If course scheduling is like a buffet, how do you load your first plate?
Classes. People will tell you that the value of college is found outside the classroom, which is true in many ways. But let’s not forget that you will (should, at least) spend much of your college experience inside a classroom. And the classes you take will have an effect on you — the friends you make, the career you choose, the fun facts you’re able to share at cocktail parties. So course selection shouldn’t be taken lightly.
However, choosing courses can be daunting at first — you don’t yet know what ramifications your choices will have. Your four years of classes are like a meal at a buffet with many different kinds of cuisines. (If you’ve read my past articles, you’ll notice that meals and college have a lot in common.) However, it’s not as easy as all-you-can-eat. If you eat too much salad, the sushi bar closes down, and there are arbitrary rules preventing you from getting dessert AND mac and cheese. So how do you load your first plate? Here are a few tips for choosing your freshman fall courses:
Shoot for a balanced diet.
OK, OK, I know. You came into college thinking you only liked pizza. And by pizza, I mean physics. You took a look at the course catalog and decided you wanted to take Physics 101, Physics 102 and Writing about Physics, all washed down with a math course. Done and done.
Definitely take all those classes, Jimmy Neutron. Definitely don’t take them all at the same time. Why? Oh, for a whole slew of reasons:
Because those physics courses will all require the same kind of work, making you more likely to burn out, and it’s a good idea to balance exam/essay/project classes when possible instead.
Because all things are best in moderation — a little physics, a little math, a little introductory Italian…
Because you almost certainly have general education requirements to cover, and you want to be a freshman when you take those varied freshman intro courses – not a senior.
And most importantly, because now is the time to explore. Your schedule is the most open it’s ever going to be, and experimentation is the soul of college.
Remember you’re not the only diner.
When I came to college I thought I would be able to take any combination of classes I was eligible for. Weirdly, that was not the case. Classes were offered at set “times” that sometimes (FREQUENTLY) overlapped with each other, and professors were oddly unwilling to change their entire class schedules so I could take Modern Greek and Intro to Sci-Fi.
Another thing? In some cases other people signed up for classes before I had a chance — and by the time I got there, the class was fresh out of availability (without a replacement tray in sight…).
The key here is to be flexible right off the bat, with the understanding that the course catalog cannot (sadly) revolve around you. If two must-take courses conflict, be prepared to have a coin toss. (Or more practically, see how frequently they’re each offered and try for the less ubiquitous one.) When you’re shut out of a class, have a back-up plan in place. Everything you don’t get to take first semester? Save it in the back of your mind for next semester, and the ones after that. You may not have beaten the rush on garlic bread this time, but when they bring out the next round, you’ll be at the front of the line.
Don’t eat too healthy.
Everyone should take at least one class that, when mentioned, makes everyone around them groan and say (with a mixture of disbelief and jealousy) “That’s a REAL class?” And whether it’s a bio class on dinosaurs, a music class about Bob Dylan, a physics class on time travel or an English class on Harry Potter, your first semester is a great time to take it.
So if your plate’s mostly full — with a nice balance of grains, meats and vegetables, whatever academic subjects those may correlate to — don’t be afraid to sneak past that cookie platter on your way back to the table.
Because after all, no pizza-loving physics major has ever said, “I wish I hadn’t taken that finger-painting class freshman year.”
(At least, I’m pretty sure they haven’t!)
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