Updated on July 18th, 2022
How do I choose my classes for college; it’s a question that plagues every student. The process is different than it was in high school. Plus, it can be hard to decide which courses are worth taking, and which should be handled when, when all your student has to guide them is a single paragraph description from the catalog.
But that doesn’t mean your student can’t tackle it. With the right strategy and a few helpful expert tips, they can put their schedule together with ease. If your student is struggling with how to choose classes for college, here’s what you need to know.
If you and your student want to learn about how to find scholarships, ensuring that their ideal school is affordable, sign up for our free college scholarship webinar! Take a trip over to https://thescholarshipsystem.com/freewebinar to reserve your spot today.
- 1 Read This Before Your Student Worries About How to Choose College Classes
- 2 5 Tips for How to Choose College Classes
- 3 Bonus Tips: How to Choose College Classes as a Freshman
Read This Before Your Student Worries About How to Choose College Classes
Before your student worries about how to choose classes in college, they need to do one thing: figure out what courses they need. Every degree has specific requirements, and your student needs a thorough understanding of what they are before they make a single decision.
Why? Because the degree requirement may handle most of the class selection heavy-lifting. Specific courses will be mandatory, and many lower-level classes are prerequisites for others. That information alone may essentially tell your student what they have to do, eliminating any guesswork.
Ideally, your student should examine the flow of their degree. By understanding how some courses lead into the next, they can create a base outline. It lets them see if some classes have to be taken at a particular time. If so, they have part of their schedule figured out by default.
In the end, your student may have far fewer decisions to make than they thought. Often, this can be a bit of a relief, as part of the direction of their education is predefined.
5 Tips for How to Choose College Classes
Once your student creates their basic outline, they should know where they need to make decisions about their courses. When they reach that point, here are some tips for how to choose college classes that can make the process easier to manage.
1. Identify the Requirements You Want to Handle Each Semester
Your student should have an outline of any must-haves they need to cover each semester to maintain the flow of their degree. That will dictate at least some of the classes they’ll need to take during each period.
Beyond that, your student should review the remaining requirements and decide which ones they would like to cover each semester. Usually, this means filling in with lower-level core requirements.
Just like with classes related to their major, your student should see if any core requirements have prerequisites. If so, getting the prerequisites handled early is a smart move.
If there aren’t any prerequisites that need addressing, your student should strive for some balance. If they can have a mix of subjects they find challenging and topics they find easier, that may keep their workload from feeling too overwhelming.
2. Design a Schedule, Not a Course List
In most cases, students take four or five classes every semester. However, not all courses are available during every time slot. As a result, your student’s options may be limited automatically, which can make the decision process easier.
Ideally, your student shouldn’t focus on creating a desired course list but a schedule. First, they need to see when they can take any must-have classes. Once they know the time slots those will occupy, they can see which periods they can fill with other courses.
How your student structures their schedule is a personal decision. Some students enjoy breaks between each class, while others prefer to handle them all in a row. If your student is a morning person, a 7:00 am course might seem reasonable. But, if they aren’t at their best until 10:00 am, choosing classes that are later in the day could be the better choice.
Once your student knows what they want their schedule to look like, they can see what’s available during those periods that meet the requirements. This will narrow down their list of choices, which could make it easier to decide.
3. Choose Some Because They Are Fun
Taking a class because it is fun is a perfectly good reason to choose it. If it meets a requirement and won’t extend how long it takes to finish a degree, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be enjoyable.
For example, if your college has physical education classes as core requirements for all graduates, why not explore something different. Some schools offer less traditional options, like archery and fencing, as well as classics like golf, volleyball, and weight training. There are even some unexpected choices, like Cornell’s Tree Climbing class.
Plus, there are some incredibly unique for-credit options around. Michigan State University offers Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, which includes an examination of how people react in a disaster from psychological and sociological perspectives.
In the anthropology category, American University offers Taboos, a look at a range of sensitive topics, how taboos emerge, and how people react to them. At the University of Pennsylvania, students can bypass traditional literature courses in favor of Comics and Graphic Novels, which is considered an English course.
