Live Long and Prosper: Creating a College Class Schedule that Won’t Make You Miserable

I wasn't the only one who learned something from the jazz class I took.  I promise that I gave her a doggy cookie after I took this picture. Photo by: Elizabeth Preston
I wasn’t the only one who learned something from the jazz class I took. I promise that I gave her a doggy cookie after I took this picture.
Photo by: Elizabeth Preston

It’s getting near that time of year again—the time in which millions of people voluntarily surrender their freedom. That’s right. School is starting up again! *cue canned applause* For those of you starting college, I bet that you’re a mixture of nerves, excitement, and ambition. You’re probably thinking, “This is my time to change my life, to get more serious about school and the future, to start my life.” These feelings are pretty typical of a college freshman, and should be enjoyed (oh, the feels!). But in this ball of swirling emotions, logic can sometimes fly out the window and can threaten your GPA and overall college experience. Let me explain.

I was talking with a buddy who is going into his first semester of college. He’s experiencing that big ball of emotions and, while that’s great, it didn’t do much for helping him to choose his class schedule. He’s taking five difficult classes for a total of seventeen credits. When he asked what I thought about his class schedule, I said, “If you want to make sure that you don’t have any fun and that you get burned out by the second semester, then continue on, live long, and prosper.” Needless to say, he was flabbergasted by my response . . . or maybe it was by my Star Trek reference. Anyway, so in honor of my buddy, here are a few tips for making sure that your class schedule doesn’t sabotage your first semester.

1. One college class ≠ one high school class. Don’t go into choosing your class schedule with the mindset that your college classes are going to require the same amount of work as your high school classes. Typically, they require much, much more. Maybe you’re coming from having six or seven high school classes, so having only five college classes should be a piece of cake. It’s not. Those numbers next to the courses that indicate how many credits they’re worth, they also indicate how many hours a week they think that you’ll spend on studying for the class and, do want to know a secret? They lie! I rarely ever had a three-credit class that only required three hours a week of studying from me—I always put in many more hours. Maybe I’m a slow studier (I’m not), maybe I’m nit-picky (I am), but the weekly hours I put into a class rarely matched up with the credits assigned to that course. You also have to keep in mind that some weeks will require more time from you than will others. Bottom line: college classes take a whole lot more time than your high school classes did, so go into planning your class schedule with that fact in mind.

2. Give yourself a cushion class. What I mean by “cushion” is a class that you believe you’ll do well in without having to work your butt off. For me, it was French, because (I kid you not) I’d taken French classes since I was five years old. I knew going in that I had the structure and basics of the language down pat. This cushion class helped me to offset a class that I was not very confident in—math. *shivers* Stupid trigonometry.

3. Try to stay around twelve to fifteen credits. When I first started college, I had to go to an orientation in which they help you pick your classes. My “mentor” was only about two years older than me (and ridiculously cute, but that’s not the point here), and he had me taking seventeen credits of hard, hard classes. I’m talking chemistry, two math classes, history, and something else absurdly hard and time-consuming that I can’t remember. I came home and showed my dad (a teacher) my schedule. He took one look and said, “Nope. You’re going to make yourself miserable.” I tried to argue with him with some nonsense like, “But I have to. I have to take these credits.” Well, he won, and I took thirteen credits instead. Thank goodness for dads. During that first semester, I was overwhelmed with the amount of work, the pressure of wanting a perfect GPA, the oddity of such independence, and that whole new, exciting, busy collegiate world I had been thrown into. Looking back, I can’t imagine adding another four credits onto that workload. My point is, until you get acclimated to the college lifestyle and workload, don’t overload yourself with credits. You’ll get all the credits you want and need eventually. Who said that it had to be in the first semester?

4. You don’t have to anything. This sort of speaks to #3. You’re going to get pressured by others and by yourself to take a heavy class load because you want to feel and look “grown up” and responsible. Some of this pressure will come from advisers who are supposed to help you. You’ll probably hear things like, “Well, you can handle this extra class. You can handle these additional credits. I’ve known plenty of students who take this amount of credits. You really need to get these classes done.” You know what I have to say to that? Blah, blah, blah. Advisers are nice and can help you find scholarships, internships, fellowships, ships in general, etc. But, do they know anything about you, your study habits, or your life? Probably not. Do what’s best for you and take what you can handle—that’s the grown-up thing to do. If you have masochistic tendencies, then you can always add to your workload in your second semester.

