For many of us, it is time to begin a brand new school year! On Monday, August 20th, I officially began my senior year of college, and with it came four awesome new classes (Guest Services Management, Marketing for Hospitality and Tourism, Theme Park Management and Writing for Publications). Ever since high school, I have enjoyed setting up my class schedules and planning out several semesters at a time, but in college, I received formal training on schedule planning through several jobs and advising offices on campus. Therefore, it is my honor to share some of my knowledge with each of you, as you embark on your first year of college (or second, or third, or sixth…) and begin setting up your own schedules for future semesters.
Wishing each of you a wonderful new school year, and looking forward to hearing how it goes!
The Freshman 15: Tips For Choosing College Classes
1. Start your day early.
When students first enroll in college, many are tempted by the idea that they no longer have to start the day at 7:30 a.m. and follow the same schedule they did in high school. Because of this, many end up scheduling all of their classes late in the day, and use the morning and early afternoon to sleep and play video games. Although you certainly have the freedom to do this, I would advise against setting up your schedule this way… instead, try to set up some earlier classes (9 a.m., perhaps, or 10?) to ensure that you’re up early enough to be productive. If you schedule all of your classes in the afternoon and evening, you may be more likely to slack off during the day and miss out on some of your responsibilities, but if you’re already up for a morning class, you will likely have the energy to accomplish more on a daily basis. Do this for your first few semesters, at least, until you have developed a greater sense of discipline in a college setting.
2. Start planning ahead of time.
When you first select your major, consider creating a four-year plan based on the required coursework and necessary internships. It’s a good practice, during your freshman year, to know that you will take your prerequisites during specific semesters and your capstone classes as a senior. Have a basic idea of what classes you will need and when you will want to take those, and keep this plan in your records for future registration periods.
3. Meet with your adviser.
When you’re creating your four-year plan, don’t forget to make an appointment with an adviser – at least in the beginning! Advisers are often untapped resources, but they have a lot of expertise on various undergraduate programs and can lead you in the right direction when you’re trying to select the track that’s right for you. They can also help you choose elective classes that will complement your major.
4. If the class requires an override and you’re still a freshman, chances are you shouldn’t take it yet.
Because of my experiences with accelerated Honors freshmen (pre-med students in particular!), I have definitely met my share of new college students who wanted overrides into classes they weren’t ready to take, such as Organic Chemistry. Now, I absolutely admire their work ethic, and I do not doubt their intelligence, but we almost always advise against enrolling freshmen in classes like these because transitioning to college is already a full-time job. Figuring out how to learn in a university setting instead of a high school classroom can be a challenge in itself, but combine that with other away-from-home responsibilities and the balance of extracurriculars and a social life. You don’t need to start out with your hardest classes right away. Allow yourself to ease into college life, and save Organic Chemistry for another semester or two.
5. Be aware of extra components of a class before enrolling.
Does your class have a lab component? Many students don’t consider this before they set up their schedules, and wind up ruining their grades because they didn’t schedule enough time to attend their labs. In addition, some classes require service learning projects, so it is important to be aware of this prior to enrolling in the class to avoid any surprises or disappointments. Pay very close attention to those sometimes-hidden extras when signing up for your classes.
6. Your course catalog is your best friend.
Different schools treat their course catalogs differently, but it is important to be aware of what prerequisites and core classes your major requires before scheduling your semester. Simple enough, right? However, it’s important to make sure that even as a communications major, you take the correct math courses, and that as an an engineer, you take the speech class that is designated for your major. You should also be aware of other requirements, such as internships, co-ops, and applications to limited access programs. Keeping your course catalog on hand is an excellent way to stay up-to-date.
7. Take your general education classes early.
Most colleges require their students to take a few general classes first, such as English, basic mathematics, foreign language and sciences. However, these classes can also serve as the building blocks for the classes you will have to take later in your major. Therefore, it is usually a good idea to take these in your freshman and sophomore year so that you can then access your more advanced courses. For example, pre-med students usually opt to take their introductory biology and chemistry courses as early as their first semester so that they can move on to anatomy and physiology and other major-specific classes. Taking gen-eds early is also a good idea because it allows you to get the classes you don’t want to take out of the way as early as possible. (I haven’t had to take a math class since the beginning of my freshman year, and I couldn’t be happier!)
