Fall quarter was a typical sophomore mess. Spurred by the conviction that with freshman year behind me, it was now time to get serious, I enrolled in a rock-solid 20 units. And, to say the least, it did not go well.
It’s not that I wasn’t prepared to take 20 units — it’s that I wasn’t prepared to take 23.
We’ve all been through a presentation during NSO when an AAD explains that units entail a certain number of hours both in and out of class. During the first part of the presentation, they calmly explain that a unit is meant to reflect about three hours of work, including one hour of class time. The schedule displayed on the screen is neat — a few hours of class and homework that seem manageable enough, eight hours of sleep every night, time for a low-commitment extracurricular and a part-time job. By the end of the presentation, the schedule is already jam-packed with multicolored blocks.
This, however, is still an ideal scenario. It doesn’t account for group project partners who never show up, roommate crises at two in the morning, student group performances every weekend or coffees to stay in touch with friends. Most of all, it doesn’t account for the fact that classes almost never correspond to their number of units.
We know all too well that units lie. That friend who’s taking a casual 16-unit quarter? They’re in graduate-level courses. The one who’s in 20 units? Four of those are speaker-series. There are so many ways to pack more work into fewer units or to inflate a unit count: “One-Unit Wonders,” “Terrific Two’s,” speaker series, five-unit paper-based classes that only require you to write three pages more than someone taking it for three units, are all ways to give your unit total a boost, while graduate-level courses, IntroSems and low-unit, project-based classes are a sure way to appear more laid-back than you really are (Duck Syndrome, anyone?).
We should be wary of using units as an indicator of work. Though they’re a decent place to start, they are by no means to be trusted — the same class can entail very different amounts of work for different students, and extracurriculars, jobs and a social life are also worth their fair share of time. The fabled 20-unit quarter shouldn’t be a point of pride any more than an equivalent 17-unit quarter should be.
Spring enrollment opened last weekend, and I’m clocking in at 16 units so far. Part of me wonders what other classes I could squeeze in to ease my conscience and claim an 18-unit quarter — another part, however, recognizes that I’ll have more than enough on my plate as it is. After all, spring calls for at least two units of fountain-hopping and boba runs!
Contact Axelle Marcantetti at axellem ‘at’ stanford.edu.