Sophie Henry

When I was a kid, throughout the months leading up to Halloween, I pored over the pages of the seasonal costume catalogue. I took this job seriously — memorizing the pictures and descriptions as though they were Scripture. Nearly every other day, I’d prance into the kitchen and proudly announce my newly-selected costume idea. My mother always responded with contrived enthusiasm, knowing very well that I’d change my mind at least a dozen more times.

Every year, my list grew longer. And every year, I failed to decide. At school, I’d strut around in a surgeon’s robe and stethoscope; at soccer practice, I’d sport a Lionel Messi uniform; at dusk, I’d pull off my astronaut helmet to munch on my trick-or-treating candy.

I had almost forgotten that feeling — the enchanted rush of possibility from my costume catalogue — until the moment I arrived at Yale and began perusing the Blue Book.

Admissions officers are quick to herald shopping period — the tradition of trying on a wardrobe of mismatched classes for fit — as a quintessential feature of a Yale education. Many Yalies are even quicker to describe the process with an eye roll and a Hunger Games analogy. Both accounts are true.

As decisiveness has never been my strong suit, the chaos of my first shopping period rivaled that of grade-school Halloween, though fueled with coffee in lieu of candy. To make matters worse, by day two, many of my new friends smugly announced that they’d nailed their schedules down. Perhaps, they added, they’d shop one additional course as a backup for the sake of being prudent. With a faint smile, I nodded along. I hid my horror behind my computer screen, displaying a shopping schedule that would make any FroCo break out into hot sweats. Despite the many advisors Yale had provided me, no one could tell me how to fit 45 classes into four spots.

And so it began. I bounced around classes like a pinball, gaining momentum as I collided with courses. My mother humored me as I called home between each class, announcing that this time I had discovered the perfect major. Some classes I already knew I’d find comfortable: English 120, for instance, fit like a glove. Other classes, of different sizes and styles, seemed to materialize out of nowhere: “Anthropology of Outer Space,” “Education and the Life Worth Living,” “Drugs, Brain and Behavior.” Though my list of disparate classes elicited concerned chuckles from my parents, every course I shopped broadened the array of possibilities I saw myself pursuing, if only for a day. Examining each syllabus, I explored the blueprints for my potential future selves. I had to try them all.

There’s no need to go insane and repurpose the classic adage “shop ‘til you drop” to the (admittedly unreasonable) extent that I did on that first Friday. But hey, you’ve made it to Yale! Now that you’re at the top, it’s okay to enjoy the thrill of the drop once in a while.

I know how counterproductive this proposition might seem. If there’s anything that Yalies excel at, it’s making plans. After all, perhaps you’re here because of those extracurriculars you had committed to since your first year of high school. Perhaps you’re here because of your impeccable college essays that painted your perfect path at Yale, with brushstrokes extending from your strengths in high school.

But a college career is not like a college application: A cohesive narrative isn’t always the better read. Now that you’ve made it, drop your preconceptions of what you’re good at. Drop your narrowed vision for your schedule this semester, or for your life 10 years down the line. Drop it all, and pick up a handful of possible selves with every delightfully obscure seminar you try on. By the end of the week, you may have dropped those, too. But if you don’t over-shop in these corridors, brimming with possibilities for your future life and career, how will you confidently know which one fits you best?

By the second round of shopping period in spring semester, my cohort of first years entered the week like hardened soldiers. We were trained to navigate Yale’s academic battlefield without sacrificing any sleep or wasting work on impractical courses. And once again, at the end of the week, my closest comrades had to drag me out from the Blue Book barracks, nearly prying my computer from my hands before I could re-add that 15th class that most certainly would have been the death of me.

Now, as I’m entering my sophomore year, more of my peers are declaring majors and pruning their academic paths. The notorious pandemonium of first-year shopping will likely attenuate, as many have turned over their academic credit cards to their department’s DUS (Director of Undergraduate Studies). I can’t help but register this as a tremendous loss. If we came into Yale wonderfully uncertain about what to pursue, what are the chances that out of the 2,000+ courses offered, the 8–10 classes we took our first year exposed us to the career that suits us best?

It’s natural to feel envious of the person who’s known they’ve wanted to be a doctor since they were practically a fetus, and never had to imagine themselves wearing anything but scrubs. But now, more than ever, is the time to reclaim the childhood joy of playing dress up and surprising ourselves when something completely unexpected complements our style.

This year, I plan to keep shopping like a lunatic, trying on as many possibilities as I can sport in a day, just like my childhood Halloweens. Despite the onslaught of shopping horror stories you’ll imminently hear, I recommend you do the same.

Most of all, don’t let your shopping end when you submit your schedule. Keep accessorizing with new extracurriculars throughout the year as they catch your eye. Keep soliciting unknown Yalies to grab lunch, even after your friend group has been established. Keep exploring new study spots even after you’ve found your nook in Sterling — or Bass, if that’s your deal — and sampling different dining halls even after you’ve determined that Berkeley’s is objectively the best.

And after poring over the contents of the Yale Course Catalogue, when shopping period finally arrives, try on that first 9 a.m. and as many others as you possibly can. I’ll see you there.

MINA CARACCIO is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at .