8. Use RateMyProfessors.com, but do so sparingly.
RateMyProfessors.com can be an excellent resource for learning about your professors ahead of time. You can gain a greater expectation of what your professor typically requires from the class you are going to take, how easy or difficult other students perceive him or her to be, and what the professor’s personality is like. However, be careful when you use this website, because one student’s opinion may completely differ from your own. I took one professor’s class upon reading his reviews on this site, but wounded up hating every minute of his class because I considered him to be bigoted and rude. Conversely, I have taken professors with negative reviews and actually enjoyed their classes. Take each review with a grain of salt.
9. Talk to older students.
Yes, advisers can be extremely helpful, but often you can get some of the best advice from students who are just a few years ahead of you. Students are a fantastic resource because they have undergone the same experiences as you not that long ago, and so they are most likely to understand your situation and have the best ideas as far as classes to take, professors to avoid, minors and certificates to consider and organizations to join. Having a mentor can take away a lot of the stress, and will make you feel less alone when selecting classes and solving the problems that can go along with it.
10. Be wary of online classes, but take them if you think you can.
I have mixed feelings about online classes. I won’t warn you against them completely, because I think they can be extremely rewarding and they allow you to work at your own pace. However, I don’t suggest taking them in your first semester or two of college, because you are still figuring out your learning style and trying to develop your time management skills, and online classes may provide too much freedom and too little structure for a college freshman. However, once you have adjusted to university life and think you can handle an online class, feel free to try it out!
11. Learn the rules of your college and be aware of legislation that could affect your education.
In Florida, the public state schools face “excess hour laws” that limit the number of courses a student can take and still receive in-state benefits. Because of this, students nowadays have to be especially careful when choosing their classes so that they can keep their scholarships. In addition, most scholarships require you to take a certain number of credit hours, so it is important to know about this as well before you decide to “take it easy” one semester. Keep up-to-date on these rules and regulations, and your bank account will thank you later.
12. Take at least one class that genuinely excites you.
Let’s face it — it’s difficult to drag yourself out of bed to go to classes that completely bore you. If your schedule consists only of classes that you’re taking to “get them out of the way,” then chances are (unless you have a fantastic professor and discover that you love the subject) you won’t really enjoy your semester. Therefore, it is important to take a class that you are willing to get out of your dorm room to attend. During my freshman year, that class was my Creative Writing class — even as I surrounded myself with math/science classes that I dreaded, I made sure I had a class that I could use as an outlet. This made my semester a whole lot smoother.
13. Have backups ready.
During registration periods, classes can fill up quickly. As a freshman, you may not have first priority when selecting your classes, which means that you will have to be flexible and consider viable alternatives. Therefore, before registration periods begin, be sure to have at least three additional classes on the back burner so that if some of your first choices are unavailable, you will still have useful classes to take and won’t feel completely overwhelmed as you rearrange your schedule.
14. Be honest with yourself and know what you’re capable of.
If you hate studying and aren’t accustomed to a heavy course load, then don’t sign up for 18 credit hours right off the bat. Ease yourself into a schedule that works for you, and add on additional classes in future semesters after you’ve gotten used to a smaller amount. Don’t bite off more than you can chew in your first semester, because if things don’t go well, you will feel more discouraged in future semesters. Challenge yourself, but don’t overdo it.
15. Learn from your experiences.
Evaluate yourself after each semester, and plan your subsequent schedules accordingly. If you find that you aren’t well suited for online classes, for example, then try sticking to face-to-face classes every chance you get. If you take a class with a professor that you love, see if you can take more with him or her. If you’re an engineering student who realizes she hates her math and science classes, consider changing your major. College is full of transitions, and during the next four years, you will learn a lot about yourself, your interests and your personal learning style. Analyze those discoveries and figure out how best to apply them to your life.
College freshmen: What questions do you have about choosing college courses? What other questions do you have about the college experience? Is there a particular “Freshman 15″ you’d like to see?
Other students and graduates: What advice do you have for students who are trying to plan their class schedules?