Student Life

How to Pick College Classes

Creating a schedule of classes that works for you, not against you.

Student Contributor, Jasmin Kaur

February 16, 2022

Learn how to pick college classes like a pro to create a schedule of classes that works for you.
How to Pick College Classes
College life has its ups and downs, especially when you’re trying to pick out college classes. There are those long weeks of serenity and the occasional walk to enjoy mother nature, and there are the "sleeping in the library" days when one hour melds into the next (couple of decades?) before you realize the words really shouldn’t be dancing around on the page. However, breaks and exams aside, perhaps the most significant inducer of the dreaded “Should I drop out?” question is course scheduling time. Having gone through three semesters of class scheduling myself (and constantly thinking about the next semester), I know choosing the right classes can be intimidating. If you're planning on double-majoring or concentrating, then the task might seem even more challenging. However, there are numerous resources to help alleviate some of that anxiety and help you make the right choice! Below, I’ll elaborate on six key tips and resources to help you make the best of your four (academic) years at college!

Talk with your college advisor (or some advisor)!

Your academic advisor is assigned to you for the sole purpose of helping you figure out your long-term schedule of classes, so visit them! Make time to get to know what they're like and value the advice they provide. They've gone through this process hundreds of times with hundreds or thousands of students and they want to help keep you organized and on track for graduation. Additionally, if you form a strong relationship with your advisor, they can provide an excellent recommendation letter for a job or graduate school afterward! However, not all college advisors necessarily "excel" at their job (some prefer to just stick with the teaching aspect of their work!). If you do find yourself with a less than ideal advisor, talk to professors whose classes you've taken, or perhaps even a close family member, to map out a possible schedule.
While they won’t be able to provide the exact information (such as whether you’re on track for graduation, requirements for your major, etc.), they can still help you think out loud and provide guidance on course load balance or which electives might match your interests.

Ask about AP Credit!

If you took AP classes in high school and passed the AP exam with a 3 or higher (or a 4 or higher in some cases), you’ll likely be able to receive credit for that work! Those credits awarded then translate over to a lower-level class or elective. Depending on the number of AP credits you receive, you may be able to skip over several required core courses, saving time and money in the long run! Additionally, by starting your major-related classes earlier, you won’t have to later worry about fitting in all the requirements within the desired timeframe.

Electives are fun… but they’re also costing you time and money.

Elective classes can be an exciting way to explore varying interests or do something different from your chosen field. However, they do require commitment and money. In most cases, while an elective class may not count towards your major GPA, the grade will impact your overall GPA. So if ceramics sounds interesting, but you know your excitement tends to wane after the first couple of weeks, it might be beneficial to stay away from taking on too many non-major-related electives. A possible exception is "tasting” different subjects if you haven't declared a major yet. (However, oftentimes core requirements are assigned for that purpose.) But if a class sounds exciting, go for it! Variety always looks good on a transcript, and you never know when that French class might come in handy! Another way to employ some free spaces in your schedule is to find major-related electives. For instance, an English major might be interested in taking a psychology or philosophy of language course. And if you still want to take courses that widely diverge from your field of study (maybe you've always wanted to try some Russian), look for pass/fail courses or auditing options. This way, the course will be noted in your transcript, but the overall grade will not have a direct impact on your GPA (only a "P" for "pass" will show).

Strive for an ideal work/life balance.

If you know you're going to be taking some work-heavy courses a certain semester, try to pair them with some "lighter" classes. For instance, if two classes emphasize reading and writing, take a required core class (which tends to be generally on the easier side) or electives that may be more lecture-oriented and with a lighter workload. Also, consider any new leadership roles or internships you might take up that semester to prevent yourself from becoming exhausted later. The key is planning ahead! Work with your advisor to go over degree planning and visually chart out how your four years might work out (especially if you're planning on a concentration or double-major). Don't wait for the surprises at the last minute!

How do you know if a class is “light” on work? Ask other students!

If your university has a set of required courses, asking upperclassmen who've already taken them can give you insight into what kind of teaching style this or that professor has, how much homework they might assign, as well as how difficult the material might be overall. Even for non-required courses, get to know some upperclassmen in your major for advice on what a specific class might entail!

That being said… only you can know what’s best for you.

Family, friends, other students, professors, and your academic advisor can only advise you on what you should do. Some on the list above might think you can handle a strong course load based on a past background, while others might caution about burnout and the stress of a certain schedule. However, from personal experience, I can say that only you truly know what you can handle. Material that was difficult for another student may come easily to you, or you may want to go with a lighter schedule than in past years to spend more time on your mental health or other things. In the end, you alone can fully understand what you're capable of balancing. Don't undersell yourself and try to go for the basic outline, and then spend the rest of the semester uninspired, but don’t also overexert yourself! As you look at the course offerings and requirements, explore your choices (many universities offer course options during winter and summer breaks), and design a schedule that works with you, not against you!

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