When I was an undergraduate, I was faced with a particular problem: Virginia Tech had so many students that the desirable classes and time slots filled up quite quickly. Course registration was always a nightmare. My first two semesters, I found myself constantly fretting that I wouldn’t get into the classes I needed, and I couldn’t take my first choice in electives. Something had to be done.
And I had a plan.
Some students, you see, received priority registration. Students with disabilities, for instance, would never get bumped from their preferred classes, as it would be completely unfair to kick a handicapped student out of a class held in an accessible classroom (especially considering that the campus has been around since the 1800s and many of the classrooms were not accessible at all). On the other end of the spectrum, college athletes were given priority registration so they could choose classes which didn’t interfere with their training and competing regimen. As you can probably tell, my sympathies are much more with one of these groups of people than the other.
But a third group of students receiving priority registration were university honors students. Some considered the priority registration merely a reward for higher grades, but honors students tended to take heavier course loads and often had multiple majors, making scheduling trickier. They also tended to take higher-level classes with fewer sessions or which only had a session every other semester. The priority registration made it less likely that an honors student would wind up being unable to graduate on time because of a scheduling impossibility.
After my Freshman year, my GPA was high enough for me to join the honors program. This seemed relatively harmless, so I did.
The problem was, there were certain expectations of honors students. I had to maintain a certain GPA, of course, but a high GPA was my goal anyway so that wasn’t a hardship. Honors students were also expected to take a certain number of honors classes. There were a few classes which were essentially honors versions of the normal classes and which conferred honors credit. There were also specific classes which were specially designated as honors classes and were usually classes designed to put honors students together to discuss important issues, learn from each other in a conducive environment, and pursue community service.
Both of these types of classes were of no interest to me. I was at the university for one reason: computer programming. Other dalliances were occasionally enjoyable but only to the extent that they did not distract from my primary purpose.
There was, however, a third option: the 5-year BS / MS degree.
For this degree, the candidate would take graduate-level classes in his or her major rather than the typical Senior year classes. These classes would count for dual credit: they would fulfill the requirements for the Bachelor’s Degree, but they would also count towards the Master’s Degree that the student was of course expected to go on to pursue.
This option was designed primarily for students who knew they wanted to get their Ph.D. and wanted to get their Master’s out of the way as quickly as possible while they marched triumphantly onward through their postgraduate tours-de-force.
It was also perfect for me.
The first reason why it was perfect is that it required essentially no investment from me at all my Sophomore and Junior years. I didn’t have to take any additional classes, I just got to bask in the glory of the priority registration. In fact, I could just…not do anything at all, enjoy the priority registration as long as possible, and then once they finally grew wise to my scam and kicked me out of the honors program just shrug my shoulders and move on…by the time you’re a Senior, it’s a lot easier to get the courses you need anyway.
The second reason, though, was that I deeply loved computer science. The challenge of taking graduate-level classes as an undergrad was actually exciting to me, unlike the idea of taking an honors class where a bunch of preppy nerds sat in a circle and talked about solving world hunger or whatever. Sure I would have to formally apply to grad school after my Junior year and be accepted, but I wasn’t particularly worried about that.
For various reasons I was on track to graduate with my Bachelor’s a semester early, meaning that I started taking my graduate-level classes in the Spring semester of my third year. And honestly, I’m so incredibly glad I chose this track. My graduate level classes were far more interesting than their undergraduate counterparts. I got a chance to work with some amazing professors, including the professor who would eventually become my thesis advisor.
It was clear that the world of academia was not for me, and by the time I got my Master’s, I was definitely done with schooling. But I’m really pleased with how it all worked out…and it was all because I wanted to get priority registration but couldn’t be bothered to take any honors classes.