College Classes

               College classes are a different beast than high school classes. While the process to register for class may seem similar, there is a lot more “freedom” and decision making on your part with college classes than there was with high school. In high school, for the most part, you meet with an advisor, who tells you that you have to take certain classes, builds them into your schedule, which is set between the hours of 8am to 3pm, and gives you a short leash as to what electives you can take and when. While you do have an advisor for college classes, the decision is ultimately entirely up to you as to what classes you take.

               In college, registration is primarily online, and the schedule is built ahead of time. You may have already heard, but in college, classes generally take up a very short amount of the day and are often spread out over the week. This could look like one or two hour-long classes a day. They may or may not be back-to-back. Sometimes you may have weekdays with no class at all. It depends on how you build your schedule.

               This is a distinct difference from high school, where the entire day, from 8am to 3pm was stacked with 7 or 8 classes, back-to-back, with built-in breaks for lunch or snack time. I won’t lie to you, the free time in college is unrivaled. So, you may be thinking, why not just schedule your classes so you have as many free days as possible? You could do that, but that may mean taking classes you either don’t need, or don’t want.

               You have complete freedom to pick the classes you take in college, but not every class offered is one you need to take, and sometimes the classes you need aren’t going to be on the day or at the time that is most convenient for your ideal schedule time. Sometimes they are offered when they’re offered, and you have to build your schedule around them.

               So, how do you determine what classes are needed? Excellent question, I’m so glad you asked. For every major, there are “degree requirements,” which determine what specific classes you need, and how many.

Degree Requirements

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               Regardless of what major you plan to pursue, there will be degree requirements, which include a certain number of credit hours in different areas of your education. In order to graduate, for most majors, you need a minimum of 120 credit hours, total. Each class typically gives you 3 credit hours. So, we’re looking at around 40 college classes, total. If you plan to graduate in the regular 4 years, that comes out to 5 classes a semester on average.

               Here’s where the breakdown gets a little more complicated: of those 120 credit hours, a certain amount has to come from major-specific classes and core curriculum classes. Major-specific classes are college classes that are directly related to your area of study and possibly even your emphasis or concentration within that major. The range for major specific classes is usually somewhere between 30-60 credit hours throughout your entire college career.

               Core curriculum classes are general education courses, which cover topics like basic English and composition, history, humanities, science, and math. These are classes that all students, regardless of major, are required to take. Usually there are some options as to which specific gen ed (general education) classes you take, but sometimes there are certain ones that are required for all students. The range for core curriculum classes is usually between 40-60 credit hours.

               However many credits hours are left of the 120 after the required amount for major specific class and core curriculum classes are yours to use however you please. We call these leftover credit hours “electives.” These are classes that you don’t need to take but choose to take. These are usually what people consider more fun classes, like a yoga class, cooking class, or art class (if you aren’t an art major). But they don’t have to be just for fun. You can opt to take more major specific classes if you want to; how you use your elective credits is up to you!

               Not every major is going to have the same breakdown for credit hours, and some will even require more total credit hours for the degree (usually more technical degrees like architecture or engineering). Make sure that you check the website of the college you are planning to attend to understand the degree requirements for your specific major before you start planning out your schedule.

College Class Schedule

               Now that we have a basic understanding of what we need to graduate, let’s talk about creating our college class schedule. My first, and most important piece of advice is this: talk to an academic advisor. For many colleges, they require incoming freshmen to talk to an academic advisor anyway, but I highly recommend doing this at least once a semester, ideally leading up to class registration.

               Academic advisors have a great handle on how the university works, which professors are great and which are not so popular, what classes are most difficult, and the best time to take certain classes. They understand the system that the university uses and have experience tinkering with students’ schedules to find the most ideal outcome. Use them.

               Now, we aren’t always able to have access to academic advisors when we need them, and if that’s the case, it’s important that you have an idea of how to build your own schedule with your graduation goals in mind. Here are some key tips to help you register for class strategically:

Know What Pre-Requisites You Need

               Pre-requisites are classes that you have to take before you can take other, certain higher level college classes. These are typically major-related courses that are freshmen- or sophomore-level. These classes precede the content for higher level classes, so they are required for you to take before you can complete other classes that you need.

               These are often shown in your degree requirements, so make sure to note which classes within your major have pre-requisites. Get pre-requisites out of the way early, so that you don’t have to double back as a junior or senior, scrambling with freshmen or sophomore level courses before graduation.

Gen Eds

               As we mentioned before, gen eds are required of all college students. Some people will tell you to get them all out of the way in the first couple of years. You can do that, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Because gen eds are required for all students, there are many options for them each semester. This gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility as to when you take these courses. It may be easier to spread them out throughout your college career, especially as you start to pile on more intense and difficult classes for your major.

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Having a balance of basic courses with your harder college classes can be quite a relief when it comes to managing all the homework and readings. I would say try to find a consistent balance between gen eds, major specific classes, and electives for each semester. By the time you reach your senior year, you may not have any gen eds left, and that’s okay. It’s crunch time then anyway—you power through, get that paper, and call it a day.

Testing out of Gen Eds

               There is another option with gen eds—not taking them. If you took any AP courses, IB courses, or did dual enrollment classes in high school and scored high enough on the tests, you may be able to receive credit hours for the equivalent college classes. This means you will satisfy the core curriculum requirement for whatever the equal gen ed class would’ve been.

