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#HonorsProblems: Struggles of an Intellectually-Curious Student in an Achievement-Oriented World

The following blog post was written by Peer Advisor Tori, a sophomore in the Elliott School studying international affairs and conflict resolution. You can learn more about Tori here.

It’s 12:52am. You register for classes in approximately 6 hours. In your groggy stupor, you, an intellectually curious student, think to yourself “Math is my weakest academic area, but maybe that’s because I haven’t found a topic that I genuinely enjoy! Calculus sounds interesting!” You, nostalgic for a time when academic success was not determined by the letter grade you receive on a transcript (4th grade, maybe), decide to register for Calc I.

But you, a pragmatist, remember that you are scared of numbers and hate taking exams, and you decide that you don’t want to take any more semesters of math than is absolutely necessary. You, a problem-solver, amend your original plan and decide to register for an accelerated version of Calc I.

You have never taken Calc before. You haven’t taken any sort of math class in 2 years. You tell yourself you will review basic concepts in mathematics. You, a busy person with other more relevant academic interests, don’t. You, a stubborn and intellectually-curious individual, don’t drop the class.

The semester goes by, and you find yourself spending a disproportionate amount of time studying for a class in which you’re doing significantly less-well than all your other classes. You, a reflective student, ask yourself: was this even worth it? Why did I do this to myself?

Confession #1: This was me.
Confession #2: The grade I ultimately received in this class was lower than any other grade I’ve received in my life.
Confession #3: I would 100% recommend that everybody make the exact same decision.

I chose to take Calc for two reasons: 1) Even though math was never my strong suit, Calc seemed like an interesting and applicable version of math and I genuinely wanted to give it a chance, and 2) I knew that I would rather struggle through a class I found interesting than get a decent grade in a class I absolutely hated. At the end of the semester I realized that, even through the fatigue, complaints, and packages of erasers, I was intellectually satisfied. I had learned more than I had anticipated, and I was proud of what I had learned. Maybe that didn’t always show through on an exam, but I knew deep-down that I was being honest with myself and that I had made a choice that was the best decision for me.

The details of this story are specific to my own experience, but I can almost guarantee that the sentiment is not. Honors students are driven by a desire to learn everything they can about the world around us, and sometimes, this leads us down a more challenging academic path than we had initially anticipated. Maybe my Calc experience will be your experience with a philosophy class or an art class, or maybe you’re struggling through your own personal mathematical abyss. In the spirit of this registration season, I tell you this: TAKE THE CLASS. Trust me, the struggle will be worth it.