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ESM Mentors’ Favorite College Classes (and Advice to Pick Your Own!)

Most high school students ponder their potential college major and minor. However, far fewer spend time thinking about the specific courses they want to take. Nonetheless, as any college grad will tell you, it is often the amazing—even life changing—classes that stand out as some of the strongest memories from their college years. This month, I spoke with a few of my colleagues about their favorite classes and the best advice they have for picking yours.

Daniel (NYU):

Joan of Arc, Andy Romig  

Why did you take this class? I had no real interest in the medieval period, but I took this class because everyone said he was the best professor in our program.

What was the focus of the class? It was an interdisciplinary class that looked at how we can understand the role politics, religion and identity play in society, specifically for men in Western Christian society, through the case study of Joan of Arc. We spent half of the semester reading the trial transcript of Joan of Arc and half reading adaptations of the story. It was a fascinating way to dig into a part of history that I had no knowledge in previously.

What did you learn from the class? I came out of that class understanding how to read and engage with something in an academic way. It was the first time I was taught to read a historical text, analyze what was happening in the world at the time it was written, and apply analytical frameworks. It completely changed how I approached my future academic work.

What advice would you give to students? Choosing a class based on the professor is one of the biggest college hacks out there.

Dara (UC Berkeley):

Creative Writing: Nonfiction, Rebecca Solnit

Why did you take this class? I took it because of the reputation of the professor, but also to share my own work with fellow writers and to give and receive new feedback.

What did you learn from the class? I learned to challenge each characters’ motivations in my writing. We would break down the character’s choices and question why they did what they did and how to best communicate that in our work. I also learned how to provide valuable feedback to my peers.

What advice would you give to students? Don’t be too swayed by what courses your friends are taking, or what you feel “should” be on your transcript. Make sure you try out any course that sounds at all curious or interesting to you. At the beginning of the semester, you will usually have the opportunity to test out several classes before landing on your final schedule: take it!

Andra (University of York):

Developmental Biology, Dr. Harv Isaacs and Professor Richard Waites

Why did you take this class?  I was taking molecular biology as my main course of study, and developmental biology is a fundamental part of understanding how things work on a molecular level. Signals that are required to form a proper organism appear early on in life, whether it’s mammals in the womb, a chicken in the egg, or a plant inside a seed. I didn’t study anything about this in school, so I was really excited to learn about it.

What did you learn from the class? In addition to teaching me how organisms form before they are born, it was the first time I saw a big gap between having knowledge in one topic and applying that knowledge in completely new contexts. On the exam, we had to apply the facts we had memorized to questions of a completely different nature.

What advice would you give to students? Go interdisciplinary as much as possible. If you know your major, look for classes that are at the border of your major with another subject. They will allow you to transfer your knowledge to other concepts and think in a different way. If you just take completely disparate classes, you might not be able to see the connections.