The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting Course Recommendations

It's the last day to register for classes, but you'll invariably end up dropping a class and having to pick up another one:

We’ve all been there: you know that you’re taking a concentration requirement, a gen ed, and some class to trick your parents into thinking that you’ll get a job after you graduate. But you still need a fourth class to take. After shopping what seems like every class Harvard offers, you still have no idea what to fill this fourth class with. What are you going to do? Who are you going to ask?

I’m here to give you the do’s and dont’s of the last minute course search. Disclaimer: as a second semester senior, I mostly agreed to write this post to get 3.5 years of pent-up bitterness and bad suggestions off my chest, so bear with me. Let’s start with the dont’s to maintain #suspense:

Never, ever—under any circumstances—ask

Your advisor. Are you being serious right now? If you’re a freshman, your advisor is some rando from the Harvard Office for Inefficient Bureaucracy who probably didn’t go here. If you’re an upperclassman, your concentration advisor literally has a Ph.D and you haven’t even fulfilled your AIU requirement. That’s a great way to find yourself in a “low workload” class with 500 pages of reading and a response paper per week.

Pre-meds. I love pre-meds and they’ll definitely end up a) more successful than me and b) probably responsible for saving my life some day, but this is a huge NO for course recommendations, especially for humanities concentrators. “Oh you still need to fulfill SLS as a junior? Take LS1a. No, no, no, you’ll be fine without AP Biology under your belt.”

Literally any undergraduate at Harvard. Have you ever heard of the Cambridge Paradox? It’s an age old philosophical quandary that I made up while writing this post. Basically, every other Harvard College student is automatically smarter than the person wrestling with the paradox, but is also searching for easy courses. It follows (#logic) that you must assume that any course recommendation -- even for gems -- is probably harder than what you’re looking for. I know it’s weird, but you can go to this link for more information.

Ask with reservations

Juniors who have a consulting internship or seniors who have a job lined up. If you did your homework and followed the link above, you’ll have learned that once a Harvard College student receives a job offer, they cease to be a Harvard College student in actuality. But, be careful: though free from the Cambridge Paradox, they might just take hard courses and not do the work, then claim it was easy.

*Note: I did not say to trust seniors who have been accepted into graduate schools. These are nerds.


The Q Guide. That’s it. Want an easy class? Find one with a low workload score (let’s be real, Harvard, once you stopped reporting difficulty, students just started using workload as a substitute.) Want a good professor? Stick to ones with 4.3+ on the Q.

No, seriously, always trust the Q scores. I don’t know how it took me that long to figure this out, but it’s not too late for you. You still have time. Make this semester the Harvard you always dreamed about...but like, not when you were in high school and dreamed about a fun, challenging Harvard experience. Make this semester the Harvard you dreamed about in the three hours of sleep you got after studying for the midterm in that class your freshman year roommate said you should take.

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