The 20 Unit Spring: A Cautionary Tale

I took 20 units this semester. That’s 5 classes total. The minimum amount of units I have to take in L&S is 13. Most students take 16 units. That’s 4 classes.

Before I get into my experiences, I should explain what units mean exactly. The number of units a class is assigned is based off of hours of work needed to put into each class outside of the predetermined lecture and section time. The reason students usually stick to around 16 is because more than that tends to start to be overwhelming and very time consuming, as I now know first hand.

Disclaimer: 20 units is 100% doable. If you want to take an extra class one semester and you’re committed to it and dedicate the time to getting everything done then nothing is stopping you from enrolling. Is 20 units 100% advisable? Probably not. But fear not! I’m here to give you the humanities version of how it goes.

This spring, I chose to enroll in 20 units because I was bored last semester. Spending all day in my house simply was not doing it for me. My entire life was put online, and that really sucked. My solution to this boredom? An extra class. When I was going through the enrollment process last semester I could not for the life of me decide between 2 classes that I really wanted to take. I made pros and cons lists, I flipped a coin, my mind simply could not be made up. In the fall, I was far from academically stimulated. Classes were still kind of weird because of the online adjustment and I was just craving more from my studies.

Fast forward to January and the first week of school. Initially it wasn’t much different than last semester, but then we really shifted into gear. You might be thinking that if you take 6 or 7 classes in high school how can 5 college courses be that much harder than 4. That was me, so young and naïve in November 2020.

As a humanities major, 2 humanities majors actually, all of my homework is essentially reading. Which honestly I love, I’m so dedicated to both philosophy and rhetoric and I knew that they were reading and writing based. But the amount of pages I have to read a week went up by 100. I will say, a large part of the difficulty I’m facing is because the classes I chose are foundational to each of my majors so of course they’re going to have a little bit more work because they’re preparing you for the upper division classes.

The biggest mistake I made was enrolling in 5 classes the same semester I needed to take a class called Phil 100: Methods.

Methods is a class every philosophy major has to go through, and it is not fun. Essentially, it’s a class teaching you how to write a good philosophy paper because it’s very different from a paper you’d write in any other department. This class meets every Wednesday for 2 hours, where we are assigned 20-50 pages of reading and an essay prompt that we have to complete by Sunday 6pm. Did I know I’d be writing an essay every week? No I did not, no one told me. If I could go back with this information I probably wouldn’t have taken 5 classes in the semester where I write an essay every week, but hey, you live and you learn.

To make things clear, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest (thank you for listening), I don’t regret my decision to take 20 units. Sure it’s a lot of work but I feel like I’m in college again which I haven’t felt for a while. Maybe it’s a destructive coping mechanism for dealing with the fact that I’ve spent 3.5 of my 5 semesters here online, but I’m no psychology major.

In all seriousness, I’m half way through my 20 unit semester and I’m feeling good. If you’re interested in doing the same one day, I would probably tell you to only do it if you absolutely need to and to look into each class you want to take in that time so you’re not too overwhelmed. I stand by my sentiment that it’s 100% doable, just don’t rush into it head first like I did.

Would I have done this if we were in person like nothing had ever gone wrong? Absolutely not. With extracurriculars and friends and free time I would not want to tack on a 5th class. To emphasize: I made this decision because of the lack of stuff in my day to day life. I’m filling an academic void in my heart that can really only be filled by the philosophy library in Moses Hall. For the time being, I’ve thrown myself into more rhetoric than I ever thought I could handle in one semester. In a way, it’s empowering to be succeeding despite the hurdles 5 classes present in trying to get good grades.

If you don’t see a post from me ever again, know that I drowned in assigned reading and essays, but I went down with a fight.

Bridget Bernet

Author: Bridget Bernet

Howdy! My name is Bridget, I am a junior here at UC Berkeley, double majoring in philosophy and rhetoric with a concentration in narrative and image. I love all forms of writing, which is why I decided to write for Bear Talk :) and I'm so excited to share my perspective on this amazing campus. From cheering on the sports teams to studying in Moses Hall, every moment here is a special one, and I plan on documenting it all. Go Bears!