I loved choosing courses in college.
It was so exciting–which profs was I going to get? What electives were available? Did I have any friends in my classes?
Well, I found choosing college courses fun after I learned how to hack the system. Because choosing courses–like everything else in college–has some tricks to it.
I’ve put together 9 of my best tips for how to choose your courses to set your semester up for success. Check them out, and I hope they help you!
1. Choose your mandatory classes first
There is nothing worse than getting the exact elective you want and then realizing it’s at the same time as your mandatory stats class. Get the mandatory ones out of the way first and then build your electives around them.
2. Try to spread out boring or difficult mandatory classes across semesters
One year I had the great idea of putting all of my mandatory classes I was dreading in one semester so I could rip it off like a band-aid.
Boy was that a long band-aid.
Take it from me: it’s better to have one or two courses you find boring each semester than one semester filled with boring classes. Spread out the mandatory classes you’re dreading over multiple semesters so you have lots of room for classes you find interesting.
3. When choosing college courses, know your attention span
For some people, scheduling all their classes on two or three days works great. But for others, having class for longer than 3 hours in a row can cause a lot of attention difficulties.
Are you someone who likes to power through, or who needs to have time to get up and walk between classes? Don’t schedule yourself for a huge block for the sake of a day off if you’re just going to feel frazzled, stressed, and tired because of it.
4. Be cautious with morning and evening classes
Are you a morning person? Then maybe try to steer clear of the 7-10 PM classes. Or maybe you like to go to the gym in the morning, or aren’t really awake until 10:00 AM. Then, whenever possible, swap the morning class for an afternoon or evening option instead.
Look at when you are most awake, alert, and able to study effectively and try to build your schedule around those times. There’s nothing worse than a 3-hour night lecture if you’re falling asleep 20 minutes into it.
5. Try something outside the box
When you’re looking at electives, try something new! I was a psychology major, but for my electives I took Spanish, Children’s Lit, Celtic studies, and Studies of Christianity and Judaism in Late Antiquity. And I loved them all!
Don’t just do the normal basket-weaving classes at your school, or five million electives in your major (unless that’s what you find most interesting, of course!). This is an amazing opportunity to tap into other disciplines and faculties–so test the waters a bit!
6. Don’t be afraid of choosing college courses that are a challenge
Something challenging but interesting will seem easier than something easy but boring. My religious studies course was my favorite even though I had a 20-page research paper, bi-weekly assignments, a midterm and a HUGE final. Despite the workload, it felt like a breeze because I was so interested in the material. The same semester I was taking a seminar course with a bunch of friends as an “easy elective.” All it had was a paper and a final, but I found it so difficult and frustrating because I wasn’t interested in the material one bit.
Often when students look for electives they only look at easiness. But remember: difficulty is relative. What you find difficult someone else may find simple, and vice versa. So find something that doesn’t just have a high class average: find something you’ll thrive in.
7. Look into online courses or virtual classrooms
For those mandatory classes you’re not thrilled about, or for electives you can’t get to fit with your schedule but you rally want to take, consider an online alternative. Both my husband and I took some courses with Athabasca University here in Canada, since they have a huge course selection and their classes are accredited and accepted as equivalencies at University of Ottawa (where we went to school).
Many schools offer online versions of their classes, as well, with pre-recorded lectures and online discussion forums. They’re worth checking out, since they offer so much flexibility and teach a lot of self-discipline, as well.
8. Consider taking a lighter course load and then taking summer classes
During my final year of school, I had an honors thesis on top of my normal course load. It was a lot. So I cut down on courses and finished up my degree the following summer. Sure, I graduated the year after many of my friends, but it saved me so much stress and frustration during that school year. It was 100% worth it and I have never once regretted that decision.
If school is a bit overwhelming, or you’re facing a difficult semester, why not look into summer courses as an option? I truly don’t understand why more people don’t do it–it’s often better to do a few courses all year through than to do more courses than you’re able to do well, even if it means you get a summer break.
9. Use Rate My Professor religiously
This is my #1 tip for creating your course schedule. Use Rate My Professor. I repeat: use Rate My Professor! Rate my Professor was a game changer for me. No matter how smart you are, no matter how hard you work, some professors just aren’t going to give you a good mark unless you’re incredibly, incredibly lucky. It’s the unpopular truth about college, but there it is.
Use Rate My Professor to figure out which section to sign up for to make sure you get the right professor. All the professors are horrible and it seems impossible to get anything higher than just barely passing? Take that course online instead.
This also takes a lot of the risk out of choosing electives, too. There were many courses I thought looked interesting until I saw that the professor had a 1/5 rating. YIKES.
Your course load really affects how the semester goes. And there are so many easy ways to make sure it goes well.
So those are my 9 best tips–what are yours? Share them in the comments and we’ll chat about it!