Smith Students Report Feeling Overwhelmed By Decision Fatigue

Anna Saunders ’17
Staff Writer

Before Smith students even step onto campus as first-years, they are bombarded with choices – from what to major in to how to decorate their dorm rooms. However, these decisions are just the first of many critical and overwhelming choices they will have to make during their time at Smith.

For incoming first-years, the housing application form is one of the first major decisions students must make. For faculty, this application form gives students the chance to exercise their critical thinking skills.

“We figured that we would really give our incoming students a chance to flex their individual freedom, as it’s a good first exercise in decision making,” Dean of First-Year Students Dee Ann said.

“With 35 houses across six sections of campus, from Upper Elm Street to the Quad, we really make it hard for our students to not think critically about the range of options they have here at Smith,” Brandon (Bee) Buring, the East Quad area coordinator, said.

However, for many students, choosing where to live is a source of anxiety.

“It only took me two weeks to decide on my first housing option,” Jordan Smith ’19 said. “I made a pro and con list, spoke to all my friends, emailed current students for advice. I even meditated. I really had to ask myself questions like, ‘Do I want Gothic or Classic Revival?’”

Aside from choosing where to live, students must make decisions about their academic path at Smith. With an open curriculum offering about a thousand classes, many students have found it daunting to choose appropriate courses for their academic strengths and talents. No one wants to forego a “vigorous culture of scholarship, inquiry and discovery” by enrolling in a comparative literature class on American main streets when she really wants to be in Simon Halliday’s 11a.m.

“I wish I had listened to the writing in chalk outside my house,” said Lindsey Parker ’18, who is taking 21 credits,

“Sixteen credits really would have been enough!”

Faculty has also noticed the effect that numerous choices has on students.

“Honestly, at IT Services, we’ve been dealing with this for years,” Tom Pewter Deputy CIO of the IT Service Center said.

As a result of the decision-making frenzy, the IT Service Center has implemented an unusual solution.

“We decided as a team that we would purposefully ensure that the Wi-Fi connection is especially slow during registration,” he said. “We want to make sure students aren’t rushing through the registration process, so we give them at least few extra minutes to reflect on their registration decisions.”

Some students have developed strategies to reduce the number of choices made daily.

“That’s part of the reason I’m vegetarian and only own four shirts” said Hunter Lourde ’16. “It’s really helped me focus on more important decisions, like which floor of Neilson I should study on.”

This problem is so common that Health and Wellness Director Emily Nagowski recommends several resources to students.

“I always recommend the same two books to my students, suggestions pulled straight from the college’s website: ‘Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life,’ by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and also, ‘When Hope and Fear Collide: A Portrait of Today’s College Student,’ by Jeanette Cureton and Arthur Levine.”

Ultimately though, alumnae have said that the forced decision-making has prepared them for life outside of the Grecourt Gates.

“It was during my time at Smith that I learned that with choice comes the necessity of imposing restrictions,” Grace Harding ’04 said.

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