Freshman ‘15: Is 20 Too Many?

Opinion by Bianca Chavez
Jan. 18, 2012, 12:08 p.m.

Freshman ‘15: Is 20 Too Many?During my time at Stanford, I have been told several pieces of advice time and time again. Start papers before the day they’re due. Don’t join 90 clubs just because they all seem cool. Wear a helmet when riding your bike. And, above all else, do not attempt to take 20 units.


So when it came time for me to enroll in classes for this quarter, I told myself I would play it safe. Then I started browsing through Explore Courses. And my cautious academic plan was promptly flung out the window.


“Don’t do it,” my friends warned. They thought my choice to take 20 units would be the equivalent of Cady Heron’s decision to join the Mathletes: social suicide. We all knew the kids in our dorm who had taken 20 units during fall quarter — but only by name. They were the ones who rarely ventured outside of the building, unless it was to attend class or visit the library, of course. They were the ones who pulled all-nighters like it was as simple as pulling up your pants. They were the ones who always looked like they were in desperate need of a nice, long nap — despite the multiple cups of coffee they consumed at every meal.


Was I condemning myself to a quarter of their extreme lifestyle? A quarter without lazy Saturday brunches, The Row, How I Met Your Mother marathons and late night runs to Yogurtland?


“Think long and hard before you decide to take a heavy course-load this early in your college career,” warned my Pre-Major Advisor earlier this year. “Getting used to college is a huge adjustment,” she explained. “Give yourself a while to settle in before you start piling that many classes on your plate.” I left her office knowing she was probably right (as she always is), and yet a tiny part of me was still on the fence.


Plus, even if I thought about dropping a class, which one would it be? Spanish? Too bad it’s a requirement for studying abroad in Madrid — which I’ve dreamed of doing for years. IHUM? More like iWish. Poli sci? Too bad it’s a major requirement. My introsem? Too bad it’s easily my favorite class and the thought of dropping it makes me want to cry.


Like so many other students, I didn’t sign up for 20 units thinking, “This will probably be as much fun as a root canal. Let’s do it!” It just sort of happened. Between major/minor requirements, GERs, IHUM and PWR, 20-unit quarters are sort of like zits: unfortunate, but most people will have one or two at some point.


And so, despite the warnings of my advisor and my friends, I have decided to plow on with my 20-unit course load. Sure, part of me is more scared than I’ve been since I saw “The Devil Inside” (bad, bad, decision), but a larger part of me knows that everything will probably be just fine. Why? Because I really believe that you are the only person who can know what you’re capable of. Others can offer advice and present perfectly valid points to back up their assertions, but who knows my study habits and time-management skills better than myself? Besides, thousands of other Stanford students have undertaken the 20-Unit Challenge and lived to tell the tale. Some — gasp! — even had a few nights of fun time in the process!


Was my decision a foolish one? Maybe a little. Will there be days when my mountain of work makes me feel like crying? Duh. Can I handle the pressure? Only time will tell. Will I learn tons of new things as I push myself harder than I have ever pushed myself before? Absolutely.


And if not, I’ll thank Leland and Jane for Stanford’s long drop period.


Did you catch the “Mean Girls” reference in this column? If so, email Bianca at blchavez “at” stanford “dot” edu. She won’t give you a prize or anything, but she will compliment you on your impeccable taste in movies!

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