It was part of my religion major. As someone born and raised Southern Baptist, reading anything from the time of the Bible in a non-church context was eye-opening to me. The Dead Sea Scrolls course was particularly mind-blowing in that it exposed me to all sorts of texts that went parallel to the Old Testament.
The course really tested my ability to think critically and memorize massive amounts of information. I learned that my capacity to do something was only limited by the level of interest I had in the task or subject matter.
I was all ready to go to graduate school and study astrophysics, and then I took that damn class. It was hard, to say the least. And I realized that I wasn't one of those people who can learn physics naturally and that a path in astronomy would be a constant struggle.
There were other factors that led me to science journalism, but when I think back, those nine months of quantum mechanics really did me in when it came to homework assignments, physics, and school in general, really.
Erin Fuchs (Senior News Editor): Memoir Writing
I never knew what I wanted to do for a living until my senior year of college, when I took a course on memoir writing.
That was the first class I took that was focused purely on writing. A professor named Elizabeth Stone, who was faculty adviser to the school newspaper, taught us how to write short essays about our own lives. I was incredibly shy in college but realized I could open up through my writing. The class also taught me how much I love storytelling in all its forms.
Stone reached out to me and encouraged me to join the student newspaper. She also helped me realize I could pursue journalism even though I'd majored in psychology. Eventually, she wrote one of the recommendations that helped me get into Columbia's j-school.
If I hadn't taken that class, I think there's a decent chance I would have "fallen" into another profession that made me far less happy.
Christina Sterbenz (Weekend News Editor): American Parsifal
In Professor Waggoner's class "American Parsifal," we addressed the never-ending battle between high culture and low culture in American society — questions like, "Does 'The Simpsons' have the same value as NPR?"
The course made the interconnectedness between disciplines often considered opposite or unrelated, like music, art, and politics, clearer than ever before. And having to articulate these ideas through essays and discussions challenged and vastly improved my critical thinking, public speaking, and writing skills.
Elena Holodny (Markets Reporter): Galaxies at Cosmology
This course dealt with galaxies (how they formed, evolved, sometimes crashed into each other), special and general relatively, a little bit on dark matter and dark energy — and what all of this suggests about the formation of the universe itself.
It was really exciting to come into class every day to — literally — try to understand the universe, and to think about the same problems the greats like Einstein thought about. Moreover, it was rather humbling to recognize how little we actually know. (And, of course, the occasional references to "Star Trek" were pretty sweet.)
Jennifer Welsh (Science Senior Editor, Tech Insider): HIV/AIDS
My life-changing college course was HIV/AIDS. It was one of the hardest classes offered to bio majors, covering all aspects of the virus – from social issues to how it creates copies of itself, spreads, and kills.
The tests were amazing long form freehand writing and drawing, which I loved and everyone else hated. I fell in love with viruses — I found it incredible that something with only 9 genes can kill a person — and that led me to get a job at a startup biotech company doing anti-viral drug discovery.
Jim Edwards (Founding editor and editor-in-chief of Business Insider UK): Women's Studies
I took a long course in women's studies as an undergrad. There was a particular focus on rape and sexual violence, and the statistics surrounding that.
It was eye-opening. I didn't know that violence against women was so common (one in 3 to one in six, depending on the study). And I didn't know that most of the violence came from men women know (women are more likely to be attacked by partners and family than strangers). Women have it tougher. I just didn't know that beforehand.
Olympia Christofinis (Branded Content Intern): History of the Middle East
I took it last summer, and while it didn't change my direction in life (yet) it did change shed some light on my childhood. I grew up in Jordan and moved to the US when I was almost 16. Taking this course explained a few formative moments in my life; I'll give you an example.
In my religion class during 9th grade, my religion teacher showed us disturbing slides on children being killed by Israeli forces. I thought to myself at the time, "What the heck does this have to do with my religion class? Absolutely nothing!" But this college course totally put it into perspective for me.
Also, learning about the region in which I grew up from a scholarly perspective completely alters the way I currently see it.
Brett Arnold (Social Media Editor): Creative Writing
All my Creative Writing classes! Life changing because having your work read and critiqued by your peers is essential for anyone that wants to be a writer.
These are courses in which students just create short fiction of varying lengths all semester and workshop them all together as a class. Each day you are assigned to read two, maybe three people's stories, and come ready to discuss.
Even if people's opinions were not always spot-on, the ability to take it all with a smile is something all writers should learn.
I started college with the nascent notion that I would study English literature in the hopes of becoming a broadcast journalist. I took a few great courses at Cal, but choosing Julian Boyd as my major advisor was one of the best decisions I'd end up making at school.
Apart from being one of the most beloved professors at Cal, he taught a class on "philosophical grammar" that exposed me to the importance of subtle yet profound nuances within the English language.
He used Hemingway's "The Big Two-Hearted River" as his prime example at the time, noting how its protagonist Nick Adams didn't like things like "lumps" and "bumps" or the "swamp," and how the "mp" in those words held that much significance. He cursed prolifically in class, partly for effect but mostly to illustrate points. It blew my mind.