Opinion | Op-eds

Less is more

As I reflect on the first week of my last semester at Columbia, I am filled with elation from the great times spent with friends, whether it be eating four-hour dinners and wandering the campus aimlessly, or goofing off at the Winter Jam in Central Park and dancing till 7 a.m. at the CU Dance Marathon.

But as I continue reflecting, a wave of gloom overcomes me when I realize that the pervading spontaneity and optimism throughout the campus may not last. In a matter of days, we will fall behind on readings and problem sets, our dinners will become increasingly rooted only in their function of sustenance, and the pallor of stress will creep across our faces.

The problem is that for many of us, this anxiety is all we know. We have likely been habituated since high school or earlier to biting off more than we can comfortably chew. And even if ambition was not always in our DNA, it certainly was spliced in as we faced the dual insecurities that accompanied our acceptance letters: living up to societal expectations for our exceptional aptitudes and discovering that such exceptionality is mediocrity at our new home.

Given these forces, it should be no surprise that they coalesced to pressure us into taking on more responsibilities than we want and to accordingly compete to be the most physically and mentally unwell students we could be. When I was tabling for the Student Wellness Project this week, students filled out Post-its saying they would sleep, pleasure-read, cook, go downtown, go to office hours, work out, and chill with friends if they gained the time that came with dropping a class, yet few were inspired to carry through with doing so. Instead, we all watch as beloved pastimes like playing piano, sketching, and acting become enemies to our social and physiological needs. All the while, inspiring course readings get SparkNoted as we do whatever we can to get a good grade, often forgetting why we signed up for classes, clubs, internships, and more in the first place.

In this way, we are making time for the opportunities at Columbia to take advantage of us, rather than the other way around. Even more ironically, though, is that as we turn real interests into superficial ones, we not only get wrapped up in living for ends rather than means, but we also sabotage ourselves from achieving our ends anyway. By giving into the pressure and belief that we need two-page résumés full of “accomplishments” in order to land our “dream jobs,” we often do not realize that these superfluous, unfulfilling, and overwhelming commitments do more to create wrinkles and gray hairs than they do to get us into grad school. Therefore, my response to the friend who wants to add another course to her “light” course load is the same as to the one pursuing a summer internship in finance: if that’s what you love, go for it—but be sure to remember what it means to love something before you answer.

Instead, we should keep our goals simpler. Use college to make ourselves happy and explore who we want to be as people. Fulfillment and personal development should not be deferred when considering our short existences. Therefore, we should all spend at least one semester experiencing another side of college, minimally filling our schedules with activities in order to explore our personalities, meet new people, and discover what truly sustains rather than drains us. Only after relaxing can we know if we prefer educating ourselves simply through talking with peers about their passions.

Dissenters may still say that a healthy level of stress is necessary to motivate us to reach our potential. And while I agree, I think we at Columbia have particularly lost all perspective on what’s healthy, not to mention that we often equate reaching our potential with becoming money-generating robots. Just look at our (likely still unhealthy) peer schools to see what I mean. A normal credit load at MIT is four to 4.5 courses. At Dartmouth, students face additional fees if they take four classes for more than 3 trimesters (the equivalent of taking six classes for more than two semesters). And if you want a good laugh, there’s an article in the Harvard Crimson where the 20 undergraduates taking six or more classes are portrayed as deranged masochists.

If it’s the Harvard students you’re laughing at, you’re missing the point.

Ultimately, less can be more. We can use college to pursue hobbies, socialize, and attend the campus events that we currently only notice when clearing our Facebook notifications. All the while, no one—including employers—will think any less of us for choosing to develop ourselves rather than our second major. Drop a class: It’s refreshing.

The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in biophysics. He is the Columbia College Student Council academic affairs representative and the Student Wellness Project policy chair.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

Comments

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Wow! posted on

It's a shame the spec online transition deleted all the comments of people throughout the country who dropped classes after this. I'm still shocked it was translated and that article alone got 50,000 readers!!
(http://blog.renren.com/share/449275890/15267283368)

+1
+6
-1
Anonymous posted on

This should be required reading for all incoming students!

+1
+11
-1
Anonymous posted on

This initially seemed depressing, but it is actually quite inspiring. I agree 100%. Thanks Steve!

