Ask the grumpies: Favorite class outside your major?

Leah asks:

What was your favorite class outside of your major and why?

#1  German, choral conducting, maybe that one English class where we read mystery novels.

#2  History, probably the British monarchs class because the prof for that one was especially awesome. (I would have been a history major, except the prof that I had for the required freshman seminar was a total a@#$@# and he taught a bunch of required classes, so screw that, and thus I ended up on a more potentially lucrative path.)

How about the rest of Grumpy Nation?

27 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Favorite class outside your major?”

  1. yuppiemillennial Says:

    All my “free” courses were either in political philosophy or literature. Standout of the former: radical political philosophy in the 20th century, of the latter: study of the graphic novel.

  2. Zenmoo Says:

    Environmental microbiology. Loved the labs & rote memorisation compared to engineering

  3. moom Says:

    Didn’t take any classes outside my two “majors” – geography and economics – as an undergrad.

  4. Archie Holmes Says:

    Contemporary Moral Problems (Intro Philosophy)

  5. mosamsky Says:

    Abnormal Psych, Latin (both profs were incredibly engaging performers).

  6. Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

    Metaphysics! I took that at the same time as I was taking quantum chemistry (nerd alert!!), and it was hilarious. Thinking about the existence of self and thinking about the existence of all matter was too much existential thought for one semester! But really, if I lost my eyes, I would want to work in medical ethics or something similar. I was super close to being a philosophy minor, but just took the classes I thought were fun in that department. :) I was so glad I came in with some college credits so I could dabble in lots of other cool stuff!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I had one semester that was 3/4 19th century Europe/England. I wrote my Emma paper on the Agricultural Revolution that semester. (My math class that semester was Combinatorics, so maybe a little early/late in the history of math.)

  7. Practical Parsimony Says:


    The prof referred inept students to me. That was just what I needed with my busy schedule!

  8. oldmdgirl Says:

    I loved Ochem when I took it as a post-bac. It’s one of the few classes where I actually felt like my brain changed as a result of the class. Other favorite class was American International Policy Since WWII, which was taught by a fabulous professor.

  9. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Man, I don’t understand all the philosophy class love– my class literally drove me to drink in class. (Spiked hot chocolate.)

    Of course I’d already read a ton of philosophy as a kid (Donald Palmer is really accessible: ) and I was a math major and heavy Spec Fic reader so there was a lot of stuff I’d already spent time thinking about, and it was an intro class for non-majors like me who needed to take something to take the stupid philosophy/religion requirement and many of them were not the brightest bulbs. Maybe if I’d taken it as a freshman instead of as a senior (I had a really hard time with that gen ed.)

    I got As on papers that I didn’t spend much time on (the prof said I had a wicked sense of humor). I did learn about Judith Jarvitz Thompson’s pro-choice argument which is a good one that has stuck with me, and about how teleportation could be murder (which I would have seen later in a Nukies comic strip/Schlockmercenary crossover). But overall the class was a huge waste of time that I dreaded going to twice a week. Even if it was mildly amusing to confuse classmates who didn’t understand that A->B doesn’t mean that ~A->~B, it was also demoralizing. (This is why high school geometry should teach proofs!!!!)

    But, on the other hand, the classes for philosophy majors seemed stupid in the other direction– lots of large words and convoluted paragraphs saying very little once decoded to plain English.

    • Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

      I would have had a hard time if I had to take a logic/philosophy class – somehow based on my coursework I took in high school, I got to opt out of intro philosophy and move to the cool stuff that doesn’t have an obvious answer, which is way more fun. My philosophy professor told me that I had a knack for really clear, concise writing (which is obviously why I’m a scientist and not a philosopher). Scientists tend to be more impressed when you can say a lot with a little rather than saying a little with a lot. :)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yep. Economists too. Our jargon makes sentences shorter, not the other way around.

        The class I took had some “no obvious answer” stuff too, but not really anything new and we kind of beat it to death. I don’t even remember what the other two topics were for that class.

    • Allyson Says:

      My philosophy class was honors, and we spent most of it talking about medical ethics. My prof liked my writing too – maybe another point for scientists who need to write concisely.

  10. crazy grad mama Says:

    History and Culture of Ancient Greece.

  11. chacha1 Says:

    My favorite *activity* in college was extracurricular – being anything to do with theatre. But I didn’t take any classes in that stuff, that I can recall. I did take a voice class with a visiting (Fulbright?) scholar/musician that was pretty great.

    My *most memorable* classes outside my major (which changed from English to French to History) were an anthropology class on comparative religion, for my anthro minor; calculus; and economics. :-) The latter two because they were way outside my comfort zone, but I did well and got good feedback from my professors. In fact my econ prof suggested I change majors. I probably should have.

    As for classes I considered an egregious waste of time, I’m right up there with philosophy, and also psychology. Everything presented in both classes seemed fantastically self-evident, and the general atmosphere was akin to a forced-labor camp, if sitting still in a poorly-lit room can be justifiably so compared.

  12. Bardiac Says:

    Hah! what didn’t I love? (Except biochem and physics.)

    Anthro, paleontology, environmental toxicology, all great courses! (I took multiple courses in anthro and paleo/geography. So very interesting!)

    After I returned to school, art history, history, economics (macro and micro), so very interesting!

