I love going to the mall, but I have never particularly enjoyed Yale’s shopping period. This poses a problem for me twice a year when I vent to my close friends and family members about the difficulty of selecting courses, the stress of darting from class to class, and the anxiety that comes from the process’ uncertainty. In response, my loved ones — including those who do not even attempt to make jokes during the rest of the year — inevitably say, “But Emily, you are such a great shopper. This should be no problem for you!”
Not surprisingly, I am glad this is my last shopping period, my last syllabus shuffle. But the current round of course selection presents a unique challenge: I am done with both my majors and all my distributional requirements; I am freer than a first-semester freshman and even more confused. In my vulnerable state, I am susceptible to a highly contagious disease: senioritis.
Looking through the Blue Book and the Online Course Selection menu, I am lost. At least I am not also physically disoriented, as I was during my first round of shopping three and a half years ago. I paced around campus clutching a photocopied map, and I hit an absolute low when I asked for directions to LC. I was politely informed that I was standing right in front of the building.
In addition to knowing my way around campus, as a second semester senior, I can get into just about any class I want to take. This is an enormous improvement from sophomore year, when I shopped my first political science seminar, “Homelessness in New Haven.” The professor asked the class to go around the small crowded room — “Wow, I didn’t think this many people would show up. I don’t have enough syllabi” — and share why we were interested in the course. When one student said, “I’m John, people mistake me for a homeless guy, and I wanted to understand what it’s actually like,” I knew there was no way I could win a place in this seminar.
But now, armed with seven semesters of experience and able to locate and gain acceptance into any course in the Blue Book, I am lost. For the first time, I long for major requirements. As the International Studies DUS signed off on my double major form, I wanted to cry, “Don’t I need to take another iteration of “The American Foreign Policy/Statecraft/Grand Strategy of the United States?”
I realize that one of the primary reasons I ended up completing two majors is that I actually enjoyed having requirements to fill. It was a challenge. In fact, at this point I even wish I had more distributional requirements left, a lingering Group IV — “Local Flora,” perhaps?
My academic tabula rasa has led me to wonder: What am I interested in learning simply for the sake of learning? For the first time since freshman year, I flipped through the entire Blue Book — yes, I even considered shopping a theater studies class. But I was uninspired. Unlike my suitemate, who is contemplating taking six credits, including “Food and Diet in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” I can barely find four courses to fill my schedule. I have little, if any desire, to acquire knowledge that will not be useful in the future. It is my own strain of senioritis. Knowing that I will leave Yale in four months, I am mentally moving toward its gates. I am beginning to view my undergraduate education through the eyes of my future 25- and 35-year-old selves.
My new pragmatic outlook has led me to question the value of a liberal arts education itself. After all, even though my majors — political science and International Studies — are grounded in observable phenomena and current events, very little of the knowledge that I have picked up will be crucial to my future legal career. In fact, few proponents of the type of education I have received would even argue that I am acquiring practical knowledge; instead, they would propose that I am gaining the ability to read, write and think critically. But how many undergraduate courses does it take to master these skills? While I am grateful for both the facts and skills I have picked up at Yale, I have reached the point where the marginal value of the three lecture classes I will take this semester is simply not that great.
The fundamental missing piece in my stark evaluation of the liberal arts curriculum is that a Yale education is supposed to extend beyond subject matter and skills learned in the classroom. Perhaps this, too, lends insight into senioritis: Many seniors have gotten their full value out of classes and now seek to engage in another important aspect of college, networking. In the name of reaping the full value of my Yale education, I have spent two of the last three nights “networking.” (A side benefit of this extracurricular activity is that it often takes place in locations such as Bar and Hot Tomato’s.)
In the midst of solidifying friendships that have (at least a small) chance of serving a practical purpose in my career, I asked my peers if they had any suggestions for classes. But I came up short. Not to worry, though, I’ll figure it out this weekend at a place where I can clear my head and sort out my thoughts: I’m going to the mall.
Emily Fenner is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.