Six Classes, One Semester

On a Saturday afternoon several weeks ago, Christopher C. Walleck ’14 momentarily regretted his decision to enroll in six classes.

He had four midterm exams in one week and a Computer Science 50 problem set that needed 20 hours of work.

“I sat down and asked myself, ‘how on Earth am I possibly going to get through this?’” Walleck recalls. “It seemed, at that moment, impossible.”

But Walleck survived. After finishing each midterm, he studied through the night for his next exam. He says he finished the week with only 5 hours of sleep in 120 hours. After grinding through his last midterm on Friday, he went to sleep at 2 p.m. and woke up 21 hours later.

Looking back on his academic marathon, Walleck—both self-assured and self-deprecating about his decision—affectionately refers to the experience as his “worst week at Harvard.”

Despite his hell week, Walleck—an East Asian Studies concentrator—says that a schedule of six courses has made his sophomore fall an “enriching and challenging” endeavor.

While most students at the College enroll in four courses each semester and hundreds more take five, Walleck is 1 of only 20 undergraduates at Harvard enrolled in six or more courses this semester, according to data provided by the Office of Undergraduate Education.

Many Harvard undergraduates struggle to meet deadlines for four courses. But, every year a small coterie of students, unsatiated by the normal academic course load, craves something more. Voluntarily, they dedicate themselves to a schedule 50 percent greater than the College demands—that means more lecture, more section, more homework, more midterms, more papers, and more exams.

“It takes a very strange person to want to take six classes,” said James H. Sun ’14—a member of the six class elite.

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CHALLENGE

Students who take six courses in a single semester say they are motivated most fundamentally by a desire to challenge themselves academically.

Some, like mechanical engineering concentrator Rachel D. Field ’12, say their decision is catalyzed by a single experience.

Last year, Field spent winter break in the Himalayas testing a solar lantern that she had helped design that previous fall in an independent research project.

At the end of her trip, she returned to campus inspired by her experience in the Himalayas—and decided to enroll in six courses to further explore the concepts she had worked on during her trip.

“I was just so motivated,” she recalls. “A couple of the classes I took last spring were driven by specific academic questions.”

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