February 2014
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The English major “buckles down”

I knew from day one of college that I wanted to be an English major. (In fact, I knew by early in my freshman year of high school that an English major was probably what I wanted to be. While it’s not a bad thing to not know what you want to major in, knowing what I wanted to major in was useful for me because I was able to let English programs guide and influence my college decision. Ultimately, I ended up here at McDaniel College in part, because our English program is so rad!)

In my first two years at McDaniel, I only took two English classes per semester (and actually only one my first semester, since I wanted to get calculus and German out of the way while they were still fresh in my mind). In addition to those two English classes a semester, I worked on chipping away at McDaniel Plan requirements and taking Honors electives, courses offered specifically for students in McDaniel’s Honors Program.

But as you can imagine, there comes a point in a student’s liberal arts college career when he or she has taken a lot of “gen eds” and needs to start buckling down to take classes in his or her major. (Unless of course, that student has been putting the “gen eds” off–something I don’t recommend!) So last semester, with so many of my McDaniel plan requirements out of the way and others being able to be fulfilled by English classes, I doubled my usual amount of English classes from two to four. Basically, my entire schedule consisted of only English classes (plus a couple of yoga classes I took to work on finishing the physical education requirement).

The four English classes I took last semester (Multimedia Authoring, Advanced Composition, 20th Century British Lit, and Rhetorical Approaches to Literary Nonfiction) were a lot of fun, but their powers combined created a workload that was more demanding than any workload I had ever encountered in college. I had to write 13 papers and read countless books and essays, and with the addition of my writing center job and my time spent as the features editor of the McDaniel Free Press, I felt that I was stretched pretty thin.

So this semester, I decided to take advantage of the surplus of credits I have from passed AP tests and extra courses I’d taken in previous semesters to take a different approach to my course schedule. I’ve decided to take three English classes, a .5 credit first aid course, and nothing else, bringing my total credit count for the semester to a whopping 12.5 credits. (At McDaniel, 12.5 credits isn’t actually whopping, though anything over 16 credits approaches whopping–I took 20 the spring of my sophomore year–Yikes!) Yes, it’s not the standard 16 credits, but since I’m taking at least 12 credits, I’m still considered full time and am still receiving my scholarship money.

Some people have been really surprised when I tell them that I’m only taking three main classes (in my junior year, nonetheless), but I can’t let their surprise bother me.  I’ve done the work and earned the credits needed to get me to this point, and already, I’m starting to see a difference in my academic performance. I’m getting more readings done and I feel a little less overwhelmed than I did last semester. I’m buckling down and actually absorbing the information I’m working so hard to take in, and to me, that’s worth it.

So here’s what I’m getting at: If you work hard in high school and early on in your time at college, you may be able to get yourself into a position where you can opt out of taking a “full” course load to prioritize what matters to you, be that having more time to focus on your courses or having an internship or even pursuing a hobby. College doesn’t have to be a cookie cutter experience, and if you play your cards right early on, you can break out of the mold later on if it’s best for you.

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