4. Have Alternatives at the Ready
Technically, your student shouldn’t just design one potential schedule; it’s better to have two or three at the ready. Why? Because popular classes fill up fast, and there may not be a spot available by the time your student gets to register their choices.
How schools determine registration times can vary. Many colleges factor in seniority, so freshman may almost universally be last. Others consider athletic status, whether the student was given a merit-based institutional scholarship, chosen major, or a slew of other details about the students. At times, assigned registration times are mainly random.
Students need to be prepared for alternative classes. That way, if their first choice is full, they can switch to the second or third right away, ensuring they can register quickly.
It’s important to note that if your student needs (not wants, but legitimately needs) a specific course during the upcoming semester, and their request is clearly justifiable, they may be able to ask for a better registration time to ensure they get it. If this applies to your student, they should speak with their academic advisor as soon as possible to see if a change in their time can be authorized.
5. Make the Most of Your Advisor
Your student’s academic advisor is a valuable asset. If your student is having doubts or wants insights about various courses or potential decisions, their advisor can often help.
Advisors are highly aware of class workloads, professor personalities, and degree flows. Plus, they want to see your student succeed, so it’s usually okay to trust their advice.
While your student should always exercise due diligence, it’s important to remember that they have an advisor available for a reason. They don’t have to be on this journey alone, so they should use this resource whenever it makes sense to do so.
Bonus Tips: How to Choose College Classes as a Freshman
While all of the expert tips above apply to all students, there are a few unique aspects that first-year students may want to consider. Here are three bonus tips on how to choose freshman college classes.
1. Have At Least One Major-Related Class
Every college student has to take two kinds of courses. Along with those related to their major, your student will have to handle their core requirements during their college career. That includes all of the basics every student has to tackle, like a specific number of English, mathematics, and science classes.
In some cases, students focus heavily on those core classes. Their goal is to get them out of the way quickly, allowing them to concentrate on their major after that. However, this isn’t an ideal approach.
Usually, it’s best to mix core requirements with classes related to the student’s major. First, this ensures they can cover courses that act as prerequisites for upper-level major-specific courses down the line.
Second, it lets them start exploring their major from the beginning. That way, if your student realizes that subject isn’t actually a great fit, they can pivot earlier.
2. Do Some Dabbling
When students have to cover their degree requirements, they usually have a few class options that meet the needs of each one. This creates an excellent opportunity for some exploration while still allowing your student to remain on target.
By dabbling in a variety of areas, your student can have a broader experience. Plus, they may discover subjects they genuinely enjoy that they may have overlooked otherwise.
3. Don’t Assume You Can Overload
Many incoming freshmen overestimate how many classes they can handle. They assume the experience will be similar to high school, causing them to misjudge the potential workload.
Generally, students are considered full-time at many colleges if they are taking 12 credit hours a semester. However, it isn’t uncommon for students to choose 15 hours of credits. That approach allows the student to complete 120 hours – the typical number needed for a Bachelor’s degree – in eight semesters, or four years if your student takes the summer semesters off.
However, schools may allow students to sign up as many as 20 credit hours worth of classes. While this may seem like a smart way to shorten their time in school and save money on costs like room and board or specific campus fees, it’s also an easy way to get into trouble. Many students can quickly become overwhelmed with a larger than usual class load.
Plus, taking extra courses means sacrificing certain aspects of the college experience. Your student won’t have time for extracurricular activities or, potentially, even socializing.
While some students can handle the workload, freshmen shouldn’t assume they can. Instead, it’s better to start out with the average 12 to 15 hours and see how they do. That way, they don’t accidentally get themselves in over their heads or burn out due to excessive stress.
If you and your student want to learn about how to find scholarships, and ensuring that their ideal school is affordable, sign up for our free college scholarship webinar! Take a trip over to https://thescholarshipsystem.com/freewebinar to reserve your spot today.