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4 Tips To Help You Prepare For College Course Selection

A young woman sits at a table in a coffee shop looking down at her phone.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

If you’re a rising college freshman reading this, prepare yourself.

Course selection is far from a walk in the park, even for seasoned students.

At my school in particular, you have to plan a schedule, meet with your academic (or college) advisor, who’ll approve you for online registration, and then you await your allotted registration time (usually conveniently placed early in the morning).

So far, so good. It takes some work, but your perfectly polished schedule is worth it.

And then, you wake up day-of. You check your alarm–15 minutes to spare before your slot. You prepare yourself and check the clock. OK, it’s go time!

You pop open your laptop, still slightly groggy with sleep, open the appropriate tab, and your eyes widen in horror.

Every course you had perfectly selected is full, and the waitlist is a mile long. Resigned, you sign up for a million introductory classes on subjects you don’t care about.

The time? Two minutes after your slot opened. “That’s it,” you think. “I’m dropping out.”

The above scenario is not fabricated or exaggerated. It happened to me, it’s happened to dozens of my peers, and it might happen to you, too.

Heed my words, friends, and you might be spared. Here’s a step-by-step guide that may help, but remember that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

1. Pick classes, backup classes, and backups of the backups.

Assuming you’re on a major track already (if not, feel free to dabble in the aforementioned introductory classes alongside a helping of gen-ed requirements), you should be able to check your course evaluation.

If you can’t find it, ask your school’s registrar or your advisor. The evaluation will tell you the requirements you’ve met and the ones that you haven’t.

Make a list of the ones you haven’t yet met. Then, sort your class search by each requirement. Jot down the classes that fit the requirement (especially if there’s overlap with other requirements) alongside who teaches them and the time of day that they’re offered.

This way, you can create alternate schedules in case your first one doesn’t work out, and you can avoid taking any unnecessary classes.

When creating these draft schedules, it’s important to keep in mind if you’re a full or part-time student. It’s also helpful to read reviews of the professors before you commit to the class to help narrow down your options and find someone that best suits your learning style.

If you’re struggling with choosing, talk to your advisor! My college makes advisor meetings mandatory anyways–you aren’t authorized to register for your classes if you don’t speak to them.

These meetings are extremely helpful for planning and choosing classes and professors that are right for you. Your major advisor should know the ins and outs of your department and can point you in the right direction.

If you feel that they’re unhelpful, try speaking to fellow majors who have more experience. Students are likely to be honest with their opinions and advice regarding classes and professors, and that can help you even more.

Mistakes To Avoid As A College Freshman

2. Make sure all your information is updated.

You have your schedule (and backup schedules) prepared. You’ve gone into the course registration software, pre-selected everything, and are ready for the pivotal moment. All you have to do is press that button that says “submit choices,” and you can go back to sleep for five blissful minutes.

Not so fast. You hit submit, and discover that you can’t submit your choices because of some arcane cataloging flaw. In my case, it was because I hadn’t updated my emergency contact information. Yeah.

It’s things like that which cause last-minute disasters. To prevent this, go through and update all your information before your registration slot opens! Confirm that everything is correct and make sure all your outstanding balances (forgotten library books, for instance) are paid off.

If you need help, email your school’s financial aid office. Make sure everything is up to date. I can’t speak on the policy of individual schools, but email your registrar to ask about what you need to do if you’re feeling uncertain or want to take some extra precautions.

3. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t be afraid to waitlist.

Oh no! You did everything right, but despite that, there’s still zero spots left in your dream class that you know all your friends are taking. Great. No spots left, and the waitlist is already a mile long.

Well, go for it anyways. Register for one of your backup classes, and put yourself on that waitlist. Who knows what the future holds?

Just this past registration period, I was waitlisted for a class that I was really looking forward to. The waitlist was lengthy, to say the least. I had given up all hope.

Luckily for me, I have my college email notifications sent to my phone and was able to immediately accept when I saw that I had been taken off the waitlist and now had a 48-hour period to register for the class.

I dropped the placeholder class and registered for the coveted section. Luckily, I had bothered to put myself on the waitlist despite my initial hopelessness and was able to get in after all. It’s always worth a try.

4. Plan for the future!

When you’re planning your schedule, colleges should have the course catalog prepared for at least a semester in advance. Take a look at your options into the future.

This way, you can make sure you won’t be scrambling to meet gen-ed requirements your senior year. Your plans for the future don’t have to be perfect, but keeping a document of the classes you’ve taken and the classes you need to take in the future is very helpful for planning.

It can be hard work, but it’ll save you time and spare you a headache down the road.

Remember, everyone has a registration horror story. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your advisors and more experienced peers. I promise, everything will be okay. I hope these tips helped, and good luck on this rite of passage! 

Author: Rebecca Hanson

I'm currently a sophomore English major at Lewis & Clark College in sunny Portland, OR. Alongside my writing for Niche, I also contribute to LC's student newspaper and radio. I'm passionate about writing, playing bass, and taking care of my dog, Howie (not pictured).