Working on Your Core

The summer before the first year of college is a very busy time. As class schedules and living arrangements take shape, future college students familiarize themselves with their school’s policies and requirements, becoming experts on the place they will soon call home.

Comparing schools and course schedules with friends is an inevitable part of the summer before college, and I found that none of my friends attending other schools would be required to take any course that resembles Legacies of the Ancient World or Challenges of Modernity. Most of my friends seemed to be free to take any classes they wanted with only loose distribution requirements, while Colgate appeared to be unique in the number of courses it requires. My friends at other colleges felt bad that I was required to take a class where we read ancient texts, but I found that the core curriculum can be a valuable part of a Colgate education.

In the months leading up to my first year at Colgate, I envisioned all the unique courses I would take over the next four years, but nothing similar to any of the core courses ever came to mind. I decided to take Legacies and Modernity during my first year simply to get them out of the way and was surprised to find that these classes were often enjoyable and enriching. I was exposed to ideas and ways of thinking that I had never considered and read texts that I had heard of but knew nothing about.

Since the core courses only have first-years and sophomores, I also learned a lot from my professors about writing and thinking at a college level. While I was nervous that I would fall behind in class, since I didn’t consider myself an adept literary scholar, I soon realized that most people in the core classes were in the same boat and just as academically nervous as I was. In my experience, the required core classes were more about learning skills than becoming experts on the subject matter.

Many Colgate students, including myself sometimes, feel that it is absurd to require every student to take the same courses when every student has different interests. No matter how you frame it, I will never enjoy reading the “Iliad”; it is a painful experience in which I would never choose to partake on my own. Although we did pull some important themes out of Homer’s texts, perhaps this could have been done through a text that I found more interesting. 

Looking back, however, it was probably beneficial that I was pushed outside of my academic comfort zone. And while other people in my class may have been much more comfortable reading such ancient, poetic texts, I probably had a leg up on them in my scientific perspectives course. Everyone learns differently, so perhaps by having what seems like an excessive number of core requirements, Colgate is trying to push every student out of his or her comfort zone.

At some point during your first two years at Colgate you’ll probably be jealous of your friend at another college who is taking a course about Harry Potter while you’re stuck taking Challenges of Modernity or Communities and Identities, but the Colgate curriculum is what you make of it. The core courses challenge you to think in new ways and exposes you to ideas you might never have previously considered. 

Like most things in life, if you enter with a positive attitude, you’ll be happy with the end result.