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Should you be afraid to take a 500-level class? Here's what students have to say.


The Old Well, a popular UNC monument, pictured on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. 

As the course numbers climb higher in the catalog, it can be easy to be intimidated by classes that rank as 500-level or higher, categorized as some of the highest level courses available to undergraduates. But sometimes, students have found that it's not worth being intimidated by high course numbers.    

This semester, sophomore Julia Short is taking her first 500-level class, HIST 561: The American Colonial Experience, which examines the in-depth history of colonization in North America. 

“Before this, I had only taken 100-level history classes, and those were very broad and survey-based,” Short said. “What I really like about this class is that it’s very in-depth and specific, and there’s a lot of high-level thinking involved.”

That in-depth learning is why Short loves the class now, although it made her apprehensive in the beginning.

“I was kind of intimidated going into it just because I was afraid of having to do a ton of reading, and that it would be over my head because I’m only a sophomore,” Short said. “I thought it would be a little too much to handle, but it’s actually been very manageable, and I like how engaging it is versus a regular survey class.”

Even first-years who are looking for more of a challenge can take some higher-level courses, depending on the prerequisites.

Sophomore Gigi Cloney took her first higher-level course, PLCY 530: Educational Problems and Policy Solutions, during the second semester of her first year.  

“Rather than taking more generic classes that are huge lecture halls that are sometimes teetering more on the boring side, you can take a really specific, niche area that you are interested in," Cloney said, "And that was my primary reason as to why I wanted to take it."

Cloney said that reaching out to the professor helped her make sure that the class was a good fit.

“I emailed the professor after I registered for it, asking him if he thought that my level of classes that I had taken previously were going to be enough to keep up with the class,” Cloney said. “He was more than willing to send me a syllabus (and) let me check out a few of the readings to make sure that they weren’t completely out of my level.”

Even if the material in the course is familiar to some students, the smaller class setting can be intimidating.

Senior Sam Armistead is currently enrolled in GEOL 580: Evolution of Earth's Surface Environment. 

“I was very nervous ... I’m the only undergrad, but it’s actually really fun,” she said. “They are definitely a lot of work and structured pretty differently depending on which one it is. However, I find them very interesting because they’re smaller class sizes usually, and everyone in there is genuinely interested and excited about the class.”

With three high-level courses under her belt, including EDUC 532: Human Development and Learning and ARTH 551: Introduction to Museum Studies, Armistead said it's important not to panic about being in classes with graduate students.

“They’re students just like you,” Armistead said. “Just make sure you don’t have imposter syndrome, where you don’t think you belong there because everyone else is a grad student.”

Once she overcame her own nerves and realized the class actually wasn't so difficult after all, Short said she had a positive experience in her higher-level courses.

“I would definitely be interested in taking more upper-level classes now that I know it’s not scary to be in upper-level courses," Short said. "I think that I wouldn’t let a number scare me away anymore."

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