The following column was published in The Observer on Wednesday, April 2, 2013.
Here are ten DARTing tips you won’t typically get from your academic advisors. This advice is particularly aimed for Arts and Letters students, although it can be helpful for anyone registering for courses next semester.
1) Choose your professors, not your courses. Notre Dame does a poor job of structuring a “curriculum.” Rather than sets of courses contributing to a holistic liberal education, Notre Dame has a variety of unstructured distribution requirements. This means the quality, content and perspective of each course is almost completely determined by whoever is teaching it. An intro taught by Professor X may be completely different from an intro taught by Professor Y. For the most part, ignore course titles. Research your professors and ask upperclassmen whom they would recommend.
2) Take classes because your friends are taking them. The University is supposed to be an intellectual community. We talk about the “intellectual” part and the “community” part, but we often have a hard time discovering where they intersect. At the very least, your friendships at Notre Dame can gain a lot of depth by shared intellectual pursuits. By working on papers, discussing lectures and preparing for exams together, you can become intellectually closer to your friends. There are also a variety of “practical” advantages to taking courses with your friends. Friends can help you understand the course material. They can take notes for you if you miss a class. They can remind you about deadlines and due dates, among other things.
3) Take an “opening” course every semester. Each semester, take a course in a discipline, area, field or art you haven’t pursued before. This will enable you to constantly be looking at the world from new perspectives. It will “open up” your mind, and it may also help you look at your own major in a new light. It may even make you realize you need to change your major altogether.
4) Fake the major. If you want to take a class that is restricted to students in a particular major (or minor), just declare the major. It’s pretty easy to drop it later.
5) Max out and drop. At some Universities, classes begin before registration. Students can “sample” different classes and then register for the ones they are most attracted to. Unfortunately, we don’t do this at Notre Dame, but there is a way you can make this work. The last date to drop a class is weeks after classes begin. So register for as many classes you can, go to the first few weeks of classes, and then drop the classes you don’t like.
6) Stick to 12. Arts and Letters students usually suffer from course overdosing. They want to take as many classes as possible, and they end up with five three-credit courses. Then they usually only do the work for four of those courses. My advice: Only take classes you can do all the reading for. For most students, this means taking 12 credits. If you really want to take more courses, you can always just ask professors to “sit in” on a course. I’ve found, for the big lecture courses, asking isn’t really necessary.
7) Ask and you shall receive (as long as you ask someone else). Notre Dame is increasingly becoming a bureaucratic machine. Some complain this means it’s hard to get anything done. For me, this means you can do whatever you want. Because Notre Dame has so many deans, assistant deans, advisors and assistants, if you’re trying to get permission to take a class or to get an overload or an exemption, you can just go around asking different people until you get the approval. I’ve done this multiple times. Don’t feel guilty if you do this. Because the machine is so big, rarely do its parts know what is best for you as an individual. If you’re looking for advice, go to a professor that you know well, not the administrative bureaucracy.
8) Don’t write a senior thesis. At the beginning of the year, I listened to many seniors list off their noble reasons for writing a thesis. Now, the majority of these students are regretting the decision to write one. Contrary to the rhetoric thrown around by some administrators, I’ve discovered most graduate programs don’t care whether you’ve written a thesis, and no graduate program will ever read it in its entirety. If you don’t have to do it, just don’t.
9) If you have any questions, ask an upperclassman or a professor you trust. Feel free to send me an email!
10) For information about constructing a Catholic liberal arts education, visit obc.nd.edu and click “Course Consulting.”
Christopher Damian is a senior studying philosophy. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.