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Back To School Hacks

Choosing College Classes 101: How To Pick The Right Schedule (Even If You Don’t Know Your Major)

Liam Berry

The college experience is about a bunch of things. It’s about growing up, forging friendships, finding love, and charting a path for yourself. But more than anything it’s still school! Just because you’re not in high school anymore, doesn’t mean you don’t have to make academic decisions. So, choosing college classes is one of the most important things to get right while you’re there.

The right set of college classes can mean the difference between falling in love with a new subject or field or absolutely dreading (and failing) your 9 a.m. Organic Chemistry for Non-Majors class.

How do you go about choosing without knowing your major? Can you find out if a class is too hard? Can you really get good classes for your freshman year?

There are so many questions when it comes to choosing college classes. The WayUp Guide is here to answer them for you. If you put these five steps on your to-do list, you can walk away with the best possible schedule guaranteed.

1. Know What You Need

Choosing college classes is something that takes a method and a mission. You’ve got to know what you want and why you want it. It doesn’t mean having a 30-Year Plan or anything like that.

When You DON’T Know Your Major

You can even pick the right classes without knowing your major.

As long as you make a plan for your general education or school requirements ahead of time, you don’t need to know the fine points right away.

If you’re enrolled in the school of arts and sciences at your university—sometimes called “the college” or “general studies”—then you probably have a slate of required, across-the-board classes you have to take. However, it’s also likely that many Advanced Placement (AP) tests, SAT subject tests (sometimes called SAT IIs), or International Baccalaureate (IB) tests will get you out of those requirements.

For example, an AP test score of 5 on the AP Statistics exam will usually get you out of the math requirement. The same goes for a humanities requirement with the AP English exam.

When You DO Know Your Major

If you do know what you want your major to be, that’s when more careful planning becomes necessary. When it comes to choosing college classes for decided majors, the same rules apply for general education requirements: You need to plan ahead. But now that you know what your major requirements will be, too, you should plan those out as well.

This is especially true for double majors and people with minors. Now is the time to make the dreaded four-year plan. It can be intimidating thinking about planning that far ahead, but it will really pay off in a big way. And it absolutely does not mean that you can’t leave room for taking fun classes. Get everything required out of the way. That way, you’ll have time left over for fun classes like Creative Writing workshops or The Business of Space Travel.

2. Know What You Want

This part is a bit trickier, but a LOT more fun. Now’s the time to decide what it is you actually want to take.

Once you know that you need to take, for example, a history class, you can make a more specific decision. Like whether you want to take The History of Hip-Hop or Analyzing Wheat Output During The American Civil War. Both schools of thought are completely valid, but planning ahead of time lets you dive in to what you’re most interested in. Plus, when you take classes you like, you’re generally going to do better in them. Good grades mean a great GPA, which is always a plus for employers and grad schools!

You should also look into the teaching styles of your potential professors using sites like Rate My Professors or school-specific review systems like Boston College’s PEP system. Do they give a lot of homework? How are they with class participation? Are they supportive? Do they really challenge you? There’s so much to know (and find out) about a professor and a class beforehand.

Beyond knowing what you want in terms of actual subject matter and teaching styles, you have to know yourself and what you want. It’s awesome if you can wake up at 8 a.m. everyday and go to the earliest possible classes…but most people are not like that. Be realistic with your self based on your social schedule and habits about what class times and workloads actually work for you. There’s nothing wrong with having your day start at noon!

3. Weighing the Options

Now that you’ve found the classes you want and planned out the classes you need, you need to make some calls. Is it worth taking that 9 a.m. if you get that legendary professor? Is it too much of a hassle to put three general education classes in one semester?

Now that you’ve done your research, you should balance out your interests. Make sure you leave enough time for friends, fun, and perhaps even an internship during the semester. It’s never a bad idea to get more work experience. However, it’s a terrible idea to take on more than you can handle. Be ambitious, but not so much so that you end up disappointing yourself with absurd expectations.

4. Doing All This BEFORE Registration Opens

This is really the key to the castle.

Planning ahead gives you the ability to make backup plans. Knowing how badly you want something means knowing your first, second, and third choices. You won’t always get your #1, but you can usually get one of your top 3 classes.

Another pro tip: If you really, really want to take a class, then email the professor ahead of registration and let him/her/them know you plan on enrolling. If you share your enthusiasm, then they’re more likely to bump you up off the waitlist if you can’t get in.

If you’re only making last-minute decisions about registration, you’re going to end up having one option in your head and no backup plan, if that. That means you have a higher chance of getting into trouble.

5. Get Lucky With Registration Times

Even after all the prep work in the world, choosing college classes can be hard. You still have to get lucky with registration times. Colleges assign registration times somewhat randomly, although they usually consider seniority, athlete status, and a variety of other factors. If you go to a small college, then registration time can be particularly important.

It’s also important to do as much prep work as possible in terms of preparing for the actual act of registering. Many schools, like NYU, will let you pre-select your classes in their online system so you can just click “register” when your time comes. Those valuable few seconds lining the classes up could mean the difference between taking your dream class and your nightmare!

While this is luck-based, it’s also possible to game the system to your advantage. If you’re an athlete, a transfer student, or someone in a highly specialized major, then you can probably get a better registration time just by asking for it. Many schools also have accommodations for people with more difficult situations. If you’re one of those people, then make sure you get your due.

Choosing College Classes 201: In-Person Meetings

No matter how far away registration is, one of the best resources is your academic advisor. They can help answer questions like, “Does this AP test satisfy this requirement?” And many, many more like that.

You also might have a major advisor. They can help you understand which classes best align with your interests and which professors have the best reputations. Don’t sleep on these incredibly valuable resources.

If you do all that, then you’re more than ready to handle registration not just for now, but for the rest of college to come. Thirty minutes of work can make 4 years of school SO MUCH BETTER. For you, choosing college classes should be a cakewalk.

For more back-to-school hacks, tips, and tricks, be sure to visit the WayUp Guide!

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