likely wouldn’t be a French concentrator today writing about cultural policy and art museums for my first Junior Paper.

None of these courses were ones I ever anticipated taking before enrolling in them, especially not back when I thought I might be an engineer. Still, these courses have deeply molded my academic interests and also taught me so much about myself — about who I am and want to become.

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This all reminds me of something President Eisgruber said all the way back during Princeton Preview 2018. In his remarks to the admitted students in Richardson Auditorium, he emphasized his hope for us: not that we would come to see our four years at Princeton as the best years of our lives but as the most transformative years of our lives.

To that end, I’ve already found each semester some of the most transformative couple of months of my life. I’ve found many of the courses I’ve taken to be some of the most transformative experiences I’ve had. So maybe that’s why Course Offerings Day feels a bit like an academic version of Christmas: I get to unwrap and discover the unexpected, and discover the unexpected transformations that lie ahead.

José Pablo Fernández García is a junior from Ohio and Associate Prospect Editor at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at jpgarcia@princeton.edu.

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