Hayes: The hidden cost of skipping class


Bob Hayes, Columnist

As Northwestern students undergo their quarterly perusal of the Course and Teacher Evaluations for their prospective classes, one of the most common comments from students is something along the lines of “You don’t have to do the readings!” or the even more extreme “You don’t even have to go to class!”

It may seem nice to see that the class that you want to take is one in which students do not have to actually do anything. Alas, being eager to take a course because you plan on not attending is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

I understand that over our four years at NU, there will be a number of classes for which we begrudgingly register once we factor in distribution and major requirements. However, there is still much that we can take away from even the most awful-sounding required courses.

Distribution requirements may sound like NU’s cruel way of forcing each of its students to suffer through a quarter of physics or calculus. In truth, each of Weinberg’s six distribution areas offer a plethora of course types in which every student is bound to find an interesting – and, more importantly for some, easy – course. I feared having to fulfill my natural sciences distribution requirement; an hour later, after looking through the course offerings, I was extremely upset to find that Principles of Cartography – a natural sciences distribution credit which I had previously been unaware of – had been filled.

If you really think taking Diversity of Life or Solar System for two months sounds horrifying, I suggest you sit through class for 50 minutes, mindlessly take a designed-to-be-easy test and accept the GPA boost. “House of Cards” will still be on Netflix the other 23 hours of the day.

Even if you are only eyeing a course because it fulfills a major requirement, well, there is a reason that the course is a requirement for your chosen major. It is important to remember that NU– one of the world’s top universities and the one that we all excitedly chose to attend – created its requirements in order to help its students succeed. Economics students are not forced to take econometrics just to give jobs to a few more professors. Although it may not seem so as you trudge through class day in and day out, these requirements exist to help improve students, not to spite them.

Finally, it is important to remember the financial cost of attending college. NU’s annual tuition – not including room and board and other add-on expenses – is $45,120, according to its website. Whether a student is paying it or not, that is the designated worth of attending classes at NU.

If we divide that total by 12, the standard number of courses that a student takes per year, each individual course for which we register is valued at $3,760. Thus, signing up for a course with the intention of not going equates to an inexplicable loss of $3,760, unless you count spending that on “House of Cards” as worth the money.

I understand that we all can use an easy course now and then, particularly in such a challenging academic environment. I think there is no problem with signing up for a course, particularly a distribution requirement, because it is easy. Also, I understand that there are some cases when midway through the quarter we realize that there is no incentive to go to class because we can learn all the material on our own. That happens. That’s okay.

The problem comes when you find yourself signing up for a course with the intention of not attending. If that is the case, you are missing out on some fantastic learning opportunities at a top-level university. Just don’t tell your parents that they are spending $3,760 for you to watch episodes of “House of Cards.”

Bob Hayes is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].