How To Choose College Classes: For a Successful Semester!

Author: Andrea G
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EdTech Café

EdTech Cafe
 Standford EdTech (Author)
EdTech Café is a podcast series produced by the educational technology team at Stanford Medicine.

Here at LearningWhere, the focus is on independent learning. But for those of you in college (like this LearningWhere writer), this might be especially useful. How to choose college classes, for a successful semester?

Emphasis on successful!! Successful will mean vastly different things for different people. But here, we’ll be talking about having a semester that you don’t dread. A semester that you can look back on and think “that was a good time, overall”. A semester where your classes don’t make you go through an awful time.

In addition to a nice semester, we’ll discuss choosing classes that help you achieve as good grades as possible. I currently have a 4.0 GPA, after 3 semesters. And I attribute this greatly to the classes I’ve gotten to take.

Registration season can be time-consuming for perfectionists, but oftentimes it pays off. Overthinking “small details” can sometimes pay off. On a personal note, this is especially true with a math class I took. I feel that I wouldn’t have been able to pass it, if it wasn’t for my professor whose teaching methods helped immensely (it’s been a few months since it and I can still do math).

Put simply: The classes you choose can make or break your entire semester. So if you have the advantage of getting to choose your classes, it’s worth making thoughtful choices.

1. Don’t take 8ams.

Even if you think you can handle it, chances are you’re gonna be exhausted. I might be exaggerating by putting it at number 1, but then again maybe not.

All I’ve ever heard from people who’ve taken 8ams is that they’re never doing it again. And then you have me, who’s tried to avoid them at all costs, even though I am a morning person. I feel like that’s made a difference in how I feel during the semester, and definitely on my performance as well. 

Habits like journal writing and meditating can arguably make better options to spend your morning time. If you’re rolling your eyes, please bear with me. College classes require a lot of writing, and you need to be reflective in order to write well (several professors’ words, not just mine). Journal writing helps with this a lot. I’d honestly credit my daily writing habit for positive experiences with writing assignments. Even if it doesn’t immediately impact your grades, it can help you have a more enjoyable experience — or at least more bearable. And a better lived experience is well worth it. So if you want to use your morning time wisely, consider this instead.

2. Look on RateMyProfessors.com

This tip is kind of obvious, but still very valuable. Make sure to read carefully, though!

You’d be surprised at the negative reviews some of my favorite professors have gotten, and the 5-star reviews of some of my least favorite ones. Vague words like “bad”, “horrible”, and even “best”, raise red flags about the validity of the reviews. Oftentimes these say more about the reviewer, than about the professor. 

Look closely for specific details in reviews. Look for:

  • the kind of homework the professor leaves (readings? paragraphs? quizzes? activities?)
  • the kind of exams (essays? multiple choice? presentations?)
  • their teaching approach (are there in-class discussions? or do they just dump random facts on students? do they rely too much on powerpoints?)

These are better pointers about the kind of experience you’ll have, than simple 4 or 5-star reviews.

3. Consider the classroom you’ll be in.

This only really applies if:

  • You’re overwhelmed with choices.
  • You’re somewhat familiar with campus.
  • You want to go the extra mile to ensure an enjoyable semester.

As mentioned earlier, sometimes overthinking can be useful. If you’re torn between classes, instead of choosing randomly, look at the classroom/building options.

Even though it’s somewhat trivial, the setting of a class can impact your experience. Small classes in huge classrooms can feel cold, and that can make you dread the class altogether (it’s happened to me twice). Similarly, you might simply dislike large lecture halls, or a building that’s particularly far away. Think back to past experiences in different locations. Be mindful of what you like and didn’t like, and choose the one that makes you look forward to the class the most.

4. For those in their first semester: don’t take more than you can handle.

People will recommend you take 4-6 classes per semester, but don’t let that 6 look too tempting. Taking 4 instead of 5 can be the difference between a happy experience and a bad one.

In my first semester, I took only 4 classes. This gave me ample time to study throughout the week, and to adjust. Even more than just studying, you’ll often have time-consuming activities such as writing, and preparing presentations. These are things you can’t really skimp on, if you plan on doing well.

When you’re eager to start, you might not take get a good grasp of how much you can handle. So it’s better to take it slow at first. Many say freshman year is the most important for building up your GPA, and taking just enough classes is a good way to ensure this. Some will be tempted to take as many as possible, in order to minimize costs and graduate earlier. This is a valid reason, and if it applies to you, there are still other ways to prevent overload. Try not to add many challenging courses at once. Consider what you like, course options, the class times, professor reviews… and keep dreaded courses to a minimum, if possible. Better to take few classes now, then to have to retake some later.

5. Plan ahead.

Finally, quite an obvious one. Browse through the list of classes in advance, if you can.

This might not be possible for many freshmen (it wasn’t possible for me), but it’s good advice. Before registration opens, weigh your options. Mix and match different schedules. It’d be ideal if you can sign up the moment registration starts. But if not, still keep all these other pieces of advice in mind. You can still cop good classes even if registration is well underway.


So there you have it! Are these tips useful? Let us know what you think, and what tips you wish these kinds of posts would include. I notice many posts about “college tips” are either extremely basic, or with very specific experiences in mind that don’t apply to everyone. What kind of tips for choosing classes do you wish you’d known earlier? 

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