Don’t Fly Your Way Through University

There is a concerning sentiment held by many of Acadia’s students about the difficulty of courses they should take. Belief that you should take at least one so-called “bird course” per semester is common. A bird course is a class that is notoriously easy, often demonstrated by the high percentage of students that pass with an A or greater. These classes may or may not have a final exam or project, and generally have little-to-none in terms of assignments. The term is of Canadian origin, and it suggests that students who take these bird courses are capable of flying right through them (the actual origin of the word is unknown, from what I can tell. Some resources state that the term comes from the idiom “for the birds,” meaning trivial or worthless, yet others state that it comes from the antiquated opinion that women (sometimes called birds) were capable of taking the course because it was easy).

Regardless of the perhaps sexist origin of the term, the idea seems to have stuck. In this article I hope to illuminate some of the reasons why you should take bird courses, and why you shouldn’t.

  1. Money: Acadia tuition for Nova Scotian student in the 2015-2016 academic year is $6430.00 CAD. For international students, this figure is more than doubled. If you consider the fact that most students (ignoring first year engineers) are required to take five courses a semester, then by simple mathematics the average student is paying over $600 for a single course over one semester (not to mention the additional cost of textbooks, online homework class keys, etc.). Now the crucial question is: do you consider the courses you are taking to be worth this much? Money is scarce among university students, and for good reason – they are spending most of it on getting an education. But for many, this step is nothing more than a practical necessity for future endeavours. If it means a higher GPA, then why bother with educational idealism?
  1. Intellectual Challenge: This is another important factor. Everyone is here to learn (I hope). Whether that learning enables you to continue doing research, or to proceed to graduate school, or go into the workforce – it doesn’t matter. The skills you acquire will not come from the courses that do not challenge you. They will come from the courses that push you to new limits. Only then will you discover new things about yourself. You will be forced to manage stress and maintain balance in the face of difficulty. However, how much is too much? When will you know if your academic saturation point has been reached – beyond which you begin to struggle and lose footing in a certain topic? These are hard questions to answer. Needless to say, I have yet to come up with an answer, and I’m over halfway finished my degree.
  1. Interest: Most people I talk to about the easy courses they take describe them as incredibly dull. If you don’t have interest in a topic, why would you devote your time to it? Take courses you are serious about, courses that pique your curiosity and expose you to new things. The more interest you have in a topic, the more effort you will put into understanding it. That being said, sometimes you enjoy a course so much you want to spend all your time studying it. Then taking an easier load grants you the most precious gift a university student can have: time. It allows you to prioritize, and work harder on the things that are important to you. Instead of spending your life behind a book, you can spend it with friends, volunteering, or at the gym. It gives you the pportunity for breathing space – keeping yourself healthy and sane so that you don’t burn out early.

With these three ideas in mind, I think it is safe to say that there is a balance that needs to be struck in order to survive university in one piece while still coming out of it with a real education. I believe in the importance of pushing yourself to your limit. To do such and survive is a proud achievement for anyone. Yet this limit differs between students. With respect to marks: try and remember that a number on a page does not define you as an individual. Yes, it is (sometimes) important to employers, and yes, it is a large factor in selecting medical, law and graduate school applicants (sadly), but don’t let a drop in your GPA motivate you to stop pursuing the topic you love in hopes of restoring your mark to the number you had before. Instead, focus on enjoying your short time here at university, learning what you care about, and spending time with the people you love the most.