Course Shopping (Not Exactly Retail Therapy)

To my dedicated readers (all two of you), sorry for the extended break. I was in hibernation mode over winter break, and trying to avoid the extreme temperatures and bomb cyclones that hit Philly by spending some time on the much milder West Coast. I was not the only IEDPer having a fun time…

1.15 Blog Pic 1
Lauren at a swing dance camp in Asheville
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Toffy exploring in Costa Rica

But, alas, the time for nine+ hours of sleep a night and extended viewings of Parks and Rec are over because spring semester is here! It’s hard to believe how fast time has flown. For those of us like myself who are trying to finish the program in one year, this marks our last semester of classes. Which conveniently brings me to the topic of this post, which is picking classes.

Picking classes is a little like buying a car. And before you groan at this parental-like analogy, I actually think this is a pretty good one because it’s a similar investment in your future (and likely an even bigger financial investment). So here’s what you can expect when going through the process, and some tips to help you get the most out of the process.

Do your research. Before buying a car you would do a lot of research, right? Like sifting through consumer reports and safety ratings (and lots of Google images, because we all want a car that looks cools, obviously). Well, picking classes is a similar investment because your courses drive (← see what I did there) your academic experience at Penn.

While there is no Kelly Blue Book for courses, there are still some good sources out there:

  • IEDP always sends lists of classes that have been popular in the past, which is really helpful.
  • Ask former or second-year IEDP students. The second years are a great resource that I wished I had used more in the first semester, because for 95% of courses, there is a second-year student who took it or knows someone who did, and can give you the inside scoop.
  • You can also search for classes by keywords (like Middle East or gender) on Penn InTouch, which pulls up courses across the university. Definitely don’t be afraid to step outside the GSE bubble – there are lots of classes in so many different schools!

Shop around. You wouldn’t settle for the first car you see on the lot, and the same thing goes for classes. Once you’ve found four or five you like, don’t stop there – keep looking! Once you have a list of six to eight (or even more!) classes you are interested in…

Test drive. You can’t tell just by looking at a car how well it’s going to run. Same thing with a course. “EDUC 600” only means so much on paper – go to the first class, get the syllabus, introduce yourself to the professor, get to know some people in the class. My first semester I was a little overwhelmed by all the selections, so I picked five I thought I would like, went to them the first week, and pretty much stuck to them. This semester, I have committed to trying out various classes in the first few weeks, and while it takes up time, I feel like I’m making a much more informed decision.

Now commit! At some point, you have to make the big decision. Penn has a strict add/drop date, but the date is fairly generous and you can usually go to a class 2-3 times before having to finalize your schedule, allowing you to get a pretty good sense of what the course will be like.

This semester, the IEDP cohort has branched out a lot more to explore courses outside the program, and even outside GSE. While I miss seeing everyone all the time, it’s nice to be meeting new people and gaining new perspectives from students and professors with different backgrounds and experiences.

I won’t lie – the first few weeks of the semester can be a whirlwind while you pick courses, but trust me it’s worth it to find those classes and professors you really love. But also remember, a class is what you make of it. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be exactly what you expected, you can still get a lot out of it, whether it’s being introduced to a new topic you are interested in, building a relationship with a professor or fellow student, or finding a reading that changed the way you thought about something.

And with that, I’ll end this post because…I’ve got several more classes to test out today!

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