I recently came across the article “College Shouldn’t Be a Breeze” in Cornell University’s The Cornell Daily Sun, and was inspired to write a response. The article talks about the importance of pursuing your interests and challenging yourself at university, rather than choosing the classes that seem the easiest. I too share these views. But I also belive that learning doesn’t have to be linear, and any class that helps you learn or think outside the box is a good class, regardless of difficulty. College should help you grow in all directions.
My school has a course review system, called the Penn Course Review, which rates courses by their quality and difficulty. Many students joke about “sorting courses from low to high difficulty” and choosing the easy ones, but I generally wouldn’t advise this. Easy courses can be fun – and challenging in their own ways – but they are often assessed through exams; while more difficult classes provide in-depth discussions and allow for individual learning, as there are more self-led projects or research essays.
However, if you are interested in a topic but don’t have any existing background knowledge of it, easy introduction classes are a good way to learn something new without overexerting yourself. Easy classes are not all bad – they allow you to develop a general understanding of a topic you had no previous exposure to, and perhaps become a more well-rounded person.
For example, if you are an engineering major who wants to take an opportunity to learn about philosophy, there is no shame in taking an easy, introductory philosophy class.
However, if you are a philosophy major looking to fulfil your requirements, I would suggest you go for classes that will build on your previous knowledge instead. To me, what matters in choosing a course is how much they add to your existing knowledge. An easy philosophy class won’t be of much value to a philosophy major, but if you are a chemical engineer, the same class would be worth a lot more.
There is really no set rule on which classes are most worthy of your time at university – it depends on what you are looking to learn, what you already know, and what kind of learning you want to pursue. I would generally advise that everyone take at least a few difficult courses – even in disciplines you are unfamiliar with. The method of learning in these courses allows the development of other skills such as time management and research, which may prove even more useful than the content you learn.