Try to imagine something you really want to do, but you shouldn’t. You know you shouldn’t, and every synapse in your brain is telling you not to proceed. But it doesn’t matter. You’re beyond the persuasion of reason. Your critical thinking has abandoned you. Your impulses are taking control.
For me, this behavior tends to be associated with junk food and ill-advised public dancing. But as it turns out, I now have a new outlet for compulsive behavior: my class schedule. Shopping period gives us the option of test-driving our classes before we take the plunge and spend our life savings on the textbooks.
There are two types of people when it comes to course shopping: those who understand the feeling I described in the first paragraph, and those who don’t. The ones who don’t will pick courses that make sense given their schedules. They will choose classes that align with their natural sleep cycles and have manageable workloads. They’re going to love their semester.
Then there is the other type of people. The ones bent on self-destruction via Bluebooking. The ones like me.
I actually walked into a class where the professor told us that there was another class with similar content that was not an early morning class and that had a workload of about half the size. Needless to say, I immediately signed up for the class that would ensure me the greatest amount of future pain and suffering.
Within this category, there is a subset of people who actively seek out harder, more intense classes, not necessarily out of love for the subject, but out of a desire to see if they can slay the monster that they have created. It’s a game of chicken and the reward is self-validation: You’ve just proved to yourself and everyone else just how hardcore you are. There are penalties to losing this game. Your GPA might tank and your mental health may even suffer. But even just completing the game, making it to the end of the semester, is a personal success. In retrospect, you’ll cherish that semester and that brutal course load as a medal to be displayed in a trophy cabinet only you can see.
From the outside, the game looks absurd and its participants crazy. One of my friends last semester shopped 15 classes and selected her final schedule exclusively on the basis of which courses would be the most difficult. I’m no stranger to academic masochism, but even I found her final schedule horrifying. She talked about how she shouldn’t submit that schedule, how she probably couldn’t handle the workload and how she would probably be nuts by the end of the semester. Needless to say, one week later, she took the plunge. Whenever I asked how the semester was going, she told me that she was miserable. She also seemed weirdly happy with this response.
The impetus for writing this column actually came with my own course shopping. I was trying to convince my friends that taking a 9 a.m. class every single day would be a great idea, and that four classes in a row would be fine. This coming from the kid who physically can’t get out of bed after fewer than eight hours of sleep and can’t summon the focus and self-discipline to read an entire Buzzfeed list, much less “War and Peace” in four straight sittings. When I got off the waitlist for another course and could no longer take the earlier class, I was almost disappointed.
For those like me who have been — through sheer luck or peer intervention — saved from their self-created doom, the new schedule is a bittersweet one. It is pretty and well-planned and will set us on the path for a successful and productive semester. It contains neither six credits nor any 9 a.m. lectures. The professors in these classes don’t preemptively warn shoppers of failing grades or overwhelming workloads. Upon reflection, I’m not disappointed that my schedule has been tamed. A little common sense and external advice has pulled me back from the edge. But I also imagine the other students who really would rather make their semester a Herculean task. Their brains tell them they shouldn’t finalize their death-wish schedules. Maybe their impulses will lose out this time, and they’ll do the sensible thing. But deep down, they know something that all people like us know. No one looks back and remembers the sensible schedules or the manageable workloads.
Ian Garcia-Kennedy is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.