Five Common Course Selection Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

Image by UBC Library Communicationson Flickr

Image by UBC Library Communicationson Flickr

One of the biggest mistakes an undergraduate can make (and most do) is to assume that once the academic term ends and you are physically removed from campus, you can mentally distance yourself as well. As much as we all might want to turn off and fall back into the summer routine of our youth, the one thing they never tell you is that even though you are not technically in the classroom (unless you elect to take summer school of course) that doesn’t mean you don’t have work to do. One not-so-pleasant way most institutions remind their students of this reality is by scheduling the designated time to select courses for the upcoming year right in the middle of this well-deserved break. Thanks to the internet, most of this process is now done remotely, but just because you can do it while lounging in your bed doesn’t mean that you should (or that it will be any less stressful). The key to course selection success is to prepare ahead of time. When your diploma is riding on admittance to certain classes, you are going to need more than luck to secure that last spot. You are, at the very least, going to need to avoid making these all too common mistakes.

1. Not Checking Your Program Requirements. No matter what discipline you have elected to study, there are going to be certain courses that are mandatory in order for you obtain your degree. The majority of these classes will fall in your first and second year and if you have chosen a double major or added a minor (or two), creating a workable schedule may require some creativity and compromise to achieve the right balance. However, don’t worry too much if you can’t fit everything in. Most programs have a bit of leeway and will allow you to take some of these courses in upper years when you will have more scheduling flexibility.

2. Ignoring the prerequisites. That said, often programs are structured in such a way that taking introductory courses paves the way to allow you to take more advanced classes in later years. Therefore, some courses may not be accessible until you have taken certain others (aka prerequisites). So before attempting to enroll in a course, especially if it is not in your year or area of study (e.g. any elective), always make sure that you have successfully completed all the mandatory prerequisites. The administration is usually very vigilant about this and despite what you have may heard from those who claim to have slipped under the radar, you can and usually will get kicked out. By the time this happens the rest of the classes you are actually able to take will likely be full.

3. Creating Only One Perfect Schedule. At most schools your first year courses are virtually selected for you, leaving most people woefully unprepared for the amount of choice they will have in the following years. However, as course selection gets more complex it puts you in the driver’s seat and gives you the ability to tailor your class schedule to your interests and time preferences. Yet even if you are able to build the perfect timetable, you will have to come to terms with the fact that due to forces beyond your control, you may not be able to get into every class you want. The best way to avoid getting thrown off-balance if (when) this occurs is to prepare for such a scenario beforehand. Choosing decent just-in-case courses and making a few different but compatible schedules will allow you to approach the process with some much needed confidence.

4. Enrolling in Courses You SHOULD Take. Now this may seem like a contradiction considering the advice above, but what you need to realize early in your undergraduate career is that there is a big difference between courses you HAVE TO take and those you feel you SHOULD. As stated previously, in every program of study there are classes that are nonnegotiable – those are your HAVE TO courses. Your SHOULD courses are those that you may feel pressure to sign up for regardless of what you may really think about the class. This could be the class that all your friends are in, the one with the great professor or that everyone says is a real GPA booster. Regardless of reason, never take a course that doesn’t spark your interest. You will end up resenting it no matter what everyone else says and often your grades with suffer as a result. On the flip side, if you feel compelled to take a class that is known to be obscure, difficult, or boring, don’t let other people’s opinions sway you in a different direction. They don’t know you like you do.

5. Not Seeking a Second Opinion. While there is usually no downside to going with your gut, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t investigate your choices further. Learning as much as you can about the professor, the marking scheme, and the specific topics covered in the class is never a bad idea (an old syllabus is typically very helpful on all fronts). The more informed your decision, is the happier you are likely to be with it by the middle of the semester. While friends and classmates are usually good primary sources, their own personal bias may get in the way of them being able to give you the objective assessment you need. In the end, a simple Google or Reddit search may be enough to solidify your selection or push you to look for an alternative.

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