Shopping Courses in Sophomore Spring: A Research Project for your Concentration

For Princeton sophomores, the start of second semester can seem like a last-minute mad dash to fulfill prerequisites, choose concentrations and solidify academic paths. Especially for sophomores who have not yet decided on a major, this period can be considerably stressful and overwhelming. While I am not quite in this boat—I have already decided to concentrate in the Woodrow Wilson School—I am facing a similar struggle as I try to settle on a specific track. (For those of you unfamiliar with the track system, Wilson School majors are required to choose a specific field of study under the overarching subject of public and international affairs.)

For sophomores, spring semester presents a crossroad in our academic careers. Design your schedule now to help you know which path to follow.

With the concentration decision deadline rapidly approaching, I’ve decided to treat shopping period as the ultimate academic research experience. Choosing your major really is a lot like tackling a research project. Potential research questions include what are your academic passions? In which areas do you excel? In what ways do you want to be challenged? With whom do you wish to work?

Data collection for this research project comes from the classes you’ve taken up until this point. You’ve explored a variety of fields — courtesy of Princeton’s distribution requirements — to see which classes and departments you enjoy the most. You’ve spoken to expert sources like your advisers and professors. You may have even gained outside experience through summer internships or research projects. In theory, by sophomore spring, we have all collected enough material to address our driving questions and choose a concentration. But what if you are a sophomore who doesn’t yet have an answer to these questions? What if your data collection phase isn’t over?

But what if your data collection phase isn’t over?

Don’t worry—you still have time. The deadline to declare isn’t until April 19, so you can still explore different fields in your classes. The classes you take during sophomore spring may actually be the most helpful to determine your interests. Often, they address topics in a more nuanced and informative way than introductory courses. The trick is to pick classes that will best serve you in the final stretch of the data collection process (which is why add-drop period is an important time for us sophomores).

Use these early weeks to sit in on classes that intrigue you. For example, I have not yet decided whether to follow the gender and sexuality track or the housing and urban issues track, so I’ve incorporated a survey urban studies course and a gender history course into my schedule. Think strategically. Make sure you are fulfilling all prerequisites for any concentrations you are still considering. Most importantly, during shopping period and for the rest of the semester, treat these classes as a means of gathering information about your interests. Think critically about how you see yourself moving forward in various departments. What would your independent work look like? What classes would you have to take? Would you be happy exploring certain topics in great detail?

My final piece of advice for sophomores’ last-minute data collection is to remember that this research project extends far beyond choosing your major. You will have plenty of opportunities to narrow your focus within your concentration and change direction as you see fit. I won’t be choosing my track as if it is a be-all end-all academic decision. Rather, I plan on approaching it as just another step in researching how to move forward in my academic career.

Emma Kaeser, Social Sciences Correspondent