One of the many great things about college is the freedom you have to create your class schedule. You might as well make the most of your college years and schedule your classes as you wish.
Hate getting up before 10 a.m.? There’s a decent chance you’ll be able to get through four years of college without having to take an early class.
Prefer evenings? Lots of schools offer a range of late afternoon and evening classes. That way, you can work part-time or do homework during the day. And bonus: College campuses tend to be less populated at night, so you’ll get better parking spots. You may even be able to avoid buying a parking permit.
Of course, you also have to choose which classes to take. The reality is that certain courses are limited. Some smaller upper-division classes, for instance, may only be offered once a week at 8 a.m. Plus, you’ll find plenty of conflicting times in your schedule, such as when two classes you need to take are only offered once and at the same time.
Flexibility is key to creating the perfect timetable. If you won’t budge from scheduling all of your classes on two days in the week, for example, you may not be able to finish your degree in four years, or you’ll be forced to take summer classes in order to do so.
Below are four key questions to consider when choosing your classes and making up a timetable.
1. What does your academic advisor say?
It’s easy to get caught up in the online catalog reading course descriptions. Every course may sound like exactly one you want to take. With so many choices, you might find yourself with a full schedule for the upcoming semester without considering the next seven semesters.
Before you register for anything, talk to your advisor. If you haven’t declared a major yet, no problem. You should have been assigned an academic advisor when you accepted and made your deposit. If you don’t, call or email the admissions office at your school and ask who you can talk to.
When you get in touch with your academic advisor, here are some questions you’ll want to ask:
- What classes should I take first?
- Are there any classes that are only offered in the fall or spring or on a rotating basis?
- What classes have prerequisites that I should take early in my college career?
- Do you know of any specific classes other students really like? (If students are talking about a particular class or professor, listen. Students are often the best barometer of what classes are most important, relevant, and valuable.)
- Do I need to apply for the major I’m interested in or just declare it?
2. What are the general education requirements?
After you gather information from your academic advisor, look at your school’s general education requirements. Some require two full years of gen ed courses; others may allow you to start taking classes in your major almost immediately. Note that your school may call gen ed requirements by another term, like liberal education (or LEs) or the common core.
Whatever your school’s gen ed requirements are called, start by looking at the categories of those classes. Most schools will organize gen eds into math/science, humanities/fine arts, social sciences, and possibly physical education. You’ll be required to take a certain number of credits within each sub-category.
When choosing your classes, try to take one general education required course in each category per semester. Doing so can help you stay on track to finish the gen ed courses on time. The last thing you want is to be taking English 101 in your senior year of college!
Gen ed classes sometimes get a bad rap and are dismissed as irrelevant. In fact, beyond just fulfilling your college’s graduation requirements, those classes can be valuable in at least a couple of ways:
- They introduce you to ideas, methods, and subjects that you may not have known about or didn’t know you were interested in.
- You develop writing, research, and study skills, which can benefit you both during college and after graduation.
3. What’s required for your major?
If you have declared a major, then you should have a faculty advisor who is a professor in that department. Email them and ask if you can get some information. Here are some of the questions you may want to discuss:
- When should I start taking classes in my major? The sooner you declare a major, the better. Declaring a major doesn’t mean you can never change it. It just means that you can start early.
- Is an internship required? If so, when should I plan to do that?
- Are any required classes for this major offered in another department? If so, who would you recommend I talk to in that department?
- Are there certain classes that are better to take in a particular semester? (For example, some professors might recommend taking a capstone course in the fall because the spring sections are always larger.)
- Are there any hidden prerequisites I should be aware of? (Hidden prerequisites are those that are required but not directly stated. For example, when you enroll in Math 303, you’ll see that Math 302 is a prerequisite. What the course listing may not explicitly state is that Math 301 is a prerequisite for Math 302.)
4. How do I pick class times?
Now that you asked all of the questions about required classes and your major (if you have one), you can start thinking about crafting the perfect timetable.
Start by picking the classes that are not negotiable. These are the classes that you have to take this semester. Put those on your calendar first. You have more latitude with electives, so you can use the dates and times offered as one of your criteria for choosing those.
Then decide if you want to have all or most of your classes on a couple of days a week or if you want to spread them out over the week. There are pros and cons to both.
Pros and cons to scheduling classes in long blocks
One of the benefits of putting all of your classes on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday schedule is that you buy yourself two or three whole days during the week. You can use those large blocks of free time to study and do homework. This is often a more efficient way of getting work done than trying to fit it in around classes throughout the week. You can also use those free days for working at your part-time job.
The downside of filling two or three days with several classes is that it can be tiring. There’s little downtime for thinking (or having lunch). And if all your classes are online this semester (and maybe next), that’s a lot of time in front of a computer monitor.
It’s also easy to squander your free days because you have so much time. Or you may find that it takes all day to recover from your busy days.
Pros and cons to scheduling classes across the whole week
Scheduling your classes across five weekdays means that you’ll have a lot more time between classes. For example, if you only have two classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – you can use your time between classes to go to the library to study. You might even be more focused because you are already in the groove.
Plus, you’d be surprised how much you can get done in an hour or two between classes while the material is still fresh in your mind.
The downside, of course, is that cut-up days make it harder to find long blocks of time to work a part-time job. You also won’t have long weekends which make it easier to go home when you’re living on campus.
You may not always have the perfect schedule, but with a bit of planning and forethought, you should be able to find plenty of courses that meet your needs and time preferences while allowing you to graduate on time.