So you need to know how to choose your college classes. Luckily for you, we can help. A lot.
Choosing your classes is one of the most important things you’ll do in college. As a college student, it’s up to you to make sure you take the classes you need to complete your degree. Making a mistake– by accidentally missing a requirement– can mean prolonging your graduation date by a semester or more. To make sure that doesn’t happen, you need to be strategic about what classes you take and when you take them.
You’ll also want to be strategic in terms of which professors you take classes with. Of course, there will be some classes only taught by one professor and you will have to learn from that professor regardless of their reputation among students.
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* This blog post is derived from a chapter in our upcoming BOOK (!!!) on everything you need to know to succeed in college.
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Getting Started …
Before you try to make your schedule (Choose your courses), you need the necessary materials. Again, you don’t only ‘want to have’ them– you need them. Specifically, you’ll need a course catalog, a list of general education requirements, and a list of your major and minor requirements. If you haven’t chosen a major or minor then don’t worry about that last part.
* You can get these things by asking a professor or by searching for them on your college’s website!
Now, here’s the specific advice about how to be strategic when choosing your college courses:
Think about how to choose your college classes like a puzzle… you’ve got to fit the pieces together. Start with an empty schedule and fill things in with the puzzle pieces (Classes, extracurricular stuff).
Also… even though this should go without saying… you can’t be in two places at once, so only schedule one class for every time slot. To help yourself out, get a notebook or your laptop ready to assist you in making your schedule. You’ll make the best decisions when you can visualize what your day will be like with your new schedule.
Speaking of laptops… these are the best laptops a college student could have!
Your visualized schedule outline might look like this:
Again– the whole point is to have a visual representation of your weekdays. With your visual representation, you’ll see where they have open times to study, do homework, eat, etc. If you’re an especially organized person, you may want to plan out weekends too. It’s your schedule so personalize it however you see fit.
Things you should ask yourself when choosing college courses …
- Do I want to schedule my difficult classes earlier in the day, or later?
- Can I handle having classes back to back, or will I lose focus?
- Do I want evening classes, or will I be too tired to pay attention?
- At most, how many classes do I want to have in one day?
Other things to consider…
- Watch out for PREREQUISITES. You can only choose some classes after you’ve completed the PREREQUISITE courses. So if you’re thinking ahead (you should be) …then you’ll make sure to schedule courses which are prerequisites to other courses early in your college career.
- Beware QUESTIONABLE PROFESSORS. Beware and be respectful… they’re still professors. Basically, avoid them if you can. But if you can’t, then you’ll still make it out alive… just like many students did before you. The best way to find out if a professor has a questionable reputation is to ask other students who have taken a class with that professor before. The other way is to check out Ratemyprofessors.com… you can thank us later.
How to Choose Your College Classes: depending on your year in college …
Course systems vary among colleges, but this is my best BASIC, sensible advice about how to choose your college classes based on what year you are in school. Here it is in 3 sections: Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors/Seniors.
* Juniors/Seniors are grouped because students with that much experience will generally know what they’re doing already– so they benefit less from basic advice.
There are three things you should focus on when you’re choosing college courses. Setting expectations for the rest of your education, completing general education requirements, and starting your major.
Setting expectations for the rest of your education should mean your first class starts early. You might want to schedule your first class at 11:00 AM so that you can say up way too late and sleep in every day. The problem is: that sets a bad standard for the rest of your life! We recommend you schedule your first class early. It establishes the wonderful habit of getting out of bed to get things done. As college gets harder and the work gets more intense, you’ll thank yourself for this healthy habit.
Completing General Education Requirements means that you’re choosing college courses that fulfill general education requirements. You want to get these done early because every student has to complete them at some point. Later in college, you will have to worry about scheduling advanced classes in your major. Those classes are offered much less-often than general education classes, and you’ll reduce the risk of a scheduling conflict by completing general education courses early.
Starting your major isn’t required during your freshman year, but it is ideal. If you take an introductory course in your major and you love it– good, now you can be more excited about what’s to come. Maybe you take the class and you hate it– still good, now you know that you need to change your major. Better to know that sooner rather than later.
If you haven’t chosen a major yet, you can still take an introductory course in an area of study of your choosing– explore a course that sparks your interest.
Focus on maintaining your expectations, completing your general education requirements, and establishing your major.
Maintaining your expectations is important during your sophomore year. If you did well as a freshman, it’s tempting to let yourself slide on things as a Sophomore… after all, you’ve got this, right? Wrong. It gets harder every year. Don’t get complacent. We still recommend choosing some college courses that start early. Just to keep yourself in-check.
Completing your general education requirements may be possible in your sophomore year. If it’s not possible, then you should still get as close to finishing them as you can. Maximize your space for classes in your major during your junior year.
Establishing your major means that you should get locked-in to whatever major you’re going to graduate with. After Sophomore year, changing your major will likely result in a postponed graduation date. You don’t want to pay for that extra semester!
If you still haven’t declared a major yet– it’s okay, but this is the time to make a decision and get into an introductory course or two.
If you’re locked-in already, you’re slightly ahead of the game. Take a mid-level class and make more progress in your major.
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Juniors / Seniors:
Juniors and seniors… focus on completing your major while choosing college courses that still allow some freedom in your schedule for other important things.
Completing your major is a no-brainer at this point. Review the requirements for your major and make sure that you can finish on-time. You should probably double-check your general education requirements too.
Other important things would mainly be internships. But maybe you’re working on starting your own business. Or maybe your workload is ridiculous and you need extra time to get everything done.
Whatever the case is, schedule your classes accordingly. If your first class needs to be at 11:00 AM so that you have a few hours in the morning for other things– then you’re probably disciplined enough to handle that now.
Creating a schedule is a stressful and overwhelming process. And confusing education requirements don’t make it any easier. Therefore, my last piece of advice to you is to ask for help. No advice EVER beats the advice of a professor or advisor who has experience with the college you go to!