MAPH Mailbag: Campus Visit Days & Course Loads

I recently accepted U of C’s offer to attend their MAPH. I’m afraid out of my mind! To ease the anxiety, fears, and excitement that I’m feeling, I’ve been searching online for some sincere remarks/comments about the program as well as the experience a grad student would most likely have.

How many classes/units are typically taken each quarter for MAPH students? I’m sure it varies for each person due to their focused field, but I just wanted an idea. I’m filing my student loans forms currently and they asked how many courses I plan to take. I’m not sure how to answer that since I’m unfamiliar with the workload and norm of other MAPH students. I’m going to be focusing on English literature.

I found that none of you really went into great detail about U of C’s campus day. Do you believe it is important to attend? Could I go visit the university on my own (aside from the obvious fact that the experience will be different)? It was stated that the “activities are the unofficial first days of Core.” Sounds like campus day *is* a big deal.


Congratulations, Tiffany!  Please forgive me for presenting the cliff-notes version of your comments and questions–I’m allergic to thanks and praise.  First, take a very deep breath, then take another, and another… and realize that this is the way that all of us get through MAPH.  Most of us are nervous most of the time and all of us have at least one moment of “A grave mistake was made.  I’m not supposed to be here!” I’ll be brief because this post is in addition to the normal posts that are part of the current series.

1) MAPH students take three, three-hour courses per quarter and there are three quarters in the program, so there are nine courses total.  Coming out of undergrad education three courses per quarter probably sounds like a breeze.  However, keep in mind that Chicago’s academic year is composted of four eleven-week quarters and Ph.D. students only take two courses per quarter.  This means that MAPH students have only ten weeks of class room work per course–the last week in every quarter is exams–and have one-third more classes to worry about that the doctoral students.  Also, many–if not most–courses at the UChicago have a mandatory discussion section as well that will add one more hour of class time per course.  Quarters fly by!

However, that nine number is a little misleading as two courses are required of every MAPH student: the Core class “Foundations in Interpretive Theory” in the first quarter and “Thesis Workshop” in the third.  So in an entire nine-month career in the MAPH, you will only have seven class slots available.  (Now, many of us sit in on additional classes and workshops throughout the year, but you can’t officially audit a class while in the MAPH.)  Choose wisely.

2) I haven’t written very much on Campus Visit Days, in part because they occurred many, many months before I started this blog–but don’t take that oversight to mean that they aren’t significant to the MAPH experience.  Now, I use the word “experience” very carefully.  Campus Visit days do indeed serve as the unofficial first events of the MAPH program.  My wife and I drove the ten hours to Chicago, stayed in the International House–with no AC or working television–to listen to panel discussions about the program, attend Q & A sessions, chat with–then–current MAPH students and participate in viewings and discussions of an art film: “The Passenger” with a very young Jack Nicholson.

Now, none of the academic stuff ever became significant when we all showed up again in August for the beginning of Colloquium–the two-week early start of MAPH before all the rest of the students show up for normal classes.  However, I first met Bill during Campus Visit Days and the whole experience becomes one of those rare “shared experiences” where everyone is uncertain and looking to build a new social network in a frightening place–like the first day of Kindergarten or the Freshman orientation at college.  Sitting through a three hour film… in April… with no AC… with people you don’t know… and who you fear are all much smarter than you are… and then listening to other folks–trying way too hard–to make erudite comments about that film… in front of professors trying not to laugh… is one of those experiences–like storming the beach at Normandy–that makes one immediate friends with everyone else who survives it.

I would recommend, if at all possible, attending Campus Visit Days.  I didn’t get much out of the “informative panel discussions” or the Q & A sessions with current students, but being able to meet and ask questions of the professors in my department, the chairs of the program, and bathe in the aura of the place were all invaluable experiences.  While you certainly could arrange to visit on your own time before or after the official events, I think you would have a difficult time actually getting the information you need from the people you need to meet.  However, there are folks that skip it entirely, though they often suffer little hiccups when their expectations differ from the reality of the program.  If you do come, I think Bill and I would be happy to meet with you and answer more questions… just drop a line to


One comment on “MAPH Mailbag: Campus Visit Days & Course Loads

  1. Hi, Tiffany. I hope you don’t mind if I tag on to MAPHman’s post.

    I think Campus Days are tremendously important, if not crucial. I didn’t know that at the time, but I think so now. I think what MAPHman refers to as “bathing in the aura of the place” is key. For me, at least U of C was very different than any experience I’ve had. I’ve lived in big cities (New York, San Francisco) and small towns, but U of C is a kingdom unto itself. It’s a place that is neither inherently good nor bad, but is peopled (and squirreled!) with a population unlike any other I’ve encountered. MAPH is a microcosm of that population. It takes some serious adjusting time, and I think the earlier you start, the better. Or so it held true for myself, anyway.

    I’d also recommend setting up a time to chat with and ask questions of some combination of David Wray, Ben Callard, and Hilary Strang, the program’s core faculty folks. If you can meet with them all, so much the better. Do it, do it, do it. They all, especially Hilary and the staff (mentors and preceptors), are the heart of the place. If you want to get a sense of it on a deeper, perhaps more ineffable level, they’re the ones to talk to.

    Frankly, unless you’re an unabashed extrovert (and perhaps even then), Campus Days are a little terrifying. It’s like freshman year of high school all over again, but with much smarter people. MAPH is a truly fantastic program, but it’s odd. And will require a constant air of self-examination to make it through. I think the sooner one starts breathing that air, the better.

    I think I’ll be on the student panel answering questions about the program, so please say hello if you come!

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