One of my favorite Youtubers once said, “College has become really all about the ‘college experience,’ rather than the college education, which is what you're there to get.” I immediately resonated, because during my first year at Penn, I focused much of my time on gaining the “college experience” — one that underscored my newfound freedom and resulted in many late nights spent with friends, spontaneous trips into the city, and a general imbalance of priorities. As for my “college education,” I skipped more classes than I can count.
It seems like we’ve fostered an environment where skipping class is okay, even almost celebrated — if you can skip class and still end with a fantastic grade, you’re smart and resourceful. Students use an array of excuses to justify their absences — maybe 12 p.m. is just too early for class, or maybe the world is telling you to skip class because it’s raining. Some people support their actions, saying they’re actually wasting time by going to certain classes, since they can learn everything on their own without attending. While this may be true for one or two lectures, once you've accumulated 10, 20, 30 skipped classes, you might want to ask yourself: Did I actually learn anything substantial?
You might also want to ask yourself: Did I just waste hundreds of dollars of tuition by skipping these classes? Let’s do the math.
Penn’s tuition for an academic year is $51,156. Courseloads differ from one undergraduate school to another and from student to student, but let’s take, for example, a student who’s taking nine courses total in an academic year — four courses in the first semester and five courses in the second semester. For this student, each course would be worth $5,684 ($51,156 divided by nine classes). Penn’s academic calendar varies from year to year, but taking into account all the major breaks, reading days, and final weeks in the academic year of 2019-2020, I approximated that one semester consists of around 14 weeks where classes are in session.
Although class schedules vary from course to course, many Penn courses meet either every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for an hour each, or every Tuesday and Thursday for an hour-and-a-half each; in both cases, these courses meet for about three hours total in a week. For simplicity, let’s use this case for this particular student. Since each of this student’s courses meets for about 14 weeks, each one meets for 42 hours total (three hours multiplied by 14 weeks). If each course costs $5,684 and meets for 42 hours, each class, assuming it’s an hour long, is around $135.33 ($5,684 divided by 42 hours). So yes, you did just waste hundreds of dollars of tuition by skipping classes.
All of a sudden, skipping class to sleep in for an extra hour or because the weather doesn’t suit your fancy doesn’t sound too smart and resourceful, right? With $135.33, you could buy 27 chicken platters from your go-to halal cart, 47 grande-sized cups of coffee from Starbucks, or 77 delicious chocolate chip Insomnia cookies. For a little over the cost of one class, you could stroll down Locust Walk with brand new AirPods or see your favorite artists perform live with a ticket to the Made in America festival. For the cost of two classes, you could buy a pair of Gucci slides or a round-trip flight from Philly to California.
In place of all these things, we’ve chosen to take out loans and spend hard-earned money on tuition. While we choose to sit in on classes, we’re sacrificing time to work and earn money, and all of you who’ve taken ECON 1 know this is a perfect example of an opportunity cost. College is an investment in yourself — one that should be managed carefully in order to see prosperous returns.
Of course, there are plausible reasons for skipping class. Taking care of one’s health, whether that be mental or physical, should always be a priority. Additionally, at a school where mental health issues are widespread, we should embrace taking mental health days. A day spent outside the classroom or even outside the Penn bubble can be essential in addressing underlying mental health issues, whether that’s anxiety, depression, or other crippling conditions that can cause severe disturbances to one’s daily life. But, we should all keep in mind the distinction between being unable to attend class and not wanting to attend class. Treat going to class as a job, and with any job, there’s a limit to how many sick days a person can have.
I’m not proud to say that for one of my courses last year, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I actually went to lecture. For another course, my lack of attendance was one of the reasons I missed the scheduled final exam. Many preventative measures can be taken so that we don’t fall down the rabbit hole of skipping class. If your own discipline isn’t enough, you can ask a friend to help out. For example, create a system in which you must pay your friend a dollar for each class you skip, and they must do the same for each class they skip. Similarly, you can make a competition out of who attends the most classes, and the loser has to pay for an end-of-the-year dinner. Ultimately, we should be personally motivated to attend class, with the understanding that with each class missed, the opportunity for intellectual stimulation is also missed.
Thus, from someone who has once fallen down the rabbit hole of skipping classes, I urge you to discipline yourselves so that you don’t sleep in, plan brunches, or do whatever you think may be more important when you know you should be in class. There are so many ways to receive the “college experience” without sacrificing your college education.
CHRISTY QIU is a College sophomore from Arcadia, Calif. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.