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Columbia has hundreds of fantastic classes, so narrowing down your selections to just four courses by the end of the shopping period will definitely be challenging. Here are a handful of our recommendations.

Sophia Hotung: Early African-American Voices

  • School: Barnard College
  • Class: 2018
  • Major: English, Economics minor
  • Current position on Spec: Staff Director, Engagement Director
  • Title of Class: Early African-American Voices
  • Professor: Cristobal Silva

Thought you could analyze a text just fine? You obviously haven’t had the magical Cristobal Silva. You’ll read a combination of well-known and obscure black Atlantic narratives and critics, and promptly realize that you’ve never known how to properly read or write analytically. Silva will bestow upon your unworthy soul three gifts: a necessary understanding of the Atlantic slave trade, the skill of streamlining an argument and mastering a close-reading analysis, and the ability to insightfully interpret nontraditional texts by reading between the lines and into silences. It’s a must-take for anyone looking to mix up a literature requirement or the English major.

J. Clara Chan: Intorduction to Art History II

  • School: Barnard College
  • Class: 2018
  • Major: English
  • Current position on Spec: Managing Editor
  • Title of Class: Introduction to Art History II
  • Professor: Anne Higonnet

Anne Higonnet’s lectures are thoughtful and comprehensive—she’s able to demonstrate large thematic concepts as she segues through several pieces of art. Even though I took the course as a first-year, I still remember most, if not all, of the works we studied to this day and the significance behind them. Be warned, though: This course requires a lot of memorization since you have to remember each work’s artist, name, and year of creation.

Hannah Barbosa Cesnik: Literary Texts, Critical Methods

  • School: Columbia College
  • Class: 2019
  • Major: English, Art History
  • Current position on Spec: Editorial Page Editor
  • Title of Class: Literary Texts, Critical Methods
  • Professor: Erik Gray

From his very first lecture on why literature is better than sex (trust me, it’s convincing), Erik Gray gave provocative, insightful, and compelling lectures on poetry, prose, drama, and literary criticism. Even if you’re taking this as an elective, the readings aren’t overwhelming, and you take what you learn with you across disciplines. I wasn’t sure what to major in coming to Columbia, but this is the class that made up my mind.

Veronica Grace Taleon: Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe

  • School: Barnard College
  • Class: 2019
  • Major: Political Science
  • Current position on Spec: Spectrum Editor
  • Title of Class: Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe
  • Professor: Sheri Berman

Yes, political science classes have a notoriously heavy reading load, but trust me, I never retreated to the library grumbling about all the reading I still had left to do for this class. Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe is fascinating, and Sheri Berman is wonderful and brilliant. Even if you think you already know everything there is to know about European history, this class will force you to discuss, debate, and write about it from an angle many of us have not yet considered. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself sitting in anticipation for the next class, just so you can see what happens in the next part of the story.

Jaime Danies: The Art of Structural Design

  • School: School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Class: 2020
  • Major: Civil Engineering
  • Current position on Spec: Deputy New Photo Editor
  • Title of Class: The Art of Structural Design
  • Professor: George Deodatis

Why you recommend it (around 100 words): This course doesn’t have any prerequisites and is open to both SEAS and non-SEAS students alike. It trains you to analyze structures as an art form by focusing on aesthetic and structural innovations throughout the history of modern civil engineering. It is a well-balanced course in history, art, and basic physics. The coursework is light and isn’t particularly challenging, and George Deodatis is an engaging lecturer with a good sense of humor. This class is not one you want to miss.

Allison Kiang: Culture and Healing in East Asia

  • School: Columbia College
  • Class: 2019
  • Major: Neuroscience and Behavior, concentrating in East Asian Studies
  • Current position on Spec: Deputy Copy Editor
  • Title of Class: Culture and Healing in East Asia
  • Professor: Nicholas Bartlett

If you’re a pre-med, Culture and Healing in East Asia is an eye-opening course that forces you to reconsider how we perceive and label illness and disease from anthropological and sociopolitical standpoints. The class is centered on a number of readings and video ethnographies selected by Nicholas Bartlett (who has a really interesting background—he’s done heroin intervention work in China). After this course, you might put a little less stock in WebMD and think more about how we classify disease to begin with. The class itself is pretty light—two papers, weekly discussion posts—but immensely valuable as a pre-med studying in New York, where there is such a culturally diverse population.

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