I started this semester completely indecisive. I couldn’t decide what courses to take or what career to pursue. As I talk with other HGSE students, it’s clear these are common problems in January. Luckily, HGSE provides plenty of resources to make these decisions easier. I still haven’t made any final career decisions (look out for a future post on that), but I was able to put a class schedule together that’s perfect for me thanks to course shopping.
Choosing a class schedule is so difficult because of the wealth of interesting course options. My program, Education Policy and Management, has relatively few requirements, and I had met those requirements in the Fall and January terms. That meant for Spring term, I had the option of taking almost any classes at any of the graduate schools at Harvard (or even beyond Harvard to schools like MIT). After browsing the course catalogue at HGSE and the other graduate schools, I had a good 25 classes I wanted to take. The abundance of choice can be overwhelming when you only have time to take 4 or 5.
Thankfully, course shopping is held the week before classes start. At HGSE, course shopping is a two-day event where you have the opportunity to attend 45-minute sessions on any class that interests you. The session is led by the professor who teaches the course and gives you a chance to hear about the course structure, course goals, and an overview of the assignments. Shopping sessions also give you a good feel for a professor’s style. Each course has two sessions during the shopping period which makes it easy to fit every course you’ve been eyeing into your shopping schedule.
My experience with shopping has been that it’s incredibly helpful. That was especially true this semester when I lacked a solid idea of what I wanted. Like clothes shopping, there are some outfits that seem perfect in the store window, but once you try them on you realize the fit isn’t right. On the other hand, you may try something on as an afterthought that turns out to be perfect for you. Both of those phenomena happened to me this semester with my classes. Shopping also gave me chance to put together a diverse schedule of classes with different types of assignments and subject matter. My schedule now includes a politics class full of interesting speakers, a class where I will work on a design project for innovating teacher preparation, a statistics class, and a Harvard Kennedy School class examining inequality. I started shopping feeling overwhelmed and indecisive, but finished feeling excited about the semester ahead.
Another added benefit of shopping is that you get exposure to a wide array of classes and professors. If you find yourself here next year, go to as many shopping sessions as you can, even for classes you know you won’t take. Each session gives you a glimpse of what’s going on in different areas of the field and the chance to learn more about the professors here. You’ll also get a syllabus at each session, and I actually save those in case I want to refer to any readings in the future.
Course shopping may not have solved all my problems with making big decisions, but it certainly helped me make the most of my time on Appian Way!
Sara DeWolf is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Education Policy and Management program. She has experience as both a civil litigation attorney and a public school teacher. When she’s not at HGSE, you can find her playing with her daughters and exploring Boston.