5 Tips for Choosing College Classes
So, you have committed to your college and are gearing up for the new school year. Amidst the wave of emails coming your way reminding you to attend new student orientation, info sessions, and creating a checklist of things to buy, you will also have to do one of the most important and exciting things of all: signing up for classes!
There are many points where it can start to feel real, but for me, registering for my first college classes drove home that I was going to go to college in just a few short months.
Every school is different in the way that they navigate their system and allow students to sign up for classes. Within each university, the requirements for classes and steps may even be different from college to college.
For instance, student athletes and honors students at my school, Penn State, are allowed to enroll before anyone else enrolls. Typically, registration then follows a seniority system, with seniors registering first, then juniors, sophomores, and finally freshmen.
Since you’re a first year, you will unfortunately get the last pick at the classes. However, universities know this and they typically designate large class sizes and offer a generous amount of sections to accommodate this.
Before you even worry about when you should be registering, the first thing you need to think about are what classes to sign up for! Again, while it will be different for each college, your school will either have a helpful website that will guide you on what classes to take, or an advisor to talk with you about it, or both.
Below, I will give you some general tips on how to choose your classes for your first semester as a freshman and some good practices that will set you up for success long into your college student career.
Research is the single most important aspect when beginning the process to choose your classes. Every university and each student’s situation is unique so unless you are speaking with an advisor, it is unlikely that you will receive advice that is tailor made to your specific situation.
Thus, you can make sure that you are informed about your own needs through research. Your college will likely have a website that lays out a suggested academic plan for your major.
But let’s say you are an “undecided” major. You can still do research for that, too! Depending on your requirements, you may opt to take some general education classes that allow you to explore some of your interests first.
No matter what, the first step in the process is to do research and see what information is already out there before moving forward.
Understand your unique requirements
Because you are in a unique situation, it is important that you understand the requirements you have to graduate. In general, everyone at your school should have some of the same necessities to graduate such as a minimum number of credits taken.
However, within your major, there are often additional unique requirements that might include language credits or other certain classes you need to take. For example, at Penn State, we have 12 different academic colleges, each with their own slightly different requirements. Within the Smeal College of Business (the college I am in), there are specific courses that students must take to be able to even enter the major.
However, less competitive colleges may not have such a requirement. Thus, it is extremely important to take a look at all the credit, language, general education, and class requirements that you’ll need to graduate.
Lay out a graduation plan
Once you have researched all your requirements, you may be feeling overwhelmed with everything that you have to do. With this step, you will be able to start to break everything down into smaller, more manageable pieces.
When you are laying out your plan, you should create a document or a spreadsheet to make everything easy to read and to document everything. Create sections for each of the 8 semesters you will have until you graduate, with space for summers in case you decide to take classes then as well.
Now, while looking at your academic requirements and your suggested academic plan, write down all of the classes that you are required to take, no matter what. For now, keep them in the same semesters that your academic plan suggests you take them.
Do not worry if there are some major classes that you are not sure of the class code yet. Just write down a placeholder name like “Finance class” for now so you know that something is there for you to update later.
Work from your last semester senior year back to your first semester freshman year. Even after you have done all this, you will likely still have a lot of empty space. Here is likely where your general education classes or entrance to major classes (if you have them), will come in.
This is the fun part. You now get to customize what kinds of classes you want to take. While there are definitely some required classes you will need to take as a freshman, you can choose the ratio of general education classes you want to take.
If you want to ease into your college experience, you can opt for a slightly lighter load with easier classes. However, you need to keep in mind your overall graduation goals and make sure that if you are going to opt to take many general education classes one semester, that leaves less of those “fun” classes to take later down the line when you are taking harder major classes.
Additionally, many of the general education requirements are broken down into sub categories such as art, science, health, and more. For now, when you are writing out your plan, simply pencil in, “Health gen-ed” as a placeholder so you know what you are taking.
One important thing to consider is if you are coming in with transfer credits. This may be from dual-enrollment classes, AP tests, or IB tests. It is important that you look at if your school accepts these credits and what classes these credits will be a substitute for.
Sometimes, these credits mean that you can jump ahead to more difficult classes or that you do not have to do as many general education classes. Both of these scenarios are important to consider when crafting your graduation plan.
As a side note, while many colleges require general education classes, not all universities do. However, if you attend a school that does not do general education classes, there are likely less classes that you have to choose as the general academic plan has probably already been laid out for you in detail.
Once you have laid out a general academic plan to the best of your ability, you can then begin researching specific classes you want to enroll in for your first semester. While this entire process will take quite a while, I promise you, it is worth your time.
Even now, I often look back at, reference, and make updates to the exact same academic plan that I made before my freshman year. It helps me stay on top of what requirements I still need and allows me to be flexible.
Another bonus of laying everything out early is that you are more informed when talking to your advisors and you also can see everything that you have to do on a single sheet of paper.
This means that you will be able to plan out other things you might want to do such as studying abroad or graduating early; it is hard to plan for those kinds of things unless you know where you have room to be flexible.
Set aside some time and make a graduation plan. A good one can go a long way.
Choosing the right class and professor
Now that you have created a detailed academic plan with the specific requirements that you need, it is time to start researching the exact classes you will want to take. Take a look at the course catalog and note down anything that fits your requirements and sparks your interest.
Do not be afraid to list down as many as you want! Once you have done that for each of the placeholder classes in your plan that you have created, you now want to sort through each of these to find your best option.
Some things to keep in mind include the professor that is teaching the class as well as the location relative to your other classes on campus.
Many professors can be found on RateMyProfessor.com, a site where students give ratings to their professors and short explanations about the class. However, you should take this site with a grain of salt. I have taken classes with professors that have poor or no ratings only to find that they are a great teacher!
Sometimes, the students writing these reviews will give low ratings because they struggled in class or felt the work was too much without ever putting in the adequate effort needed for the class. This website is a great tool, but do not be scared off from taking a potentially great professor.
Once you have narrowed down your list and looked at the professors, rank the classes that you have remaining so you know your most and least favorite classes. You should do this because depending on your registration date, the classes you want might be full by the time you sign up, so it is important to have several options available.
Advisors are your best friend (sometimes)
Once you have done all this, or even if you are in the middle of the process, and you still have questions, this is a great opportunity to reach out to an advisor.
Advisors are there to be able to help you and answer any questions you might have. There are a few things to keep in mind, however.
First of all, the advisor you have in the summer time before you enter school may be different from your assigned advisor once university is in session. The college knows that many of their incoming students will have questions and they often increase their number of advisors to accommodate this.
If this is the case for you, keep in mind that your temporary advisor may not be as informed about your situation or cases like yours as your normal advisor would be.
This leads to my second point: be informed. It is imperative that you are informed about your own academic requirements before you reach out with any questions.
This will allow you to be knowledgeable about the advice they are sharing and confirm that it matches your own knowledge. Case in point, one of my friends is an international student and when she was enrolling in classes, her temporary advisor was not as well-informed as her typical advisor.
Thus, he recommended that she take a certain English class that she found out later, when it was too late, that she did not need. This caused her to waste her time and money. However, if you are informed, you may be able to avoid a situation like this because you will check their suggestions against your own known requirements.
Lastly, you must keep in mind that each advisor has many, many students under their wing. You should be respectful of their time and boundaries. The weeks leading up to the beginning of school are some of their most stressful and busy times. Remember to always be respectful and patient for their help.
Registering for and choosing the right classes can seem like a daunting and overwhelming process. However, if you follow the steps I outlined above and keep in mind the three key points of research, understand your requirements, and planning, you should be all set for a wonderful first semester of college!
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