Everything You Need to Know About Picking Courses

So here is my first chapter excerpt: how to pick courses. I think I covered most basics, but if you have any feedback please share it with me!


Everything You Need to Know About Picking Courses

Picking courses is something you will most likely have to do at least once a term – which means at least 8 times during your school career – so it’s important to develop a strong grasp of the process. There are a couple key points to understand:

  • It’s important to everyone: even if your courses are all pre-determined for the next four years, and your program allows zero electives, you still need to get good at this process. Even if your classes are all required, you will still have some flexibility over day, time and classroom location.
  • Understand your internal clock: when are you at your best? In the morning, afternoon or evening? Think about when you can best focus, and sign up for classes in that time period. Nothing makes for an unhappy student like a night owl with all their classes in the early morning.
  • Check out the professors: one class can have multiple different professors, and different professors can mean a multitude of things – different tests and quizzes, moderately different grading schemes, and different markers. That means one professor may have a higher class average than another – it’s unfair, but get used to it!
  • Don’t put too much class into one day: a lot of first year students make the mistake of trying to cram all their classes into one day. In my first semester I ingeniously figured out (or so I thought) how to get all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I had no class on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. What I found was that 10 hours of class was a gruelling nightmare – no breaks for food, socializing, or absorbing the information – your eyes will begin to glaze over. Do yourself a favour and spread your classes out to at least four days.
  • Develop a game plan: you need to develop a game plan for what courses you are going to sign up for. Let’s say you sign up for 5 classes per semester; 2 are required and 3 are electives (which means you chose what interests you). For those 3 electives, you should choose at least 5 courses that interest you and don’t overlap or exclude each other (i.e. taking one would prohibit you from taking another). This is because your plans don’t take into account every other students’ plans – and every other student might be trying to sign up for the same courses as you. At the end of the day, it comes down to a race against time.
  • Be ‘Jonny on the Spot’: classes are usually opened at one particular time – maybe it’s midnight. Don’t be the person that sleeps in or stays out and misses the opening bell. You might find that 4 out of 5 of the courses you wanted to sign up for are taken by the time you get on the system. Be ready for the opening bell, so you have the best chance possible of getting the courses you want
  • One bird is good, too many are dangerous: there’s nothing wrong with taking a bird course during your university career – just be careful that your transcript doesn’t become littered with them. Bird courses are good if they fill a specific need (i.e. boosting your GPA for internship applications), but don’t impede your academic development otherwise. Don’t miss out on taking a course that might help you down the road by swapping in a bird course, the small GPA upside is not worth the price.
  • Beware prerequisites: you need to be aware of prerequisites – they are courses you need to take before taking a higher level class. Many students (including myself) have tried to take a class only to find out they don’t have the required prerequisites.
  • Beware exclusions: exclusions are involved with courses that are have too much in common with another similar course. By taking A101 it might exclude you from taking A102 – so be aware when choosing courses and make an informed decision. If A101 and A102 exclude each other (which means you don’t get academic credit for taking the second of the pair), make sure you choose the one that interests you more.



I Wish I Had Known Blair Livingston


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