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Very eloquently written, Steven! I whole-heartedly support this.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

Very well-written. In my heart I agree with you, but think that this article oversimplifies the issue. The basic premise is "do what you love in college." The thing is, I want to "do what I love" for my whole life, not just for four years. And for must people at Columbia that takes a disgusting amount of work based on the lofty ambitions they have. I don't support living your life as if it ends when college does; right now we're shaping what our "real worlds" will be like, and if you do it right life you'll be doing what you love your whole life-- even if that includes a constantly stressful lifestyle.

+1
+2
-1
Anonymous posted on

I think the primary argument is that Columbia students out-stress and out-compete themselves even in comparison to other high-achieving schools (see his stats on MIT, Dartmouth, etc. etc.). People at other "elite" college are surely no more ambitious or better long-term planners than we, and yet Columbia is continually ranked as more stressed than them. And like Steven points out, there's no practical benefit to taking 7 classes a semester. Personally, I've never met a successful senior looking forward to grad school/great job prospects lament that it must have been the lack of classes that did her/him in.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

I don't know if I buy into this whole "more stressed" ranking ... who does this ranking? How can we ever know what it's like at other schools?
I have asked myself many times whether I would feel less stressed or happier at a different school of the same caliber (i.e. Yale, Princeton, Penn, etc.) and I don't really know. I just don't know, and I don't think I ever will. We can all guess and say yes but if we change our attitudes and say no, maybe we can be happier with what we have.

As for the core, personally I'm double majoring and fulfilling the CC core and I still have 4-5 elective classes (granted I don't plan to study abroad, but with 4-5 elective options not including those I've already taken, I can definitely study abroad), so I've never had a problem with all the core reqs. I think for CC students at least it is fairly flexible.

Things aren't perfect here, but they're not perfect elsewhere either. I agree stress and wellness is a problem here, but it's not a problem ONLY here.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

I completely agree. It's probably stressful everywhere, and I think that's why he is promoting the message not just for here (he calls the other schools "likely still unhealthy"). It's more of a generational problem to take on too much, so we should all take a step back.

+1
-2
-1
Anonymous posted on

I think the point is that you don't need to take more than the minimum number of classes each semester or be the head of tons of clubs. Employers don't care if you do all the dumb things we do to overwhelm ourselves, and we would all probably be even more successful if we stuck to a few key commitments that we are passionate about, while allowing us to explore. That's at least what I got from the article.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

Cute. But unfortunately I'm stuck at a school where half of my credits are sucked up by the absolutely obscene number of distribution requirements called the Columbia Core. So yeah, I'm taking 6 classes plus PE and working part time and doing several time-consuming extracurriculars this semester... and yeah, if I hadn't studied abroad last semester I wouldn't have to do all that, but I think it's horrendous that my choice is to either completely overload myself or give up that amazing, life-changing experience.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

Do you think there are any feasible policy solutions to this? We'd love to hear any ideas.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

I think the Core is ridiculous, to be honest. Yes, I realize that it's "the Columbia identity" and won't be changes, so perhaps asking for it to be is not "feasible." What I'm saying is that there's a very good reason that we have to work harder than students at any other school... and that reason is the Core. So yeah, maybe it can't be changed. But that's exactly why writing an article just to make us feel bad about our unchangeable situation isn't very nice.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

CC/GS students can also graduate with just a concentration to make up for it. More flexible and lighter so that you ultimately will still not need to go over the max credits to graduate.

+1
+2
-1
Anonymous posted on

I wanted to study two things so I'm doing one concentration and one special concentration. I would have really loved doing a senior project in the concentration subject, but that's another thing I had to give up.

And in terms of practical changes, in detail... why two global cores? Make it one. What is the value of Frontiers of Science? There isn't any. Can't we do one semester of Lit Hum and one of CC instead of a year of each? It's really ok to graduate college without having read /every/ key work of Western literature and philosophy. Look at that, I just shaved off 4 semester-long classes. For someone in my situation, that would have meant 5 or fewer classes every semester. Was that so difficult?

+1
+4
-1
Anonymous posted on

these are definitely ideas to look into.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

GS students do require a major.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

An honest question: if you really feel this way about the Core, which is *the* defining characteristic of the College experience, why did you choose Columbia? Were you tricked into thinking it would be otherwise? Was it just a fallback when you didn't get in somewhere else? (I don't mean that in a disparaging way at all; I'm genuinely curious.)

+1
-1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Very valid question. I am here mostly because Columbia is in New York, both because I love New York and because it is important for me to be here career-wise. I was indeed aware prior to arriving at CU that I was not going to like the Core and did not make an ideal Columbia student... but judging from what I've heard fellow students say about the Core, there seem to only be enough ideal Columbia students to make up about half the College population, so that may be an indication that it's time to change it up a little.

