The registration process can be overwhelming and stressful. From figuring out your registration time to navigating CULPA reviews, waitlists, and conflicting classes, it is challenging to create a schedule with no obstacles. As registration approaches and you scroll through the course catalog, keep in mind that Columbia and Barnard have added intensive courses with alternative schedules. For those of you who want to finish a course before the semester ends, block classes are a perfect solution. As opposed to a standard 12-week schedule, intensive classes are in two six-week blocks for both the fall and spring semesters. Block courses meet more frequently than semester-long courses, allowing students to take fewer classes at a time. We asked a few students about their experience with fall A and B courses to help you decide whether spring A and B courses are right for you.
How do I know if a class is intensive?
In the University Directory of Classes, you can filter the results by selecting “spring 2021” for the semester, and “A” or “B” for the subterm. For spring 2021, there are 214 spring A courses and 219 spring B courses.
What are the benefits of intensive courses?
Because intensive courses meet twice as much as regular semester courses, the Spring A semester begins Jan. 11 and ends Feb. 22, as opposed to semester-long courses, which end on April 15. If you prefer to focus on fewer classes at a time, intensive courses are a great option.
Caroline Erbstein, BC ’23, took a fall A course to lessen her course load during the semester. As opposed to taking four or five classes, thanks to block scheduling, she only had three classes at a time. As such, she did not have to split her focus between too many subjects and could give more time to her courses than she would in a regular semester. Anjali Ramakrishnan, BC ’23, also commented that she had a positive experience in block courses because “there is something [helpful] about only needing to think about a few courses, even if one of them is more work, at a time.”
Intensive courses also allow you to take the same amount of credits as regular classes in half the time. If you are considering a double major or want to graduate early, these block classes allow you to fulfill requirements faster. They also allow room for more experimentation. If you’re looking into a potential major or minor, you can test out more courses throughout the semester.
You can also plan out your workload throughout the semester. For next spring, you may choose to take almost all your classes in the A block to keep your B block free for other projects or research you have planned.
What are the drawbacks?
While Erbstein appreciated the ability to focus “on three classes at a time instead of four” and “definitely [recommends]” block classes, other students feel differently. Claire Lempert, BC ’23, found that her “retention is lower” and her “stress levels are higher.” Because the courses have a condensed time period, work can often become overwhelming. For example, Celia Rosen, BC ’23, found that “the pace it moves at is far too fast for the content to be discussed meaningfully,” leaving no space “for the other aspects of the class like lectures, group projects, and papers.” Though intensive courses can seem rushed at times, students like Lempert found some of her classes to be better suited for a fast-paced format.
Most students who took intensive courses in the fall recommend taking classes with a lighter workload if you plan to do them in a block schedule. Because there are fewer days between classes, there is less time to complete assignments. For courses with heavy workloads, the block schedule may prove to be more challenging.
Intensive classes also mean more time spent on Zoom, only adding to the Zoom fatigue you will be experiencing throughout the regular semester. You will also have to manage more pressing deadlines and assignments on top of your regular workload. Organization is going to be important, so if you know you will be taking intensive courses, be ready to plan out assignments at the beginning of the semester to stay on top of deadlines.
Keep in mind that A block finals coincide with midterms for full-term courses, meaning you’ll have no reading week to prepare for them. Students have reported that professors did not respect the University’s recommendation for instructors teaching semester-long courses to lighten the workload during the fall A finals week, making that week much more stressful for students in fall A courses. Lempert noted, “the most strenuous period of this semester was the week where I had to balance midterms for standard courses with finals for block courses.”
Students like Rosen have also reported that some classes have not covered the same amount of material in the intensive courses as they would in a full semester. Because of the limited time frame, there are instances where professors might prefer to remove lessons from the syllabus rather than spend less time on each overall topic. This experience could transform what she noted as “an extremely enjoyable class into a chaos … of readings and lectures.”
What about summer courses?
According to an email from Barnard President Sian Beilock, the summer semester was implemented to “enhance flexibility, add to the enrollment opportunities available to … students, and maximize the opportunity for on-campus classes.” The summer term offers both intensive block courses as well as semester-long courses. The summer A courses begin on May 3 and ends on June 21; the summer B semester begins on June 28 and ends on Aug. 16. For seniors looking to take summer courses, you will graduate in June if your requirements are complete by the end of the summer A term; if you finish your requirements during the summer B term, you will graduate in October. To participate in the Commencement ceremony, seniors must take fewer than eight summer credits, unless they have received specific permission from their senior class dean.
If you’re planning on taking summer courses, keep in mind the credit limit that you can take from fall 2020 to summer 2021. The Barnard credit cap is 45. Columbia College students have a cap of 40 credits. While students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science normally would have a cap of 40 credits over the academic year, if you are using the summer semester, you only get 40. Make sure you distribute your classes wisely!
Barnard housing information for the summer session is expected to be posted by the beginning of the spring semester. Plans for summer housing at Columbia are expected to be released with the University operating plan.
So who should consider taking A and B classes?
If you feel like you are well organized and can keep up with a rigorous course load, then intensive block classes won’t be a problem for you. You may have double the amount of work because you’re taking the class at double the speed of a conventional semester, so keep that in mind if you also have extracurricular commitments. Alternatively, if you do have other responsibilities outside of college, you can also plan to have a heavy first half of the semester and then a light second half (or vice versa), so that you can focus on your internship, club, day-to-day responsibilities, or self care.