Climbing for hours up a challenging incline drains your energy more than pretty much anything else (Columbia Outdoor Hiking Orientation Program participants can relate). If you’ve ever found yourself in that position, you know how refreshing it is to finally reach the top. You’ve gritted your teeth, dug your feet into the ground with each step, and expended all the effort necessary to reach that rewarding point. Struggling my way to Columbia required all the concentration and perseverance needed for the most exhausting climbs. But now that I’m here and looking out from the top, I’ve realized the sense of satisfaction that usually accompanies a victorious moment like this has been diminished by something. Two weeks after being deposited on the corner of 116th and Broadway, I’ve noticed that stress is already becoming an issue for my peers and myself. The problem: a muddled first-year class registration process.
The first time I found myself in a class that was over-enrolled and filled to the brim with students, I figured there had to have been some random system error. My instructor politely informed the first-years who had ended up in the course out of curiosity that they should strongly consider finding another class. In short, we were told to get out to make some room. Taking the hint, I searched for another class I might be interested in, checked if there were spots still open, and showed up the next day. This happened another two times before I realized that the hit-or-miss nature of the registration process is ubiquitous problem at Columbia.
First-years anxiously treading water on the waitlists of several different classes—often required for their intended majors—have to deal with unreliable backup courses. The situation is more problematic for those who, like myself, are totally undecided in what they want to pursue. I want the ability to take subjects I never experienced at my high school. I figured that this frustrating registration process was solely the bane of incoming first-years, until a senior I met in my physical education class disabused me of that notion; unpredictable schedule changes are a part of life for all Columbia students. Why, then, has the problem existed for so long? Why isn’t anyone speaking out? Is it an administration deaf to registration concerns, or the people actually facing the problem?
Regardless of who’s responsible, having to juggle classes around while simultaneously adjusting to college life has not made Columbia any less daunting. With any significant change, finding a rhythm sooner rather than later establishes a basis from which you can grow. Just as Columbia’s iconic architectural atmosphere demands recognition, the academic atmosphere demands focus and levelheadedness. These qualities are difficult to achieve if the start of the semester consists of a hectic flurry of adding and dropping classes. Finding an open, enjoyable class shouldn’t be a matter of luck. Well, at least we have waitlists.
In the end, though constructing a schedule around the errors of the Columbia registry has been stressful, I’m glad I’ve found another aspect of Columbia—a network of peers and friends who understand the frustration. While not many here either want or need to have their hands held, an empathetic nod or communal freak-out does help reduce the stress. At the end of the day, who really cares if his or her schedule resembles a Pollock painting more than a solid academic plan, so long as there is always someone nearby with advice to share?
When all is said and done, my wanderings through a number of varied classes in the first two weeks of school has actually been beneficial. Like someone searching through a random stack of posters, I was looking for something I wanted to pick out from the bunch and appreciate for a while. The search becomes worth it when, after a few setbacks, that one gem appears.
The author is a Columbia College first-year.
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