Congratulations! You’ve made it to college. Your dorm is decorated and you’ve already met some cool people who may become lifelong pals. This is a brand-new chapter of yours, and you’re probably pretty anxious to begin. Now it’s time to do what you actually came to college for: get an education. Regardless of your intended major or academic passions, it’s important to be aware of the courses you're signing up for.
Though you’ll almost certainly have the flexibility to take classes in subjects you’re curious about (aka “electives”), taking too many classes that aren’t relevant to your degree can backfire if they prevent you from meeting your major requirements. That can keep you in school for much longer than four years. Sure, college is great, but do you really want to be there for six or more years incurring mountains of debt? I’m not trying to scare you, I swear. I promise you’ll make it through—and with that coveted degree in hand. Just consider these things when picking your college courses and you’ll be fine!
1. Choose courses you're actually interested in
Even if you’re undecided/undeclared, it’s a good idea to have an idea of what you'd like to major in. Think about the subject you enjoyed the most during high school. Whose homework could you finish in no time because it came easy to you? Did anyone ask for your help in a class because you were the known expert? Did you enjoy helping them with the subject? This could all influence what major you decide to pursue. However, this doesn’t mean you should sign up for the easy classes you heard students talking about around campus. In fact, aiming low may hinder you from getting serious about your college career and actually gaining the degree destined for you. Challenge yourself with subjects you genuinely want to learn more about.
Related: 4 Things to Consider When Choosing Electives in College
2. Work with your academic advisor
Whether it’s one of your professors or a member of your college’s academic advising team (or both), you should have someone available to you who can help you choose your courses. Even though it’s largely on you to make sure you’re meeting your major requirements, your academic advisor should help you do that and can offer advice when picking electives. Try to meet with this person once a semester, like when you’re picking the next semester’s classes, to make sure you’re on the right track. Share your goals with them—especially if you start thinking about changing your major—and let them know if you’re having any trouble.
3. Think logically when designing your class schedule
My biggest mistake during my freshman year of college was thinking I could knock out all of my classes in the morning so I would have a clear afternoon. That was a disaster. My high school began at what felt like the crack of dawn (7:15 am) every day. I figured 8:00 am college classes would be easy, because I was accustomed to waking up at 6 o’clock to get ready for high school and had my sleep schedule in tune with the early birds. The problem was that I did not consider several new factors, like having a social life or staying up late doing homework, talking to my roommate, or watching television. Whether you realize or not, you no longer have your parents’ encouragement or discipline to go to bed for a full night’s rest, get up for school, or get your homework done at a reasonable time. Not every student will have this issue, but many will, and it can lead to sleeping through those early classes or simply not giving them your best effort. Trust me, it's a lot easier to hit the snooze button without fear of your mother and her personal alarm of ripping the sheets off your freezing body while yelling at you.
Are you a night owl? Try scheduling classes later in the morning and give yourself breaks between them. Use the breaks to get something to eat or take a quick nap before the next class. You'll be surprised how energized you are and remain throughout the day. Also, make it easier on your brain and schedule difficult classes during the afternoon and after lunch, which can help you focus a lot better. The goal of designing your class schedule is picking classes you would like to take and won’t struggle attending every day. If you absolutely cannot avoid those early morning classes, just put your butt in bed at a decent hour, and maybe invest in a second alarm.
Related: How Important Is Sleep to Academic Success?
4. Get and stay organized
Are you a visual, audio, or kinesthetic learner? If you don’t know, take time to figure it out. In college, you must stay organized if you want to do well. With all the classes, social functions, and outside activities on your plate, you will forget things. So find a way to not let that happen! Planners and calendars can be essential for visual and kinesthetic learners. Or get a voice recorder if you think that will work for you. Anything that you need to complete or think you may forget, write (or record) it down. Check your email daily and pay attention in class. It’s not hard to stay organized once you make a routine, and it will become second nature.
5. Try not to complicate life with a part-time job
Think about your priorities—are you a student first or a worker? In general, doing well in school is worth more in the long run than having a part-time, minimum-wage job on your résumé. Yes, when you're looking for postgrad jobs, employers will be more interested in "real-world" work experience than a perfect GPA, but your grades can impact your existing or potential future scholarships as well as any grad school ambitions you may have. Having a part-time job may interfere with your classes and seize a lot of time that would be dedicated to getting schoolwork done. Most part-time jobs really only cover extra spending money anyway, and you don’t have a dire need for that during your first years at school: you're most likely living on campus, have a meal plan, and can get around using transportation provided by the university. All these things should be included in your tuition. Not having a job in school will also free up your weekends, which are invaluable in staying on top of your schoolwork. But if you do need to work your way through college or you have time for work outside of your classes, you should prioritize work-study or internships/co-ops related to your intended career field.
Related: How to Balance College, Work, and Social Time: Top 10 Do's and Don'ts
Ultimately, college should be a fulfilling experience. Of course, it will get stressful (there’s no avoiding it), but balancing your course load and having the right methods to succeed in those classes will keep it at a minimum. When choosing your classes, remember to keep your interests and degree requirements in mind, don't be afraid to ask for help, and keep yourself organized and your priorities straight. And enjoy yourself—learning new things as an undergrad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
Wondering what college is really like? Learn all about undergraduate life with this article that goes Inside an Average Day in the Life of a College Student.