A 100-level class is a prerequisite for the 200-level class you need for your major, your favorite professor isn’t teaching this semester and “Topics in Astrophysics” is your only option to meet your credit requirements, though you can’t even imagine taking it—sound familiar? With the four years it takes to complete prerequisites, distribution requirements and earn 120 credits, it’s often hard to say whether you’ve really made the most of your college experience. But what can you do when your course schedule is grueling or poorly timed? Easy! Defy the system and take a mini-course.
Mini-courses are short, one- or two-credit classes that generally last half a semester, or around seven weeks. Many such classes provide the exploration that you want without the commitment of a semester-long, four-credit class. They generally do not fulfill any major requirements, but are great outlets for passion and creativity, and provide useful practice. When you first search your school’s course catalog for a mini-course, the options may seem like traditional courses with lower credit values. But keep in mind that, while the topics may seem bland, the manner of teaching is entirely different. Some mini-courses feature frequent guest speakers, trips outside of the classroom or other changes of pace from traditional lecturing.
Also, because some professors are unable to turn their dream for a semester-length course in Alien Anatomy (or something like that) into a reality, they instead find a home for it in a mini-course. You’ll find that these professors are infectiously passionate in their topic. The subject matter is often more thrilling and unique, and it’s likely that your professor is an expert. Classes like these are a great way to break the monotony of massive lectures or awkward seminars. Plus, your classmates want—not have—to be in attendance.
Apart from mini-courses that engage your brain, there are those that engage your body. Many students at the University of Southern California enroll in Yoga, which is offered as early as 8 a.m. to as late as 2 p.m. Classes like these are a great way to exercise without paying a club or studio, or having to create a program for yourself. And, by including exercise into your class schedule, you’ll be less likely to skip a workout—that’s a mark against your attendance grade!
Courses like the dance mini-course at the University of Michigan can give you access to a dance studio, and with a variety of topics to choose from, like ballet and hip hop, in addition to individual attention, you can develop both skill and confidence.
Mini-courses are also a great way to engage your creative, entrepreneurial side. They’re occasionally used to test-drive concepts for larger classes, and as a result, they will feel more contemporary than subjects like mathematics or literature. Browse your school’s course catalog to see if they have classes in blogging, podcasting or web design. Universities often offer small courses that can teach useful and marketable skills like HTML and CSS, which will give you a leg up on other applicants during the dreaded post-grad job search.
If you are more visual, check to see if there are courses for Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign. Even if priming yourself for the job market isn’t your biggest concern, obtaining a working knowledge of code and image software could assist you in creating a personal website or blog.
Mini-courses can provide you with professional work, too! While some aren’t exactly taught in the school, internships can count for a small amount of credit if you arrange an agreement with your department. Others can provide directed workshop time or a general independent study credit, while giving plenty of time to create a portfolio or work on a thesis.
One of the greatest parts of mini-courses is that they generally last half a semester. Instead of having to pull an all-nighter at the library for five finals, schedule your mini-course for the first half of the semester. You will be finished up in October instead of December and thanking yourself for it come Winter Break.
Here’s another perk: As a result of their short duration and small class size, mini-courses are a great way to meet new friends. Nerding out about your favorite sci-fi movie after your Aliens professor chronicles the most influential films about extraterrestrials is a surefire way to make a connection. In classes that are inherently social, like dance or musical rehearsals, it is impossible not to get a feeling for someone’s personality and mannerisms. Mini-courses bring people together in odd ways without asking too many questions along the way.
Overall, mini-courses underscore the importance of a comprehensive college experience. Make the most of what your university offers and look at the course catalog closely! You could be spending tuition money on something your school provides that you aren’t taking advantage of.
Learning doesn’t only happen in the classroom to the sound of a dull, old voice that has been speaking this material for years. Learning comes in the form of challenges and trials, like attempting ballet even though you have two left feet. Learning takes place in a classroom that invites new speakers every week to keep students intrigued.
Enrolling in a mini-course is a fantastic way to broaden your horizons. You and your classmates aren’t there for the credit, you’re there for the experience. Get excited—after all, this class ends in six weeks.