In high school, students rarely get the chance to control their course schedules. While they may choose the classes they want to take, these courses all fit inside the mold of a typical school day with a typical array of subjects. Every school day starts at a specific time in the morning and ends at a specific time in the afternoon, without much variation. Math, English, history, and science classes are a part of each semester almost without fail.
College is a different story. Take introductory math your first semester, and, if you don’t need it for your major, you’ll never take a math class again. Want to sleep in? Don’t sign up for any 8:00 am classes. Want a nap break in between classes? You’ve got it. As a college student, you are still at the mercy of academic advisors, course offerings, and class start times, but, ultimately, the choice of what classes to take when is up to you.
In other words, if you don’t make a schedule that works, no one is going to make it for you.
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When your goal is to succeed in school, the power to create the perfect class schedule can feel like a lot of pressure. What if you miss out on something you are going to wish you had taken later? What if you overschedule yourself and do not have time to satisfy all your commitments?
I feel at least a little of this pressure every semester as I stare at the course catalog and begin testing out scenarios and “what ifs.” Don’t worry – there is hope, especially if you approach each new scheduling session as a well-prepared college student.
Over the past six semesters of putting together my own schedule, here is my list of seven tips to avoid regret and wearing yourself out before the end of the first week of the semester:
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1. Carefully consider your workload.
College is great, but stress is guaranteed. Deadlines will loom and tests will sometimes catch you unawares. You don’t have to sabotage yourself by overloading your schedule at the start. Every class you take will add approximately one hour of study time per class session per credit hour you are taking. So, a three-credit-hour class will require approximately three hours of preparation for each class session. Use this rule of thumb to get a rough idea of how many credit hours you feel comfortable taking in a semester.
2. Create a time budget.
Time, like money, is a precious commodity for college students. A monthly finance budget helps you manage your money; a semester-long schedule budget will show you where your time will go. You don’t have to plan everything down to the minute, but a quick mapping on paper of the time you’ll spend in class, studying, sleeping, and working will help you make educated decisions when planning next semester’s schedule. Don’t forget to set aside a little “unscheduled” time for a relaxation break or some extra minutes during crunch time on those three term papers that will be due at the end of the semester.
3. Find a time of day that works best for you to take classes and try to cluster your classes around that time.
Some college students cannot pay attention in the morning no matter how much caffeine they drink. Some cannot stay awake in a 3:00 pm class, either. Find your best time for productivity and try to build a schedule around it.
Leave yourself down time during the day for lunch and a few minutes to relax, but avoid large gaps in your schedule. Extra hours in between classes are only temptations to indulge in a “twenty-minute nap” that ends up lasting two hours. You might find you enjoy getting all your classes done in a row so that when class is over you can focus on homework and leisure instead of worrying about leaving again for class.
4. Don’t take too many classes in your major at one time.
I love being an English major, but taking four three-credit-hour classes in one semester proved to be a bit more than I could bear. You’ll burn yourself out if you try to take on too much of a good thing, even if it is your favorite subject to study. Try to balance out tough upper-level classes in your major with fun lower-level classes from other subject areas. The electives will count toward hours for completing your degree, and you’ll have time set aside each week to do something fun and learn a new skill such as drawing, creative writing, playing the piano, etc.
5. Be willing to explore options you’d never thought of taking.
You may see an elective in the course catalog you had never thought about before. If it fits and won’t overburden your workload, take it. Who knows, that ceramics class might give you an edge in the future. Talk to your academic advisor about what he/she might suggest based on your interests and goals.
6. Plan ahead.
Looking at the requirements for completing your major(s) and/or minor(s) and when courses will most likely be offered, map out a plan for the entire span of your college career. That way, when fun electives or a part-time job appear, you’ll be able to anticipate how they will fit in your workload and how small alterations to your plans can affect your long-term college goals.
Planning requires careful forethought and research, but it can be very helpful when it comes to navigating the course catalog each semester because you’ll already know what courses to consider. However, be sure to stay flexible amid your planning, which leads us at last to Tip #7:
7. Embrace changes, big and small.
Sometimes a class that was supposed to be offered during a certain semester gets cancelled or moved to a different term because of departmental restructuring. This is especially true at smaller universities where departments are minimal. Plan ahead, but remember that your plan is not set in stone. Ask your advisor and registrar if a class that is being offered can count in place of one you had planned on taking.