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Course Advice

Fall classes start on Thursday. What courses should you take? See our previous discussions.

1) Any tutorial. The more tutorials you take, the better your Williams education will be. There are few plausible excuses for not taking a tutorial every semester. Although many tutorials are now filled, others are not. Recommended:

ANTH 328: Emotions and the Self with Peter Just. This is available for first years. Too many first years take a big intro class because they think they “should.” They shouldn’t! Even a “bad” tutorial at Williams is better than almost all intro courses.

HIST 140: Fin-de-Si├Ęcle Russia: Cultural Splendor, Imperial Decay with Bill Wagner, former Williams president. It does not matter if you care about Russia. As always, choose the professor, not the class. If you are a first year and you don’t take a tutorial like this, you are doing it wrong.

BIOL 405: Sociobiology with Manuel Morales. Even though this course, in theory, is more junior/senior biology majors, I bet that Morales would let you in if he has space. Assuming you had a decent biology class in high school, you won’t need any other prerequisite.

2) STAT 201 (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1400, you might start with STAT 101). No topic is more helpful in starting your career, no matter your area of interest, than statistics. Students who take several statistics courses are much more likely to get the best summer internships and jobs after Williams. Also, the new Statistics major looks amazing.

3) CSCI 136 (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1400, you might start with CSCI 134). Being able to get the computer to do what you want it to do is much more important, to your future career, than most things, including, for example, the ability to write well.

4) PHIL 222: Minds, Brains, and Intelligent Behavior: An Introduction to Cognitive Science with Joe Cruz, former EphBlogger and all around great guy. And don’t worry about the silly prerequisites. Just tell Joe that EphBlog sent you!

What courses would you recommend? What was the best class you took at Williams?

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#1 Comment By Past Eph On September 2, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

“Being able to get the computer to do what you want it to do is much more important to your future career than the ability to write well.” Really, David? Perhaps in quantitative finance. Certainly not in law, any educational or academic field, politics, or many other endeavors that are popular with Eph undergrads.

Unless you want to be stuck as a low-level programmer, or you are lucky enough to win the ever-speculative tech start-up roulette, the odds of becoming enormously successful in virtually any field without at least solid writing ability are very low. On the other hand, for the majority of occupations, computer programming ability (as distinguishable from basic computer fluency, which virtually every first year at Williams already has) is wholly irrelevant.

#2 Comment By frank uible On September 2, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

How about taking a course or two simply for the non-careerist purpose of having fun?

#3 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On September 2, 2014 @ 9:55 pm

I was unclear.

the odds of becoming enormously successful in virtually any field without at least solid writing ability are very low

Actually, I will take the other side of this claim, but that is irrelevant to my point.

My point is that, for all practical purposes, it is very hard to get out of Williams without learning how to write. Almost every Division I and non-Econ Division II course teaches writing, as does almost every tutorial. Unless you try hard, you will take lots of classes with lots of writing at Williams. Certainly, if you follow EphBlog’s advice and take a tutorial each semester, you will learn to write as well as you can.

But that is not true about CS/STAT. It is easy to graduate from Williams with no skills in this area. And this is the area that has the most influence on your future success, all else equal.

Of course, very little (other than non-class stuff like wealth, networking, innate talent, luck et cetera) of your class work will matter. But, on the margin — and this is the key point — some CS/STAT knowledge will be a big help in getting that first internship/job in your field of interest.

computer programming ability (as distinguishable from basic computer fluency, which virtually every first year at Williams already has) is wholly irrelevant.

False.

Consider politics. Whether or not a given Eph will be successful in politics is, of course, 99% determined by things outside of her course selection. But, on the margin, having serious CS/STAT deals will be a big help as you look for that first internship/job in Senator Chris Murphy’s office. He gets thousands of applicants from smart kids who can write. He gets many fewer from people with CS/STAT skills.