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take that class – I dare you

By Maddie Wray

If you’re anything like me, you might find bookbagging incredibly intimidating. One of the greatest things about Duke is that it offers so many classes— the downside: it offers SO. MANY. CLASSES. I’ve spent hours staring at DukeHub adding and removing classes from my bookbag with an excitement about all of the cool topics I could be studying in the upcoming semester, but also an intense anxiety about whether I can even afford to take a class if it doesn’t exactly fit with the major and career path that I’ve decided is my future.

As someone who came into Duke undecided, I’ve taken quite a range of classes. From Memoir Studies, to Environmental Policy, to French Feminism, to Introductory Statistics, I have always tried to dip my toes into almost every subject. I only have a few more to cross off, but I do have my doubts you will ever see me in a Physics class.

As a young self-admitted overachiever, I always dreamed about all of the interesting classes I could take in college. No longer would I be forced to take boring, banal classes I had no interest in— for the first time, I could choose what I studied. I imagined reading dusty old books of ancient Greek philosophy in a beautiful library with dimly glowing sconces (I can check the library part off my list!) and lounging in the grass outside my dorm beneath a tree writing a lengthy, wordy, high-brow essay about the evolution of sex in the 1960s (I unfortunately haven’t written that specific paper, but I definitely am a proud quad-lounger). So as soon as course selection opened for my freshman fall semester, of course I was drawn to the most wild-card courses I could find.


Once I started talking to my brand-new O-Week friends, however, I realized I would probably not have much company in my Tolstoy and The History of Russian Morality class.

I often receive the same answer when I tell my friends what classes I’m choosing for the next semester: “Why?” The answer to this question seems simple to me, but I’ve realized it’s a bit confusing. Why would I take a class that will have seemingly no bearing on my future, can’t put on my resume, fulfills zero major requirements, and seems to teach me absolutely no concrete skills?

So here’s my answer: I take that cool class simply because it is cool.

I know there is no way to get around the prerequisite classes you need to graduate, and some of those classes ARE cool. But despite all the pressure in Duke culture to focus yourself entirely on your future, it’s still important to focus on your now. Why throw away the opportunity to explore that thing you’ve always wanted to do, like film acting? Aren’t you curious to take a geology class and study rocks until you can tell when they were formed? Wouldn’t it be awesome to learn to play guitar so you can make everyone fall in love with you just by saying, “I play guitar”? When, besides in the strange pseudo-society that is college, will you ever be able to do this?

I know it sounds dumb to take a class that seems “useless” when you could just take all of your organic chemistry and calculus classes in one year and get it over with— why waste this precious time working in a class that doesn’t matter?

But the thing is, when you’re passionate about something, it doesn’t feel like work. The classes that first catch your eye when you’re searching through the endless lists on DukeHub possess a certain quality that gives them a special value: you enjoy them.


Those are the classes that will challenge you and make you wonder about things you’ve never wondered about before.


Those are the classes that will make up for how much you hate the economics class you have to take for your major. Those are the classes that will actually make you excited to go to class, participate past the minimum to pass the class, annoy your friends with how much you talk about it, and somehow write the best essay of your life about the strangest topic in the world. 

Those are the classes that make all the stress and money and fear all worth it.

Below is a list of classes that my friends and I have taken and loved, or always wanted to take. I hope you take my advice and try to fit into your schedule just one class that does nothing but make you excited.

If you have a class that you especially love that you don’t see here, feel free to let us know in this form!


Climate, Coffee, and Coronavirus: Why Ecology Matters to Human Health | BIOLOGY 153

People, Plants and Pollution: Introduction to Urban Environments | BIOLOGY 262

Experiments in Animal Models of Human Neurodegenerative Disease | BIOLOGY 422LS

Women in Visual Arts, 1400-1800: Theory and History | ARTHIST 245S

Chinese Buddhist Art | ARTHIST 378

Fabricating Race: Art and Clothing | ARTHIST 390S

Introduction to Digital Photography | ARTSVIS 119S

Puppetry | ARTSVIS 264S


The Hollywood Musical: Singing and Dancing the American Dream | CINE 139

Acting For the Camera | CINE 310S

World of Korean Cinema | CINE 256

The Good Life: Religion, Philosophy, and Life’s Ultimate Concerns | CLST 210

Roman Spectacle | CLST 354

Computer Network Architecture | COMPSCI 356

American Indian Nations Today | CULANTH 102

Patient and Research Participant Activism and Advocacy | CULANTH 196FS

Language & Identity: How We Construct Identities and Reproduce Social Hierarchies Through Language | CULANTH 217S

Capoeira: Brazilian Dance/Martial Art | DANCE 131

The University as a Culture: A Survivor's Guide | CULANTH 347S

Elementary Modern Dance | DANCE 110

Arts Activism & Everyday Technology | DANCE 301

Ocean Engineering | ECE 461

Shakespeare & Financial Markets: Why This Time is Never Different | ECON 255S

Denial, Faith, Reason: Sustainability and Survival | ECON 285

History of Art Markets | ECON 344

Prisoner's Dilemma and Distributive Justice | ECON 361

Special Topics in Literature: Cults and Conspiracies | ENGLISH 90S

Performing Science: Experimentation, Collaboration, and Artistry | ENGLISH 198FS

From History to Fantasy: Medieval Religions in Film & Fiction | ENGLISH 254

The Seven Deadly Sins: Representing Vice and Virtue in Christian Tradition | ENGLISH 330

The Anthropocene: The Next Epoch of Geologic History | EOS 325

Field Exploration of the Geology of North Carolina | EOS 401

The Good Life: Religion, Philosophy, and Life’s Ultimate Concerns | ETHICS 210

Race, Gender, Class, & Computing | GSF 242

The Actress: Celebrity and the Woman | GSF 260

Money, Sex, Power | GSF 361

Breakdown: Madness, Self, Fiction | GSF 383S

Drugs, Chemicals, and Health: Histories of Substances in Economies, Environments, and Bodies | HISTORY 235

Games and Culture: Gateway to the Study of Games | LIT 188FS

The Problem of Love in Western Literature | LIT 205S

Introductory Guitar Class | MUSIC 101-3

Djembe Class | MUSIC 101-4

Looking Inside the Disordered Brain | NEUROSCI 277

Religion and Science | NEUROSCI 237

The Googlization of Knowledge: Information, Ethics, and Technology | PJMS 112

News as a Moral Battleground | PJMS 371

The Challenges of Living an Ethical Life | POLSCI 120

Transformative Ideas: Power, Theater, and Politics | POLSCI 288S

Sports and Society | SOCIOL 151S

Sex, Gender, and Society | SOCIOL 218

Juvenile Delinquency | SOCIOL 219

Death and Dying | SOCIOL 264

Reading Theater | THEATRST 187S

Drama of Ancient Greece | THEATRST 230

Costume Design | THEATRST 261S

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