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Penn students taking six or more classes find different ways to deal with the stress of balancing academic and social life.

Credit: Lizzy Machielse

For some, taking six classes a semester is a necessity. For others, it’s a satisfying choice.

“There’s so much I want to learn and do,” College and Wharton senior Ally Zucker said. But because of “all these requirements,” she feels limited to her already packed six course schedule.

Zucker is pursuing a dual degree in classical studies in the College of Arts and Sciences and operations, information and decisions in the Wharton School, where she was accepted the summer after her freshman year .

"[I] was interested in a lot of Wharton classes and I had this opportunity ahead of me, so I thought why not?” Zucker said.

Zucker stated she is comfortable taking six classes, and has done so every semester since her sophomore year, even as she went abroad her junior year. She wants to get the most out of her time in college, and if she could, she said, she would be majoring in other disciplines as well, including history and East Asian studies.

“My only question is, why can’t the administration be more flexible?” Zucker said, referring to the inability to double count many courses in uncoordinated dual degrees. Programs like the Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology and Vagelos Program in Life Sciences & Management allow for more overlap with requirements, a luxury that students pursuing uncoordinated dual degrees do not have.

But other heavy course-loaders see six classes as an unavoidable fate, rather than a limiting number.

College and Wharton sophomore Mira Nagarajan is pursuing an uncoordinated dual degree and has to take six classes a semester to finish her degree in four years. “My advisors cautioned me against taking six classes, but in order to complete my program I had to take them all, so there was a valid reason for it,” Nagarajan said.

Advisors play a huge part in the college experience for some, and less so for others. They help students get into classes that require permits and through the tedious pre-registration frenzy that all students dread, but they can be especially important for students pursuing two degrees.

“There are so many great classes, concentrations, minors and other experiences that one can do at Wharton without overdoing it vis-a-vis greater course loads,” Director of Academic Affairs and Advising Scott Romeika wrote in an email. “I’ll also remind advisees that graduate training and learning on-the-job are common and highly effective ways to continue to grow intellectually.”

Another role advisors play is helping students deal with stress. But students don’t always use them as a resource.

Engineering junior Akshatha Bhat explained that even though there are a lot of resources available at Penn for stress relief, like professors and Counseling and Psychological Services, there is a mental barrier to overcome while seeking them out. Bhat dealt with her stress by talking to her peers.

“As a freshman, ultimately it’s your peers who are the best resource because it feels a little inaccessible at first. As a freshman, before the mental health became a priority, I reached out to students and my parents,” Bhat said, referring to the shift in mental health awareness on campus particularly during the fall of 2013 after several student suicides.

Romeika said in his email that he tries to prevent students from taking on more than they can handle, and that every case is different.

“We also make sure to contextualize the decision based on other events students get involved with,” Romeika wrote. “For example, second semester freshman year is usually challenging for students who rush a fraternity or sorority, so we’ll remind those students to take that into consideration.”

Still, a bulk of work is not just caused by the number of classes but also the time spent on homework. Bhat studies bioengineering and currently takes five classes. She said a single class for her major could range from five to 15 extra hours of work.

Like Bhat, Zucker places a great deal of emphasis on her friends for support.

“Relationships at Penn are [the] most important thing for me,” Zucker said. “The connections I have met at Penn are the priority, whether it’s the girls on the water polo team or the people I live with, spending time with friends is really important.”

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