  13. xykademiqz Says:

    I know this is not exactly what you asked, but I felt like chiming in anyway…
    I went to K-12 and undergrad in Europe, so all the breadth was in high school and earlier. In high school, there was no choice in what to take other than to choose a “profile,” and then once you did, the curriculum was set. In college, the BS was highly specialized, and also fixed curriculum once you chose a majorlike profile, which was done at enrollment time and you could not switch (you enrolled in a program, virtually nonexistent mobility between programs). During my undergrad, I had physics, math, chemistry, and a couple of foreign language classes (got BS in theoretical physics).

    But in HS I always hated all courses where I was made to cram facts and/or dates (not saying it’s the fields’ fault, but that how these subjects were taught). That means I hated all of biology, all of history, and most sociology. I still have nightmares about being called out to recite the lesson about the nervous system of nematodes. *shudder* Effin’ vermin. When I see my eldest kid devour world history and say it’s his favorite course ever, I want to gag a little.

    I loved math, physics, chemistry, geography, literature in native language (writing), and German (had English grades 2-8, German 5-12). We didn’t have any music in HS and no art past the freshman year in my “profile,” but I would have loved art.

  14. J Liedl Says:

    Shakespeare! I took it in the summer with an absolute livewire of a professor. We acted out scenes, he read dramatically from others – we also learned a lot of very valuable stuff about close reading, textual criticism and play sources in a pleasantly painless manner.

  15. SP Says:

    Maybe this is a function of going to a state school most known for engineering, but nothing outside my major stands out. I did really enjoy Physical Chemistry, which was a class I took when I was looking at a biomedical specialization. But I enjoyed many many of my major classes, and a lot of the math classes I had to take along the way.

    I took some chinese lit and chinese language class when I was on study abroad in Hong Kong, which was interesting given the context. I never took philosophy. I hated the english comp. classes I had to take – they were so basic, and no one told me about options for testing out (which I now know exist and I could have easily tested out – my HS didn’t have AP, but there are other ways).

  16. Katherine Says:

    Linguistics! I learned so many interesting things and the professor was really engaging. Even though it was a pretty big lecture, it was a lot of fun.

    History of the Modern Middle East was a close second – it was a huge lecture, but fascinating. It was taught by someone who is kind of a big name in middle east politics, which made it seem extra exciting.

    The only philosophy class I ever took was symbolic logic (it counted towards my math major) and it was a complete and total waste of my time. It was all just basic set theory, and the math majors in the room couldn’t understand why all of the rest of the students couldn’t figure it out. The only upside was that the guy I had a crush on at the time needed my help with homework every week.

  17. Mali Says:

    Japanese. I should have continued with it but wanted to do a double major and so just didn’t have time in my schedule.

    Also enjoyed the American Lit class I had to take if I wanted to study American History. Read a heap of classic American authors I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered.

  18. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    I changed my major to the subject I really liked and did well at. I wasn’t wild about any of the gen-ed type classes I took, except languages. Pretty much any language is fun for me.

  19. NZ Muse Says:

    Politics! Pop culture was also cool though not as interesting as I expected (and perhaps wasn’t all that far flung from my major)

  20. Debbie M Says:

    Many favorites:
    * intro to music – it actually taught me to like classical music
    * an upper-class politics course (can’t remember the subject) – so hard and my lowest grade but it changed me from pro-life to pro-choice
    * all the physics for non-majors, especially astronomy and electronics – so interesting
    * economics – I liked learning about sunk costs and supply-and-demand
    In fact, I decided I liked intro classes the best and took as many as I could. Many of those faculty knew we would be taking only one class in their field and so they tried to teach us everything cool that they could.

    After I got my degree, I kept taking more undergraduate classes. Favorites from that period include:
    * Western history – especially the part about how people thought everything was cyclical during the middle ages until the Black Death; tax collectors would say, “Oh, no, we did charge the same amount last year.” But the Black Death definitely didn’t happen last year. Such an amazing and horrifying thing to imagine. (Then in an American anthropology class I learned that it was incomprehensibly worse when European diseases spread across the Americas. I’d never known!)
    * Japanese history – so many parallels with British history – both were islands on the edge of a great civilization (China vs. Rome), both had fighters with an honor code (samurai vs. knights), both became very powerful in different ways (colonization vs. copying all the best company ideas). (No one mentioned these parallels, though.)
    * Spanish IV (with study-abroad in Spain)
    * Tech writing/html – I learned how to do more stuff on web pages.
    * calculus – just because everything clicked the second time. I made Cs and Ds in high school but As and A+s in college.

    Also, technically intro statistics was required for my major, but I really liked that I could finally calculate the best straight-line equation for my data and not just draw my best guess of it by hand like I did in all those labs in high school.

    Things I was surprised not to like:
    * Black literature – most of the selections were about parents who made sure their kids could get whatever they most wanted but couldn’t have–and that wasn’t what the kids wanted. The rest were about culture clash. All were terribly depressing.
    * Philosophy – I had the classes-for-majors kind of ickiness you described

  21. Astra Says:

    I was a EE undergrad. It’s definitely a trade degree, with little in the way of a liberal arts education. Still, I had a few outside classes, and Roman History was my favorite: a great professor, good reading list, interesting topic. The runner-up is probably the second semester government requirement in which we read many of the foundational documents of western philosophy and ethics underlying the development of our legal system. Good stuff.

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