Academic Exploration

There are so many options at BU that it can be a little overwhelming. It’s tempting, sometimes, to stay with what you know. It can feel safe to follow the expected path—whether that’s studying something you already know you enjoy, sticking with your strengths, doing what someone else has done, or doing what you (or your friends or family) always assumed you would do.

But some of the best journeys involve venturing into the unknown. It doesn’t mean you have to change your final destination, and you can always come back to the beaten path; it just means that you open yourself up to some new possibilities along the way.

How do you decide what to explore?

There are lots of good answers to that question, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Carve out some time, and just read through part of the BU Bulletin (no need to read it all at once!). As you read about all of the different majors and minors at BU, make note of ones that look interesting. Then pick one and look at the list of courses offered by the department. Again, the Bulletin is a good place to start. Although it may only list courses offered that year, it can help to read through a set of related courses. If you find yourself thinking that lots of courses in a particular department sound interesting, pick one to try. Taking one with Hub units means the course will still “count” in more than one way (units as well as credits). Or you might decide to take a survey course that introduces you to the field, or a topics course that dives right into an intriguing topic (just make sure you’ve met the prerequisites). The nice thing about this approach is that it lets you see the full variety of courses available, before you’ve “pre-screened” by picking certain areas to search.

Or you can use the Course Search tool and search by keywords related to things that make you curious. Always wondered about contemporary art? Pop that into the search bar and see what you come up with.

“Throughout all of our work together, my advisor has shown herself to be a dedicated professor, researcher, and mentor. She constantly goes above and beyond to ensure that I learn through my research, challenge myself, take a suitable course load, and balance academics with work and life outside the classroom.”

– Wiley Hundertmark, CAS’20, KHC’20

Not every class you take needs to fit into your professional pathway. You have a personal life, too. Whatever you do in the future, you will be living in a built environment. Taking a course on architecture (or cities, or migration, etc.) will help you appreciate that environment in richer ways. Nutrition, media, climate change—all these and more will influence your time on earth—does one of them make you particularly curious? Again, pop it into the Course Search tool and go from there.

Talking with friends is another great way to learn more about other academic areas. Is one of your friends taking a course that sounds fascinating? Ask to see the syllabus. Look at what else is offered by the department.

What if you explore something new and decide you really don’t like it? It’s actually quite valuable to know what you don’t like, and it will help you in future decisions.

What if you’re worried that you won’t be good at something new, and it will affect your GPA? That might be a good time to look into electing to take the course pass/fail—talk with your advisor.

Another way to identify academic areas to explore is to “work backwards.” Is there an activity that you’re involved in on campus that you love? Or a part-time job you find rewarding? There’s probably an area of study related to it. This would be a great topic of conversation with your advisor!

It’s good to have goals and to work toward them, but it’s also good to be open to serendipity. Sometimes the detour becomes the journey.