The best part about college is that the rules of high school don’t apply. Not only do you make your own schedule for your life and activities, but you make your own schedule for your classes.
If you know that you get your best work done in the afternoon, you can choose not to take any morning classes, and if you want the whole afternoon free for friends and homework, you can make sure you’re out of class every day by lunchtime.
Creating a schedule that gives you a three-day weekend is also a goal that many students seek out, and some put all of their classes on two days, which gives them five days out of the week free. Others choose to go to school every weekday, but have shorter school days overall. Arranging your classes in a way that gives you the most freedom and time to pursue what you want is the one of the best parts about collegiate academics.
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But planning free time isn’t the most important part of plotting out your schedule, even if it is the most exciting. Most colleges have a series of classes that you have to take before you can begin taking classes for your major, called general education classes; once you’ve completed those you can move onto classes for your major. Usually, you need a set number of credits hours to graduate, and to earn a major you need to acquire a certain number of hours in one specific field, as does you do for a minor.
If you take AP classes in high school, and your college accepts those credits, you will probably have some wiggle room when it comes to planning out your schedule. General education classes are meant to provide students the opportunity to explore areas of study outside their intended major, so if you don’t transfer in credits from your previous school you’ll still have the ability to have different experiences across curriculums; but having extra credit hours under your belt means you can take a few semesters easy.
The average amount of credit hours that a student will take in a semester is 15, with a typical class being worth three credit hours. In most schools, 18 credit hours is considered a full workload for a semester, and 12 is the minimum you need to be enrolled. Many classes are worth uneven amounts of hours though—in my school, a science class with a lab will be worth 4 credit hours, while a half a semester gym class is worth only one.
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Finding the right balance for you depends on which extracurriculars you’re planning on participating in, how much time you want to spend in class, and how large you want your workload to be.
For my first semester, I decided to take 15 credit hours, to help myself adjust to being away from home, but I discovered that I liked being busier, and am taking 18 now.
Once you’ve decided how many hours you want to take per semester, I would recommend consulting your college’s course list. Mine has separate lists—one for Gen Ed, and others depending on your major. Required courses, as well as their alternatives, are listed, along with their credit hour worth. Usually, what you do is go through and choose which classes are necessary for you to take, and which of those you should take based on the work you feel comfortable doing. If there are extra classes you want to take for yourself, make note of those too.
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Some major tracks have certain classes that they require their students to take, so planning out your schedule may be unnecessary because your program has already done it for you. One of my friends in biomedical engineering can only choose one or two electives per semester, as she needs to follow a strict schedule in order to receive her major on time. Another friend who’s striving for a major in Interior Design also has a schedule made for him. Check and see if your program will require this of you!
Armed with your list of classes that you want to take in a certain semester, you can turn to a course catalog, which will probably be online, and see which courses are offered at which times. One class will probably be held at multiple different times across the week, so you will able to choose which is the most convenient for you.
Drawing out each day for me is really helpful, so I can visualize how long I will be in school for. Also, make sure to know which buildings your classes will be held in—if you schedule classes fifteen minutes apart, make sure you can get from building to building within fifteen minutes!
Signing up for classes is a different for each college, and you will be taught to do that as needed, but with your perfect schedule all planned out, signing up will be a breeze!