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Bird course; what a funny term. I have heard this phrase many times in my life, but I have never actually had the opportunity of experiencing one. I don’t think that this is bad luck on my part, nor do I think that it’s a result of me never actively seeking one. Frankly, I don’t believe that they exist.

I chose to write about “bird courses” this week because I know how dangerous this misconception is. The label “bird course” suggests that you will have an easy time getting high grades when compared to other classes.  While there might be some unique examples that I don’t know of, I have never heard of any professors handing out high grades just to be kind.

In my own experience as an undergraduate, there were certainly classes where I had a more enjoyable experience in earning a strong grade. The material was not easier than what I encountered in other courses, but it seemed that way because of the sincere interest that I had in the course content. This experience is why you should beware of the term “bird course” and why I think you ought to be skeptical when you are encouraged by others to take one.

You see, “bird courses” are actually a reflection of a person’s interest and motivation in any given course, not, as I say above, a professor’s generosity to hand out grades. Understanding this is important for good reason.

In university, you will have the opportunity to choose electives that are not directly related to your degree. If your choices are heavily influenced by a belief that you will get an easy grade, this could lead to unintended consequences. Here is an example of what I mean. In the past, I have had several undergraduates speak with me following a disappointing grade on their first exam or assignment. “I thought this was supposed to be an easy course,” they told me. Since drop dates approach and pass so quickly in university, these students often found themselves in a course they could no longer drop and one that they were no longer interested in (see my post on drop dates for more on this). If you’re in this situation, you may not only invest your hard-earned money into a course that is not useful to you, but you may also have to deal with the long-term consequences of having a grade that you’re not happy with on your academic record (and a transcript is forever!).

What you need to know is that any liberal arts course will require the following in order for you to do well. First, you’ll need to demonstrate an ability to properly dissect academic reading and understand how to use this knowledge in tutorials and on exams. You will also need to know how to write and defend arguments. Overall, a strong academic performance requires an investment of time and a sincere level of engagement (which will also help with things like building a rapport with professors and TAs).

From my perspective, there is no such thing as a bird course. Whether you’re taking a class because you need or want to be there, you should know that doing well requires an investment of time and a display of university-level competencies. To do well, there are no short-cuts.  Framed concisely, my advice is the following: beware of what people are saying regarding “bird courses”.