Written by Jade Liu
Freshman seminars are classes designed to give freshmen an opportunity to interact with faculty in a small classroom setting while exploring a topic of interest in a low stress environment. Most do not fulfill any requirement, but they will provide an invaluable learning experience and help you get adjusted to Cal. Some may even give you enough introduction to a discipline to help you decide whether you want to pursue it as a potential major. Visithttp://fss.berkeley.edu/ for more information and a list of courses. If tele-BEARS prevents you from enrolling due to class standing, just send an email to Alix Schwartz explaining that you're a freshman with a large number of high school units, and she can help you enroll.
Letters and Science Discovery Courses
L&S discovery courses are intended to help students meet breadth requirements using a fascinating topic. They are also great classes to take if you are undecided in your major and want to explore a discipline or two to see what they're all about. Even though some have an upper division classification, they are still okay to take for freshmen. Unlike freshman seminars, discovery courses can involve big lectures, but most are taught by truly distinguished faculty, and some of these offerings are among the most well-liked courses in Berkeley. Visit http://lsdiscovery.berkeley.edu/ for more information and a list of courses.
Big Ideas Courses
These classes didn't exist while I was at Cal, so the program is very new. The idea behind it is to combine professors from very different disciplines and teach a course together that revolves around a common theme. As with discovery courses, Big Ideas courses are a great way to meet breadths and discover new and often fascinating topics and disciplines. But unlike all other course offerings at Cal, these classes, by their very nature, really teach you how to think creatively and help you realize how disciplines can work hand in hand to approach a single topic of interest. I think this is a great addition to Berkeley, and if you are planning to do research in the future, the multidisciplinary mindset will be very useful. Visit http://bigideascourses.berkeley.edu/ for more information.
Decals (Democratic Education at Cal)
Decals are student-run special studies courses that have topics on anything and everything, from The Simpsons to Rubik's cubes to Doctor Who to chamber music to bicycle repair to whatever else occurs to the mind of a high-achieving fun-loving student. These classes are offered on a P/NP basis only and you can only take a maximum of 4 units of decals any given semester. They do not count toward any course requirements but are a great way to fill up on units in a fun and low stress way. Course listings are constantly being updated until the beginning of the semester. Many decals don't enroll students on a first come first served basis. Instead, they will require you to attend a first session before giving you the course control number (CCN). Check the listing for the individual course for details, and visithttp://www.decal.org/ for more information and course listings. Again, the list won't be complete until the semester actually starts.
Letters and Science 1:
L&S 1 is primarily intended to help undecided L&S students explore the college and its majors. Quoting directly from the very well-written catalog description, "It provides an introduction to the intellectual landscape of the College of Letters and Science, revealing the underlying assumptions, goals, and structure of a liberal arts education. Topics include the difference between the College of Letters and Science and the professional schools, the rationale behind the breadth requirement, the approaches and methodologies of each of the divisions in the college, and the benefits of engaging in research as an undergraduate. The ultimate goal of the course is to transform the students into informed participants in their own educational experiences, so that they can make the most of their years at Berkeley."
Public Health 116:
In this P/NP only course, Guest lecturers will speak on the social, political, and ethical aspects of health and medicine. Students will then discuss and present analyses of the reading materials as well as issues raised by the speakers. Grading, as I recall, is based primarily on assignments. This is one of the few upper division classes that are recommended for lower division students and even freshmen as a general interest course. It also happens to fulfill the Philosophy and Values breadth. Students who do well in this class may also return the following semester as a TA and get credit for it.
Political Science 179:
According to the departmental course description, this one-unit course will feature a guest speaker each week discussing an issue currently in the news. Again, this course is classified as upper division but is actually okay and even recommended for lower division students, including freshmen. The class is offered P/NP and grading is based on a final examination. This course may be repeated for credit as the speakers and therefore the content differs from semester to semester. Because it is only worth one unit, it does not fulfill any requirement that I know of, but it definitely a great way to get some extra units if the course description interests you.
SLC Adjunct Courses (and other courses):
Adjunct courses are special studies courses offered by the Student Learning Center (SLC) to help students enrolled in a lower division math class with their course work. They are basically study groups/workshops that you can take for credit. They will help you learn the material better so you can do better in your real math class. You get extra help AND you get extra units (P/NP only). Other for-credit classes offered by SLC include study strategies and writing. You can visit http://slc.berkeley.edu/courses/index.htm for more information, but I don't believe it's updated for fall yet. On a side note, the SLC also offers a variety of other tutoring and study group services for the sciences, social sciences, and writing. You won't get credit for most of these, but they are a great resource, and it's all free.
Admittedly, PE activities courses are not good unit fillers as they're worth only 0.5 units each, but they are nice classes to look into, especially for people like me who lack motivation when it comes to physical activity and cannot manage to get exercise without it being a class. There's a variety of PE classes offered and most are graded based on attendance and effort. Use the Online Schedule of Classes to find which classes are offered when. For a list of activities and their specific descriptions, visit the departmental website at http://pe.berkeley.edu/.
Those were the general classes that I could think of as recommended for freshmen. Of course, the bottom line is to take classes that you enjoy, whatever that might be. I, for instance, am a musician, and I was always involved in many ensembles sponsored by the music department and received credit for most of them. I also loved French and never wanted to stop, so I always made sure to enroll in French classes. That did turn out to be one of my majors, but the major came more a result of taking what I wanted instead of me working toward this set major. In all, if there is a class or something that you are extremely interested in, then that's what you should take. These courses are mere recommendations, general interest courses that are suitable for freshmen.