5. Pick classes that you can get to on time. College campuses can be big. I mean takes-you-twenty-minutes-and-two-shuttle-rides-to-get-to-the-other-side-of-campus big. So, if your English class is on one side of campus and your communications class is on the other side, then having only ten minutes between the start and end of these classes probably isn’t going to work for you. Some students do this because they are supposedly socked into taking a specific class. If this is the case, then you need to talk to the instructors and see if one is okay with you leaving early, or if the other one is okay with you showing up late. I’ve seen a few students do this, and the instructors never like it. They tolerate it, but you can see the frustration twist their faces each time the student shows up late or leaves early. Ask yourself if you really want to tick off an instructor this early in the game. I would suggest that, at least for your first semester, make sure that you plan your schedule so that you can get to all of your classes on time and that you can stay for the class’s duration.

6. Choose classes that fulfill basic requirements with at least one class that may not fulfill anything just yet, but in which you’re interested. This is particularly important for those who are undecided in their majors. Actually, scratch that, it’s important for everyone because, oftentimes, the major that you start off with is not the major with which you will graduate. I thought that I was going to be a psychology major, a communications major, a criminal justice major, a business major, and then an economics major. What did I end up with? An English major with minors in psychology and economic policy. Oh, the long and winding academic road. Most of us don’t know where we’re going to end up, and exposing yourself to a variety of classes and topics will help you to decide where your academic career’s yellow brick road leads to. Heck, even if it doesn’t lead to anything career-wise, taking a variety of classes that you might have interest in can help you get a well-rounded education. I had a small interest in jazz, so I took a history of jazz course. Did it affect my career plans? No. Was it one of the most fun classes that I’ve ever taken? You better believe it. Shout out to Professor David Ake for that one! Here’s his website if anyone is interested: David Ake.

7. See when classes are offered and plan accordingly. Some classes are only offered during the fall or the spring. There will be a few that are available every other year. Your college’s website should have a schedule of when it plans to offer each class. Check the catalog section. If you can’t find it, you can always call your college’s general help desk and ask, or ask an adviser (yes, advisers are pretty helpful in this situation).

8. Take a one-credit physical education class. This will give you a physical outlet for your stress and, believe me, you will get stressed. Also, it can be a source for new friendships, not to mention that it will probably help you to stave off the freshman fifteen. There are really neat classes out there like rock climbing, fencing, karate, swimming, scuba, bowling, yoga, volleyball, modern dance, ballet, and triathlon training. Bonus tip: Guys, there are usually a lot of ladies in dance classes.

9. Be okay with switching classes. Remember #4 of this list? You don’t have to anything, which means that you don’t have to stay in a class. If you’re unsure about a class, sign up for it, check it out, and make a decision whether or not to say in it during the first week of school. I signed up for one political science class, because I wanted to take a course from a specific teacher. Well, the teacher got sick and was replaced with another instructor who had over fifty percent of a student’s grade be based upon a single group project. I’m not a group project girl, so I dropped that class like a bad habit. Admittedly, I felt like a failure at first. I had dropped a class. Dropped! Didn’t that mean that I couldn’t handle it? No. It meant that I did what was best for me. I ended up substituting that class with another one that actually did more for me with regard to fulfilling the basic requirements for one of my minors.

10. Look up teachers’ ratings. This is a pretty “duh” one, but you’d be surprised how many people I’ve run into who didn’t research a professor and then regretted it later. If the teacher is horrible, see if there is an alternative instructor. If not, then I suggest that you wait another semester to see if the situation changes. Sometimes you get lucky and it does.

11. Don’t schedule more than three classes for one day. Again, college classes are not like high school classes. College courses will drain you, and you’ll probably want to scream or cry if you schedule four or more classes for one day. If you must (and I don’t know why you “must” and I don’t know why you would take more than four classes—see #3—unless one is a one-credit physical education class), then make sure to have at least an hour break somewhere.

12. But . . . try to coordinate your classes. Try to make it so that you can get a few days off during the week (i.e., you have no classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or you’re completely free on Fridays). You’ll thank me later.

These tips will hopefully assist you in enjoying your first semester of college by ensuring that you’re not too overworked with too little free time. They should also help you to go after an awesome (if not perfect) grade point average by allowing you to focus your efforts and not spread yourself too thin. Are there students who take seventeen or even eighteen credits their first semesters of college? Yes. Do some of them get all A’s for that semester? I haven’t met any yet.

Have any questions about this blog post, or have questions that you want answered about some other aspect of college and obtaining an awesome GPA? Do you think that I might have missed something? Write it in the comments below, and I’ll give it a go. 🙂


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