Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sizing up the smörgåsbord of courses at SAIS

SAIS Bologna students are looking past first semester final exams to their course selection for the spring term.

Today Felix Amrhein discusses his courses from the fall and his strategy for the next term. To look at the spring 2013 curriculum, click here.

I vividly remember browsing through my welcome booklet as if it contained the answer to all my questions.

It was SAIS Bologna Open Day in 2011, and I had received the list of classes to be offered the following year. A total of 29 classes in the fall semester, 40 in the spring. Everything from "Intellectuals in Politics" to "Agriculture and Food Security" to "Econometrics". The list of courses I thought I had to take in case I was admitted soon exceeded both the time I could spend on them and the recommended limit of four.

Felix Amrhein in Cinque Terre
Today I still feel the excitement of that day.

Of course in the end I ignored the advice of friends and staff, and decided to take five courses in my first semester. I learned the hard way why four is said to be enough. Still, every course I took in the fall was a great experience, and I can't say which one I would have dropped.

Choosing classes for the second semester has again been difficult, but fortunately there is help. There are electronic resources: syllabi saying what material will be covered and what the course requirements are. Do you want to take four classes that have papers due at the same time? How many readings do you need to do for this class? One class might not be a problem, but you might get into trouble if you don't select carefully. Be strategic about your choices!

One of the most valuable resources for me has been the evaluations by last year's students. While they are subjective and need to be viewed critically, they give a solid impression of the course. Just remember, be sure to judge for yourself before taking a final decision.

Finally, each student has an academic adviser and can also draw on the expertise of Margel Highet, the director of Student Affairs. You can breathe a sigh of relief after meeting with your adviser or Ms. Highet. They know what they are talking about and will not hesitate to point out possible difficulties with your choices while leaving you room  to make up your mind.

One of the first questions you will be asked is: What is your concentration? While you might think a concentration would restrict your choices, selecting electives from interesting concentrations helps you remain flexible. I am currently enrolled in one Conflict Management and one Energy, Resources and Environment class, and will take one class in each of those concentrations in the spring as well. I can still choose between concentrations as late as the end of my first year. That's what I call flexibility.

What combination of courses should I take, then? Should I focus on getting the economics requirements out of the way early or take a broader approach? I have sought a balance: one core course, one economics course, one concentration course and one elective. In addition to a language, you can always still choose to audit up to two other courses.

Another thing to keep in mind: While there are naturally more courses in Washington, where there are three times as many students, Bologna offers a unique curriculum with excellent professors from all over Europe. You should take advantage of being in the heart of Europe and think about courses like "European Economic Integration" or "European Imperialism in the 20th Century".

If you still don't know what to do with your courses, you have two weeks to attend as many of them as you want during the add/drop period. You can weigh your options and shop around.

So don't fret too much about your choice of courses. No time for worrying!

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