Among the towering homework assignments, unmade beds, unwashed dishes, takeout containers, late nights, and early mornings, the college freshman experience definitely tests your patience and sanity. But amid the stress of settling in your dorm and revelling in the glory of freedom, it’s important to focus on planning out the rest of your semester fruitfully. The classes you end up picking could play a vital role in setting the foundation for the rest of your college education and the final major you choose. Without further ado, here’s a guide to help you choose your college classes, brought to you by a struggling, sleep-deprived, yet optimistic second-semester freshman.
What do you want to do?
Before you make any decisions, be sure to ask yourself this simple question and stick to your instincts. For me personally, many classes for my first semester at Sciences Po Paris were mandatory, and I only had the option of picking certain seminars. This may not be the case for everyone and depends on the university you attend. Although your later years in school may be a lot more flexible, the first year can be a very helpful stepping stone. Often colleges admit students based on faculties like arts, social sciences, or the sciences, and you usually declare your major during the second year of study.
With all my compulsory classes in the social sciences, I took modules in law, politics, economics, and history. Even though the workload was rather heavy at times, I believe that at this juncture, I know exactly what I want to pursue in my second and third years and am beginning to get a clearer picture of what I would finally like to major in. Don’t be afraid to use your first few semesters to explore different academic areas that interest you—just be sure to talk to your academic advisor to confirm that every class you take fulfills a requirement. Poor class planning could delay graduation, meaning extra semesters and money essentially wasted.
Planning and organization
Once you’re done figuring out what classes you’d like to pick for the semester, ensure that you begin planning and organizing yourself. During my course registration period, I tried making timetables, mappping out the classes and time slots I had chosen and spending a lot of time figuring out the intricacies of my courses. Even though you may not like some of your required classes, many of the modules and courses are strong foundations that will help you throughout your undergraduate experience.
Sometimes it’s also necessary to evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses before you take up a particular class. In my view, it should be a balance of both your aptitude and interests. In the midst of more challenging classes and material, it may be helpful to take modules that don’t take that much of your time or use a different skill set so you aren’t bogged down by the complexity of your workload during the semester. For example, if you’re taking a few tough science courses, complement them with classes on the other end of the spectrum that still cover graduation requirements, like a drawing or ballroom dancing class.
It always helps to ask around and get feedback from seniors or even fellow first-year students. You can get valuable advice on electives and courses to pick and hear about the professors and instructors that suit your learning style best. Try analyzing the difficulty of your classes so you know the expectations of each course and meet the criteria once you begin. For instance, I decided to stick to introductory mathematics for the social sciences and refrained from taking higher-level classes, as I found the higher levels would be too complex and heavy for me given by lack of arithmetic prowess and ability. I also found that economics at college was taught rather differently from high school as well. If you get the opportunity, it’s also helpful to ask seniors if they can lend you some of their books or notes from when they took the class. Second years are usually especially willing to help you out and even sell some of their old books, so be sure to keep your eye out and simply ask around your first few weeks.
Sticking to your decisions
Many times, we are overcome by peer pressure and prefer to follow the herd. Granted you do want to meet more people and bond with your new friends, but it’s important to choose your classes based on your own merits and interests and not just take a class because your friend is taking it. Before looking at what your peers are doing, focus on yourself and be confident about the decisions you make, as you are investing not only your time and money but your emotional and creative capacity as well.
Overall, looking back, I believe I made the right decisions for my first year by paying attention to the classes and the curriculum I chose to take up. The first few weeks were definitely some of the hardest and confusing periods of my life, and I do hope the next half of the semester passes by relatively smoothly as I get myself more acquainted with the system and nature of the academics. Even though the adjustment period once you get to college is often unforeseen, learning what you have an interest in and passion for is a truly rewarding experience and the greatest motivation.
Learn more about college classes in our Majors and Academics section.