Balancing Ambition and Workload: Students and Tutors’ Attitudes to Taking Extra Courses

Pola Folwarczny

Collage by Veronika Bejczy

With the course registration period well underway, students might be wondering what they can do to ensure that their time at AUC is well-spent and made use of to the fullest. One of the solutions that crystallises in the minds of ambitious, high-achieving students, is the possibility to enrol in additional courses for the duration of the 16-week period. While for some students the option certainly looks appealing, tutors caution about the workload and propose alternatives.

Students are motivated to enrol in extra courses for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes, it happens as early as in their first semester at AUC, which is the case of Martyna Cecuła, a first-year Science major. “I realized that there are so many courses that I want to take at AUC and off-campus, or during the exchange semester,” she explains, “and we don’t have as much time as we think.” In the second semester of her first year, she has decided to do five courses, driven by the urge to explore the classes offered outside of her major and figure out what she wants to focus on in the two remaining years.

Cecuła believes that taking extra courses is definitely manageable if planned well. “It’s more about the things you do outside of AUC,” she says, explaining that combining the increased workload with a side job and her active participation in a committee has oftentimes been a hustle. Cecuła does not regret her decision, but she admits that “Now, when it’s the last month, I cannot wait to be done with it. […] For sure, this semester showed me what I do and do not want to do.”

On the contrary, Maria Wołczyk, a second-year Humanities major, has spent both semesters of the current academic year taking extra courses at AUC and UvA, and is planning to continue doing so. “I think that taking additional courses comes from being slightly underwhelmed by what is expected of us here,” she says, clarifying, “It doesn’t mean that we have too little work, but rather that there are fewer varied opportunities to explore knowledge here than at a larger university.” Wołczyk values the variety of highly specialised courses that UvA offers, explaining how that makes it easier to find classes that truly inspire her.

She acknowledges that when doing five or more courses during the 16-week period, the workload does get intense at times, especially when you have to commute to one of your classes. And yet, Wołczyk does not see it as a burden, as long as she feels passionate about her courses. “To be able to do that, you need a very specific perspective on who you want to be and what you want from your student life,” she believes.

Despite her general contentment with taking extra courses, Wołczyk expresses her disappointment at the lack of substantial help from AUC as an institution. The procedure of applying for off-campus courses, which are her main focus, can seem complicated, especially the first time you do it. “Tutors and the BoE don’t go out of their way to make it possible,” she says, continuing, “I think it’s a shame, because there’s a lot of interesting things at UvA and VU, and we have this unique opportunity to keep using that throughout our studies.” According to Wołczyk, the amount of bureaucracy that one has to go through to enrol in an external course and the lack of support coming from AUC successfully discourage students from applying for off-campus courses.

Berber de Lange, a second-year Social Science major, agrees that tutors do not necessarily encourage taking extra courses by AUC students. “They’re worried the workload will get too much and we won’t be able to manage it” she speculates, “I think for some people it’s certainly true, but that depends on what you want.” For de Lange, extra courses are a way to explore and expand her interests, while at the same time fulfilling the prerequisites for her future master’s degree.

And yet, as everything comes at a price, so does taking extra courses. De Lange admits that in the process, she has to give up some learning as she mainly works from deadline to deadline. Similarly, Cecuła explains that with five courses in her schedule, she could not fully devote herself to all of the things she has been doing. “I didn’t have that much time or energy to study,” she says, recalling how she noticed that her grades started decreasing in some of the courses. According to Wołczyk, it is crucial to “keep yourself out of the mindset that you have to do everything perfectly.”

Pedram Dibazar, having been a tutor at AUC for several years, stresses that when it comes to taking extra courses, he can only assess the situation on a case-by-case basis. “It’s better not to quantify in terms of a standard thing but provide the options for people to be able to find the best solutions for themselves,” he says, explaining that students have different needs and his role as a tutor is to present all the available options and possibilities to his tutees. While he cautions them about the potential sacrifices necessitated by taking additional courses, ultimately the choice stays in the hands of the student.

What Dibazar suggests to his students is to make use of the access to courses offered at VU and UvA. He claims that these courses work well as a fifth course. “It’s good to have a feel of how it is there, to extend your network. It’s also good not to be in this building all the time,” he explains. As the semesters are shorter there, Dibazar also believes that off-campus courses are easier to fit into the students’ schedules than the 16-week courses offered at AUC.

Minou Schraven, a lecturer and tutor at AUC, explains that as the teaching programme at AUC is based on student participation, it is clearly visible when students have too much on their minds. Putting too much work on one’s shoulders through enrolling in multiple extra courses affects the quality of their learning – through only doing the required assignments, students do not acquire the transferrable skills and knowledge that can be found in every course.

Schraven usually recommends a different option, encouraging students to consider joining a committee instead of enrolling in another course, for instance. She highlights the value of taking courses at Crea, a student centre located in the Roeterseiland campus which offers creative courses that do not count for credits. “Sometimes learning in a different way can be just as important to you during these three years,” she believes, encouraging her tutees to expand their horizons beyond the academic realm. “Hopefully, you’re not just learning at AUC, but you’re also learning from just talking to other people, reading a book, or watching a documentary, or going out and about in the city, and just seeing things,” says Schraven, “That’s also a part of your life.”

One thought

  1. Hats off to the amazingly talented writer for doing an exquisite job of encompassing all aspects of taking on multiple courses at a time – a very stressful topic, good luck to you all.


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