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Looking Back on BC Syllabus Week: Help or Hindrance?

Change is an inherent part of life. Seasons switch, hours pass, and fall semester meets winter break all too soon. Despite this inevitable feature of time, many are often shocked when winter turns to spring, today to tomorrow. I find the hardest fact of change to be the transitional period that follows the shift. Amid a transition, old and new realities tug you back and forth, making it difficult to situate yourself in the new norm. It takes time to grow accustomed to new actualities. This is a familiar (but nevertheless stressful) pattern that plagues the start of each semester as we try to find time for all the things college students are expected to do.

The first week back at school—affectionately referred to as "syllabus week" by college students across the country—is the ideal time to adjust to new situations, whatever they may be. In an effort to better gauge the sylly-ness going on around college campuses during those first overheated weeks, I took to the internet to better see how BC fares in comparison.

My search produced unexpected results. What might be syllabus week or a “shopping period” at other schools seems to occur in the span of one BC class period. The library is full by Wednesday of week one, as opposed to the schools of my Google search, where books are seldom opened and libraries remain deserted until long into the semester. Hitting students at full force during the first week back not only adds to the stress of a transitional period but also stifles academic exploration.

With the exception of freshman—who will soon learn—class pick times are the (evil) step sibling of housing pick times at Boston College. Your schedule is determined by luck (or unluck) of the draw. I imagine an afternoon pick time on day two is akin to a fourth place finish at the Olympics.

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However, there exists a potential saving grace before your schedule of second choices is solidified: the add/drop period. This, I believe, is where the real problem lies.

There is great hesitancy in dropping and subsequently adding classes during that first week, as there is a chance you’ve just missed a week’s worth of fundamental information that could soon be on an exam. In one of my classes, I was assigned to read upward of 40 pages for the second class. With such constraints, it feels like adding and dropping is actively discouraged here. If BC truly wants students to find their passion and act on it in a way that “set[s] the world aflame,” then why can’t they do any exploring to find it?

Another popular (but equally unsuccessful) scheduling system is known as the "shopping period." Used at schools like Harvard, Yale, and Brown, the two-week period is a specified time where students can sit in on as many classes as they'd like and decide which they wish to register for. Some students claim that this method adds to the existing stress that is a staple of this transitional time. Knowing all of the options makes it hard to whittle your schedule into a manageable course load, not to mention that homework is expected to be completed for all the classes one taste-tests.

Fostering academic curiosity and relieving students of even the tiniest bit of stress should be a top priority during transition periods. Without a syllabus week that allows students to properly explore options, the administration is stunting the growth that it attempts to foster.

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