The Over-Enrolled Student

By Blake Plante ’18

What started as a mission to diversify myself became an addiction. At first, excited by so many course offerings and disappointed that I was limited to only a few, I decided not to worry myself with limits and filled my schedule with an unwise quantity of courses. I’ve since taken 68 college classes.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about over-enrolling.

Pros:
1) Obviously, you learn a lot

I wanted to lean as much as I could, as deeply as I could. And if you can develop a system for remembering material far into the future despite being spread so thin, then over-enrolling can be very rewarding. My system evolved into boxes of small notebooks that I transcribed and reviewed regularly. Always carrying a 3×5” notebook with me, I tried to hold on to the things I’d seen, learned, and experienced, because I knew that otherwise they could so easily be forgotten.

2) Self-control

Besides absorbing the contents of the courses themselves, over-enrolling forces you to learn self-control in order to remain healthy and sane. When every minute matters, the only way to stay on top is to maximize your efficiency: Short and cold showers to jolt the brain, early mornings and jumping out of the bed, running between classes, and self-denial and stoicism, have all been a part of my experiences in over-enrolling.

3) Excessive outcomes

In community college, I overenrolled enough over the course of two years to earn five associates degrees, with heavy extracurricular involvement. If I’d planned my course selection at Pomona to be more focused rather than enrolling in a little bit of everything, I might have double-majored. The degree to which you can become qualified for post-baccalaureate work or students through over-enrollment is immense and can open up worlds of possibility.

Cons:
1) Time pressures can make you forget why you’re doing it

I realized that I worked well with due dates. If I had several weeks to write a paper, I could be sure that I’d have a flurry of productivity near the end of those weeks. But if I had so many assignments that losing an hour might mean academic suicide, then I would hardly lose a minute. I was cheating my own procrastination habits. But that was, I think, essentially what I was doing: cheating myself. By being always “on,” I produced consistent work and, by that virtue, consistently improved. But without taking more time to think and embrace silence, many times I fell into a loop of doing assignments to receive a grade rather than to fulfill my own curiosity. If you can over-enroll and continue to love your own work, then perhaps it is for you. But beware that time pressures can rob you of the love of learning.

2) A truncated social life

Though I was known by many people, I knew few people well. For several years, few of my weekends didn’t involve twenty hours or so of homework. My favorite date was a study date, but, finding that studying with other people tended to decrease my productivity, I usually isolated myself. When I was invited to social engagements, I regularly declined. I would cut off conversations to run off to study for a test or write an essay, or head home so that I could sleep at 8 p.m. and wake at 4 a.m. to get a jump-start on the day’s work. I became barely reachable to my friends and, often, barely reachable to myself. No matter how much I practiced yoga or mindfulness of sorts, I would be late to learn vital lessons about reality and social depth.

3) Over-enrolling makes it harder—but not impossible—to do well

It’s more difficult to produce high quality work in six or seven classes than it is to do so in four. The more classes you take, the harder it is to get As in all of them. If you want to challenge yourself like I did, then be prepared in case your house of cards falls. Sometimes, even if you know that you are capable of doing it all, something outside of academics—especially personal problems—can topple it all down and leave you scrambling to pick up the pieces. Opportunities once within reach can fall away because you decided that learning more is preferable to performing better. Ultimately, time being limited, I had to learn to produce quality work quickly, and too often, rather than becoming my best work, it only became good enough. This can be very unsatisfying and unfulfilling.

3) I’ve learned that I prefer slowness

In the beginning of my college journey, I was teaching myself to speed-read. By the end, I’d learned to love slowness above all else. My favorite films became slow-burners like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner. There are now few greater joys to me than reading Shakespeare or Milton, Baudelaire or Whitman, etc. slowly, repetitively; absorbing, ruminating, and holding firmly onto their words rather than consuming and casting them aside.

4) Less time for other things

I had little trouble balancing outside opportunities at community college, but at Pomona, classes are only the tip of the iceberg. It took me a year to learn that more important than classes are the internships, extracurriculars, and networks available to you at Pomona. Why take another few courses when you could intern with a publishing house instead? Why fill your weekends with homework when you can volunteer or work at a museum? With the wealth of opportunities available, why should you spend more time as a student if you can spend it influencing the world?

Often, the option to do it all exists, and sometimes, it can be worth your while. But it comes at great costs, some of which may be unwise to bear.