I’m a tour guide for Northwestern, and one of the most common concerns I hear from prospective students surround Northwestern’s rigorous curriculum and a fear of weed out classes. And while our curriculum is challenging, I’d argue that “weed out classes” don’t exist.
When students refer to “weed out classes,” they usually mean challenging classes that have a reputation for being dropped; classes that may instigate students into reconsidering their area of study. The concept is that in weed out classes, professors are working to make the class as challenging as possible in order to “weed out” the students who aren’t smart enough to pass.
But I’d argue that weed out classes along these lines don’t exist. Sure, you’ll encounter challenging classes at Northwestern, but professors are never actively working against their students. I’m a pre-med student, and NU’s chemistry classes are known to be some of the hardest, but on the first day of my Organic Chemistry class, my professor stood in front of the room and said, “This is not a weed out class. My goal is not to stand in the way of your dreams.”
Students will drop out of difficult classes, but not because they’re not smart enough. Students might drop General Chemistry because as they encounter college chemistry, which is more challenging than high school chemistry, they may realize they’re not actually interested in the subject itself. Students may realize the hours a class takes isn’t worth it for them – they don’t love the topic that much. And here’s the thing – that’s okay. If you come into college thinking you want to study something, take a class in it, discover that it’s not for you – that’s okay. You haven’t been “weeded out” – you’re on the journey of finding what you’re passionate about, and if that’s not what you thought it would be, that’s okay.
Sometimes students don’t love a challenging class enough to make putting the work in worth it, and sometimes doing a college course in a subject catalyzes the realization that that subject isn’t what they thought it was, and isn’t what they actually want to study. But you will never have to drop a class at Northwestern because you “aren’t smart enough” or have been “weeded out.” If you love something, and you’re willing to put work into it, Northwestern will throw its support behind you – through tutoring programs, organized group study sessions, TA and professor office hours, and the collaborative nature of the student body itself.
I’ll spend 30 to 40 hours just on organic chemistry on any given week. So I can completely understand why some of my peers encounter organic chemistry, don’t like it, and decide that the pre-med life is not for them. But the students who stay in the sequence stay because we love it – we love chemistry and we don’t mind the hours our classes take, because we enjoy the work we’re doing. There are difficult classes, and challenging classes, and classes that will ask more of you than ever before, but if you really love the subject matter, the hours you need to put in are worth it. So, if you love it, and if you’re willing to put the work in, you can’t really be weeded out of a class.
So don’t shy from applying to colleges with challenging curriculums. Don’t worry about “weed out classes.” If you’re motivated, they don’t exist.