Heading off to college provides the opportunity to experience independence freedom. Rather assigned a set schedule, you will get to make decisions about what you study and when you do it. Take advantage of special advising offered to new students and do your research. After the first semester, you will begin to make more informed and independent course choices.
Is it Hard or Easy?
You may be tempted to schedule courses that you have heard or easy. Be aware that this may actually be a symptom of laziness or fear. Don't shy away from a challenge. College is designed to stretch you in new and exciting ways. You can offset challenging classes by taking some that may be easier. If you are using subsidized or unsubsidized loans to pay for college, be certain that you meet the load requirements to satisfy financial aid requirements.
Who's the Professor?
Check around with other students to get recommendations about the best faculty on campus. Some professors may be identified as easy and others are more challenging. As you begin to take classes within your major, your choices may be more limited. Talk to the faculty directly to learn more about their research interests. If you demonstrate an interest in what they are teaching, faculty may be more likely to tap you for special research and academic opportunities.
Is it a College Requirement?
Nearly all colleges and universities have general education requirements, which cover a variety of disciplines within the humanities, mathematics, the natural sciences and social sciences. Students can choose from among lists of approved courses but must take at least one course or more courses in each discipline. The idea is to give students academic breadth, as well as depth, so that when they graduate they will have a fuller sense of the world and how it works.
Is it a Major Requirement?
All students must fulfill their major requirements, and every major has a list of required courses and a list of major other courses from which students may choose as long as they complete a required number of major credits before graduation. Some schools also require that a student choose a specialization within the major. For example, a student majoring in business may have to choose a specialization in management or finance, so a given student will also have to choose courses that fulfill his specialization.
Is it Preparation for Graduate or Professional School?
Students who plan to attend graduate school, law school or medical school often enroll in courses they believe will help them either on an entrance exam, such as the Law School Admissions Test, or that will give them a head start once they are working toward a graduate degree. These courses may include logic, philosophy, research methodologies, advanced writing and others.
What is the Schedule and Course Availability?
Once in a while a student has to choose a course because it fits his schedule, and it's available. This happens when a student's schedule is tightly constrained by major requirements. For example, some courses are available only once every two years. It also can happen when a course that a student wanted to take is filled and the student is thus "closed out" and must make a last-minute choice that fits into a schedule of other courses.
Does it Fit My Personal Interests?
At some point, many students try to fit in a course or two based purely on personal interest. While their majors may reflect their primary interest, most people are interested in more than one intellectual pursuit, so a biology major who has a passion for movies might take a film course.
Cat Reynolds has written professionally since 1990. She has worked in academe (teaching and administration), real estate and has owned a private tutoring business. She is also a poet and recipient of the Discover/The Nation Award. Her work can be found in literary publications and on various blogs. Reynolds holds a Master of Arts in writing and literature from Purdue University.