Also, I like your choice of pseudonym.

+1
-2
-1
Anonymous posted on

If you knew you weren't going to like the signature component of our undergraduate education--a component that the College heavily advertises to prospective students--then you shouldn't have come here. Instead, it seems that you used our school as a tool to get to New York and drive your career--which seems to me anathema toward the very purpose of a liberal arts education, and detrimental to a healthy liberal arts atmosphere. If you wanted a good school in New York to exploit for your career you had other choices. So don't blame Columbia for making you take a set of courses they widely advertise and then call people like the author "cute" for wanting a more positive atmosphere.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Well, there are plenty of fine institutions of higher learning in New York City and its environs that don't have anything like our Core. Why Columbia in particular, then? It sounds to me like you're saying "I knew I wouldn't like the Core, but I decided to come here anyway, therefore the Core should change to accommodate me." While I appreciate your frustration, this is a poor argument.

+1
+5
-1
Anonymous posted on

And here I thought we were going to keep in friendly and not hate on each other... so much for that.

You and CC '15 below both know that Columbia is by far the most respected institution of higher learning in New York City, so stop pretending it's not. In addition, as I pointed out, /at least/ half (if not more) of the CC students I have met would prefer to have fewer Core requirements. So are you of the opinion that Columbia should offer admission only to those students who truly love the Core, thus either lowering its standards of admission or reducing its class size by half?

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

I'm suggesting the exact opposite, in fact. It's not that they shouldn't be admitted; if they don't want to be here, they shouldn't apply. What's reputation worth if acquiring it makes you miserable? Is that really how we want to live life? College should be a enjoyable experience, and that means finding a school that is the right fit for you as an individual. CC '14's frustration and misery are clear demonstrations of the dangers of signing up just for the name on the diploma. A good school is only good insofar as it's a good fit.

If half of CC students don't want the experience they signed up for, I suggest half of CC students should have re-evaluated their priorities before applying. They knew just what they were going to get, and they got it. Demanding changes after receiving exactly what was advertised strikes me as pretty disingenuous.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

what is the average # of credits taken per semester for students in CC, SEAS, GS, and BC? are we actually taking more than other schools or are we just talking ourselves into stress again?

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

As much as it would be amazing to do this, completing credits is the issue. Certain majors only provide 3 point classes, which forces you to take on more classes just to be able to complete the necessary credits for graduation. Unfortunately that is something we as students cannot change ourselves.

+1
-2
-1
Anonymous posted on

5 classes, 15 credits. Three more than the minimal required. No need to take six or seven? I'm confused. What is the problem?

+1
+3
-1
Anonymous posted on

That is still below the amount it takes to graduate. Average of 15.5 credits a semester to graduate. At some point, something is going to have to give, but in agreement that 6 or 7 classes is quite extreme. I'm just saying that dropping an extra class/ taking less is as black and white as it seems

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

is not as black and white as it seems*

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

core classes are 4 points each (lit hum, CC, art hum, music hum), which provides exactly as many credits as we need to graduate taking only 5 classes a semester. pretty black and white.

+1
+2
-1
Anonymous posted on

Art and Music Hum are actually only 3 points each. Same with University Writing.

+1
-1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Appreciate the correction, but seriously, you're missing the point:
Frosci is 4, each gym is 1, I can go on...

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

But isn't the point that you should only have to take 4 classes, not five. Five is already the norm for most students, and it's more than students at most other similar schools take. So, yeah, that's a problem. So if what would be considered overachieving at other schools is not only the norm, but required to graduate...

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

We have to take 6 credits per class each semester if you are an engineering student doing premed. That's the shitty fact of our lives

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

Thank you so much for this. You don't know how much it means.

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

if columbia does anything mentioned here, it will be to charge us extra for taking more classes...cause we don't have enough fees, ya know?

+1
+1
-1
Anonymous posted on

This is a great article, Steven! You actually just convinced me to drop a class! Thanks! I feel so much better now!!! =D yayyyy

+1
+2
-1
Anonymous posted on

Love this so much!! ahhhhhh!

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

Sustain! Don't drain!

+1
+3
-1
Anonymous posted on

This article now has hundreds of shares in the US, plus it was translated into Chinese and has 3.500+ shares and 40,000+ readers: http://blog.renren.com/share/4.... Well done, Spec!

+1
+1
-1