What to Look for When Choosing Classes
Okay, so, picking classes is super important. This isn’t high school where you have like five courses to choose from that are taught by the same instructors every year. More likely, you have nearly one hundred majors to choose from which you have reasonably narrowed down to a few based on your interests. You are still debating between these, but you really can’t decide until you take some more coursework.
First thing, make sure to meet with your college advisor to set a schedule for the coming years. You will have lower-division coursework to take which will be pre-requisites for your upper-division courses, and you will also have college requirements that are more geared towards general education. Even if you are still debating between majors with quite different pre-requisites, there should be some space to overlap required electives with potential upper-division major pre-requisites, so be smart. An all-too-common mistake is of not planning ahead, then having to stay an extra year because a single pre-requisite set you back a semester from taking several other required courses or because you missed a required course that is offered only once during the entire year. Even if you think you’re on track, some required classes at your school may only be offered once a semester so it’s key to plan ahead and take them when they are available.
Once you have a sense of what courses to knock down in a given year, find out how the priority for enrollment works for your school. Many have two-pass systems where you have to again be strategic to enroll in the courses you think may fill up quickly during your first pass and leave the second pass for courses that are not as likely to become overfilled. First pass will often be useful for the general education courses that are easy and that satisfy requirements for a lot of the students. Make sure to spend some time beforehand planning this out, because it could make your term a whole lot easier if you navigate the logistics effectively. Depending on your school, some Major and Minors allow overlapping of core requisites, meaning that a strategic semester can quickly have a single course double count.
Next, look into the instructors which are teaching each course. You may have some flexibility in what term you can take a given course, so find out who is teaching and when (e.g. Professor A is teaching Course 1 in the fall and Professor B is teaching it in the spring). Look up reviews for the Professors online, and speak with people who have already taken the course. Does the Professor like to teach? Do they assign homework? Is lecture or supplementary section attendance part of the grade? Are there multiple midterms and a final? Do they follow a textbook, or do they go directly off of their own powerpoint slides? And, an unfortunately important one: what is their grade distribution like? It is a bit obnoxious, but some professors curve courses to give 25% of the students an A. Others might curve to give 10% of the students an A. If it is not mandated by the department or university, it is up to the Instructor’s discretion and can considerably effect how you are perceived to have performed in that class. Picking a good teacher truly is key to helping your GPA without adding extra work.
In many cases, these will not vary too dramatically between Professors or the course is taught so often that you have your pick between a few different Instructors you would willingly enroll with. So, finally, consider the time of the course. Is it an early morning course? Is it an evening course on Thursdays and Fridays? Do you want a few hours between courses to unwind and/or study, or do you envision crushing out lecture after lecture then having the rest of the day to yourself? These are all solid considerations, but they are up to your own discretion.
In sum, picking classes in college is important. Plan ahead. It might take a term or two to get the hang of it, but, once you do, it will make the actual term much easier.