The start of the fall semester is always hectic. You might be adjusting to new dorms and living spaces, or taking a class in a building you’ve never even heard of before and having to re-orient yourself around campus. First-year students are dealing with an overexposure to the collegiate academic and social life—maybe with little time to stop and catch your breath. And at this point, even upper-class students may be hyperventilating—the realization that there is only so much time left to figure out concentrations or majors, careers, and post-grad plans hits home hard. But even amidst all the chaos that only a new school year can bring, small joys and new potential can be discovered.

HOW, you ask? Why, through the SHOPPING PERIOD! (Different schools have different names for this wonderful phenomenon but essentially, it is a period during the start of the semester when any class with free space is still fair game—you can go and sit in on it and decide if it is a new interest you’d want to pursue.) I know, I know—you already have the perfect schedule with your sleeping and working-out and catching-up and eating-ungodly-amounts-of-pizza-and-brownies-during-study-break hours already figured out. I was like you last year, at the start of my first-year spring semester. And then, an administrative blip created a time conflict in my schedule and suddenly, I was in need of a new course. For a while, I lamented that my meticulously designed was no more. But then, as I started flipping through the course catalog, I realized that there were so many fantastic new classes that I now had time to try. I got the opportunity to feel out multiple classes—to get a vibe from the professor and evaluate the style of class discussions—and then decide what would make for the most fruitful semester. I ended up taking a class, off-campus, at a partner college (and crossing something off on my Wellesley bucket list, to boot!) because my Wellesley sibs told me to stop complaining about the illusory “perfect schedule” and just get out there.

It’s always great to go after what you want. For first-years, entering college is a moment of tapping into a pool of unbridled potential. In some sense, you are starting over and you can try whatever you want to! If you feel bombarded by so many great opportunities or indecisive, the shopping period allows you to try out multiple things for a little, until you can decide for yourself what experience you want to have. For upper-class students, shopping provides a chance to sit in on the courses of some great scholars—even if they’re not necessarily in the field that you’re planning to study. Learning new knowledge and becoming aware of different modes of thinking is never a wasteful enterprise. Who knows what you discover might surprise or even intrigue you— and lead you to new ventures! So go forth, and happy travels on your academic journey!