When I was in middle school, I considered becoming a marine biologist. Then high school hit, sophomore Biology hit even harder, and I recalibrated. I slogged my way through that Bio course the same way I had with Earth Science, Chemistry, and Physics—doing only the work that was required, and hating every step of the way. If high school is a test drive through academia, my experiences sent me a message loud and clear: stay the heck away from science.
At least, that’s what I thought until, in desperation to add just one more advanced course onto my transcript, I signed up for AP Environmental Science.
Suddenly science didn’t seem so nebulous. I could directly connect the policy initiatives I crafted during debate tournaments with the whirls of the water cycle, the demographic shifts I studied in history with the evolution of resources. I could sense the cartoon light bulb hovering over my head. Moral of the story? As teenagers, we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do; we shouldn’t let our presumptions of self-awareness get in the way of trying new things.
That’s the message colleges try to convey through course requirements. Called everything from “Gen Ed” to, as I learned when I researched Penn, the “College Curriculum,” requirements specify which courses undergraduates must take in order to graduate. This way, colleges can ensure that the English major dabbles in Calculus, or that the business school kids brush up on their Shakespeare. And while many schools, including Brown, don’t have requirements, the overwhelming majority believes a true education crosses all disciplines.
For me, I’m trying to treat requirements the way I treat my vegetables: I might not like them, but I know they’re good for me. I can moan, I can squeal, I can do everything in my power to put that dreaded math class off another semester, but ultimately, required courses will make me more educated. Would I solely take humanities courses if I could? Probably. But, even as I grit my teeth and add “Intro to Experimental Psychology” to my mock schedule, I know that some good may come out of pushing my academic limits. I might hate the courses I take just to fulfill requirements. But there’s also the possibility that, as I did in high school, I’ll find a new passion. That should be worth the risk.
Undergrads, we need to buck up and stop complaining about course requirements. They’re annoying, but they allow us to become greater than ourselves, to step out of our comfort zones. After all, we’re not coming to college to remain in the fixed little boxes of our high school shells. We’re here to dive in, hope deeply, and plunge into the possibilities—even when we swore we’d never take Econ again.