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May 27 2016
by Alexa Marzina

How to Make the Perfect Class Schedule

By Alexa Marzina - May 27 2016
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Making a class schedule for your first year of college probably seems much different than how you made your schedules in high school. Most colleges have more class variety than typical high schools, making it seem impossible to just choose a few to take during the upcoming semester. Whether you know your major or not, it can be challenging to know what classes you should be taking to suit your educational and personal goals. Some schools may give you a rough outline of recommended classes to take your first semester of freshman year, but choosing amongst professors, locations and times add even more difficulty into the mix. But don’t worry! Here are some tips to make YOUR own perfect schedule for your very first semester. Eventually, you’ll become a pro at this.

1. Think about your major (or something you might be interested in).

Even if you’re not set on a major yet, that’s okay! It can be extremely daunting to look at an entire list of every single class that your university offers, so start with a subject area that you know or think you might want to study. This step already narrows down the choices greatly. From there, you can read the course descriptions and choose something that sounds interesting, or something that you know is required for your major if you have one.

2. Try to get general education requirements out of the way.

As much as you may want to jump right in to your major, a lot of schools have general education requirements in place to ensure that students get a well-rounded education. These may seem annoying and “irrelevant” to your planned course of study, which is why it’s usually best to get them out of the way early. Plus, if you know you have to take a certain class, it’s better to take it when you know it’s definitely available so you’re not that senior that is one class short of graduating (it happens!). Not to mention that a lot of other freshmen will probably be taking these courses as well, so it can be a great way to make some new friends early on in the semester.

3. Pay attention to prerequisites/corequisites.

Prerequisites are classes that you must take before taking another higher up class in that same field. For example, Calculus 1 is a prerequisite to Calculus 2. Corequisites are classes that must be taken at the same time. Some schools require (or recommend) that science students take courses like Biology and Chemistry together since they relate to each other. Make sure you know about these for courses that you know you will need or want to take in the future so you can plan ahead to take the required steps to meet the criteria to get in to that class. If you’re not sure, just ask your advisor, a professor or a student who may have taken those classes before.

4. Don’t take 8 a.m. classes…or do, if you want.

One of the biggest pieces of advice that a lot of older students give to incoming freshmen is to never take 8 a.m. classes because it is way too hard to wake up for them, making it likely to sleep for class. This is the case for some people, but not all. If you know you’re a morning person and can handle lectures in the morning, by all means go for it! This gives you way more time during the day for whatever other activities you want to fill your time with. But, if you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, definitely do avoid early classes. Sleeping through, or even during, class will not benefit you at all and may even lead to failure. Most colleges have a good range of nighttime courses for those students who are most certainly not early-birds, so make your schedule fit into your life’s timing, not anyone else’s.

5. Use Rate My Professor.

This is a glorious tool. While for a lot of high schools (or at least mine), Rate My Teacher was basically an open forum to bash and make fun of all teachers, Rate My Professor is extremely helpful at the college level. Instead of angsty-teen complaints about how their teacher was “lame” or “unfair,” there are genuine, thoughtful reviews of your potential professors. How your professor teaches can make or break a class for anyone. Some are notorious (good or bad) for the subjects they teach, and it’s good to know which ones you should try to take and which you should avoid. Keep in mind that everyone learns differently, so what one person says in their review might not apply to you, but it is a good baseline to get a vibe from several different professors without even taking their class yet.

6. Don’t overload yourself.

The average number of credits per semester for a full-time student is 12-15. Your school may allow you to take more than that, and if you have plans to graduate early, double major, or just challenge yourself, you may need to do so. However, just because you can does not mean you should. You have never experienced college before. It is a shock and a lot to take in. You will have to adapt to living basically on your own for the first time, and, as I’m sure you’ve heard time and time again, college is a lot different than high school. The classes are much tougher and fast paced, so you may want to reconsider that extra class you’re thinking about adding into your schedule. Sure, it may seem like you have too much free time early on in the semester, but once you get into the swing of things, you will be busier than you have ever been. Taking just four or five classes is a lot of work and a huge time commitment, so don’t feel bad for not maxing out your schedule during your very first semester. If spring rolls around and you think you have time for it, go ahead and enroll in 18 or however many credits you think you can handle. This way you don’t run the risk of overloading yourself.

7. Take location and time into account.

If you are on a large campus, some of your academic buildings may be upwards of a 20-minute walk from one another. If this is the case, don’t schedule a class at 10 a.m. if you have one that ends at 9:50 a.m. This may seem silly, but people do it! Even on campuses where class buildings are close, or if your next class is in the same building as the one right before it, professors will sometimes go over time. They’ll get caught up in the lesson or need to give “just one more example,” and the next thing you know, you’re late to your next class before you even left for it. Give yourself time. It may seem convenient to put all your classes in a big back-to-back block, but make sure to account for walking times and the occasional over-time class. If your class goes late and you still have 10 minutes to walk to your next one, now you’re extra late, and you don’t want to be that kid that runs into the middle of a lecture sweating and freaking out for being late.

8. Don’t copy others’ exact schedules.

Since there is just SO much course variety in college it may be too overwhelming for some people. You may have to urge to just look at someone with a similar major’s courses and take everything that they are taking, but this might not be the best thing for you. It may be good to see some different class options and have people recommend some good baseline courses, but just because you and your friend are pre-med doesn’t mean you have to have the exact same schedule. Again, if you’re not sure what plan is best for your, go to your advisor and have them help you pick out classes to suit your needs.

9. Remember to actually register!

I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Students will have all their perfect courses lined up for the upcoming semester, only to forget to actually press “Submit,” when the time to register comes along! You may be saying, “That won’t happen to me,” but it very well could, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

This process is probably really scary and new to a lot of you, and understandably so. But once you learn how to work your school’s scheduling system and how to effectively choose courses each semester, this whole process will (hopefully) become a breeze.

Lead Image Credit: Gunnar Wrobel via Flickr Creative Commons

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Alexa Marzina - University of Pittsburgh

Alexa is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh and is majoring in psychology, minoring in creative writing and pursuing a certificate in American Sign Language. She also plays clarinet in the University of Pittsburgh Varsity Marching Band. One day, Alexa hopes to own at least three corgis. Follow her on Twitter @alexa_lou and Instagram @_alexalou

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