For example, if you took AP Language, the equivalent core curriculum class is usually freshman English composition. If you scored high enough on the test (for most colleges that means a 3 or higher) you can opt out of that college class and maybe even get the credit hours for it. Talk to your admissions officer or academic advisor to find out if your college accepts these test scores.

There is another option with gen eds–not taking them.

The other option for testing out of gen eds is CLEP exams. CLEP exams allow you to take a test for a specific subject and, if you score high enough on the exam, opt out of the equivalent class. Some colleges will give you credit for the course, and some won’t. Make sure to find out your college’s position on CLEP exams before you take one, because you do have to pay for them.

CLEP exams and other programs like it are a great way to get college courses out of the way at your own pace and save you tons of money on tuition. You can find out more about CLEP exams from our blog post about them here.

Do Your Research

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               A professor truly can make or break a class for you. When the options for classes for the next semester become available to view, find out what professors are teaching the classes that you need or are interested in. Talking to upperclassmen who have taken the class is the best way to get a good idea of what to expect. But, if you’re an incoming freshman, that’s not so easy to do, so the alternative is using ratemyprofessor.com.

               Ratemyprofessor.com is exactly what it sounds like: students rating their professors. Read the comments section specifically. If a lot of students are having bad experiences with the same professor, it may be a professor you want to try to avoid. But, take it with a grain of salt. Sometimes the only ones who leave reviews are the bitter ones who either didn’t get the grade they wanted or have something personal against the professor.

               You should also try and find the syllabus for the college classes you need/want online. If you can find that, it’ll give a rough idea of what the courseload looks like, how many textbooks you’re going to need, what the time commitment may be, and possibly an idea of what sort of class schedule you’ll have. This can help you gauge how difficult or time consuming the class will be and if you’ll be overwhelmed with it or not.

               If you can meet with an academic advisor, ASK THEM about the class. Ask about the professor, if most students like them, if most students pass the class the first time around, and if they know what the workload is like compared to other classes. Academic advisors are a fountain of information; take advantage of them, respectfully.  

When you’re getting a little further into your major-specific classes, you should also make a point of asking your academic advisor what classes can and should not be taken at the same time. There are going to be some classes that have heavy workloads in your major, it’s best not to take many of those in the same semester (if you can help it). Don’t overload your college class schedule if you don’t have to.

Adjust Before Stacking Your College Schedule

               Stacking is when you put a bunch of classes on the same days so that you have less or no classes on other days. This typically means that you stack all of your classes on Tuesday and Thursday (most classes meet at least twice a week) or Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, to leave the other days vacant of classes. While this is a great strategy to free up days for homework and rest, I wouldn’t do this for your freshman year, or at least the first semester.

               Adjust to college life first. Find out how much time and energy it takes to do your homework and get to classes. Find out if you can handle classes back-to-back, or if having too many breaks between classes makes you lose focus. Find out if you are actually disciplined enough to do homework on days that you don’t have class to remind you that you are in school.

               Your parents won’t be around to force you to do homework, and while we don’t all need to be told to do it, sometimes just having a presence that keeps us accountable does motivate us more than we know. So, at least for the first semester, I recommend spreading your classes out over the week. Find out how you handle having all that time outside of classes before committing most of your week to being “free time.”

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Have the Schedule Ready Before You Register for Class

               Registration is a silent, critical, and chaotic war between you and every other student. Registration opens at a specific time, on a specific day. Because it’s all online, this war is fought from the comfort of your bed and with the single motion of pressing a button. But make no mistake, it is competitive. Classes only hold a certain number of people, and if there is a class you really want to take, chances are others want to take it as well.

               Now, upperclassmen get first priority with registration, so they will fill the first spots in classes you may want to take. After them, it’s first come first serve. So, what happens is the minute before registration opens, everyone has the classes that they want to take in an electronic shopping cart/queue, and their cursor hovering over the “register for classes” button, waiting for the clock to roll over. The second it opens, hundreds of desperate students (yourself included) press the button and put the university’s available bandwidth to the test.

               If you don’t have your schedule set beforehand, you get last pick at classes, and likely the ones you wanted will already be full. Have a college class schedule together before you register for class.

               Also, prepare some backup options for each class you want to take. It’s not uncommon for a class to fill up, even if you do everything right. So, come up with some possible backup schedules in case the one you wanted doesn’t work out. You can also waitlist for a class that is full and hope that a spot opens up or that a student drops the class. It happens more often than you think. But, if you do that, you should check the status of that class every day to see if a spot opened up, because you will likely not be the only one waiting.

Conclusion

               Choosing college classes ultimately comes down to what you want. You can choose to take classes outside of your major (you just won’t get the diploma for your major), you can choose to leave gen eds for the end, you can choose to use electives to gain deeper knowledge in your major. Your college schedule is up to you. You have complete freedom to create it how you want.

               But, if you want to graduate in the typical 4 years, with as little overload as possible, these tips will help you get there. Keeping a balance in your class types will allow you to have variety in your schedule and some fun and simpler classes mixed in with the hard ones, to give you a break. Planning your schedule before registration helps you get the classes you want. Knowing what gen eds and pre-requisites you need makes it easier to plan out future schedules and prepare for harder classes. And if you can, let an academic advisor make your life easier.

               Your college class schedule should benefit and work towards your goals. It should be the best thing for you. So be mindful as you begin choosing classes, keep these tips in mind, and plan the schedule that is best for you!

As always, for information about Christian colleges, or to be entered into one of our scholarship drawings, visit us at The Christian Connector.

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