If you really want to succeed in college, you need to learn how to pick the right classes for you. It’s all about figuring out your learning style – and I’m not talking about whether or not you’re a visual learner. This learning style is about when and where you learn best, and what your motivations are for learning. It’s also about using your resources to make the best decisions. Ready to discover what works best for you?
1. Forget about High School
I mean it. So many people think that just because they got up early in high school, they’re going to be able to do the same in college. Or that scheduling a full day of back-to-back classes is going to be easy, because that’s how high school was. They’re wrong. Completely and utterly wrong.
Why? Because college isn’t high school. Well, duh. Of course it isn’t. But so many people forget about this, or think that the difference isn’t really that great. But it is. You have to motivate yourself – no one else is going to do it for you. Your mom isn’t going to bang on your door when you oversleep.
College classes require more work, more studying, and, often, more group work. A full day of classes is not only exhausting (believe me, I’ve done it!), but it doesn’t leave you the room you need to study or work on assignments. And then there’s the friend factor: are you really going to want to be holed up in your room while all your friends hang out?
So do yourself a favor and throw away your high school expectations. It’s time to get serious about how to do well in college!
2. When do you work best?
This is probably the biggest factor. Some people are morning people. Most college students aren’t! Even those of you who are morning people may find that you aren’t in college – because staying up late studying or hanging out is definitely a thing! I used to get up with no problem at 5:50 in the morning for high school – in college, getting up two hours later than that could be a struggle. So figure out what time you can realistically get out of bed and to class, and plan around that as best you can. I’m not saying that you’ll always be able to avoid those dreaded morning classes, but you might be able to take fewer!
Another thing to consider is when you start to get worn out on school. I found that anything after 4 in the afternoon was difficult for me. I was tired, hungry, and ready to be back in my dorm room. Some of my friends found that any class after 3 was basically a waste for them because they just couldn’t focus any longer.
3. Where do you learn best?
Some people thrive in small classes. Others loves the anonymity of lecture hall classes. You’ll have a mixture of both in college, but it’s good to know what to aim for. I personally loved small classes. It gave me the chance to get to know the professor, and ultimately that’s how I started working with one of my professors on my honors thesis project. Large classes were too overwhelming for me, and as soon as I could, I stopped taking them.
Have you considered online classes? I took several online classes in order to free up time in my schedule, and I loved them. If you are a highly motivated student, taking an online class might be a great way to fit in a class that you couldn’t otherwise. But if you don’t do well communicating fully online and learning on your own, this would be a bad choice – even if it sounds appealing.
4. Don’t choose your schedule based on your friends.
I can’t stress this enough. Yes, it’s great to have a friend in a class with you. And if you’re both interested in the class, go ahead and take it together. There are plenty of benefits to taking a class with a friend. You can split the costs of textbooks and study together. But don’t base your entire class schedule around making sure you have friends in most or all of your classes. You’ll end up in classes you don’t want to take – or, worse, you’ll be distracted by your friends and not get a good grade in the class. It happens to the best of us!
5. Know why you want to take the class
And don’t just say, “Because it’s required.” That’s not good enough motivation for most people to do well. You chose this major or minor for a reason. You’re not going to achieve your goals if you view classes as a thorn in your side instead of stepping stones to obtaining your degree. So think of a good reason why you want to take the class – to practice your speaking skills, to get better at a foreign language, to learn something that will help you in a future career. You can use that motivation halfway through the semester when you’re wondering why you took the class to begin with!
6. Make sure to check required courses!
This may sound obvious, but you want to make sure you’re checking your requirements at least once a semester. (Or, if you’re like me, all the freaking time). It’s important to know that you are taking the right number of classes and at the right pace in order to graduate on time. Do yourself a favor and go check right now. See where you’re at. If you need to, start making a plan on what to do to catch up. If you’re currently on track, good job! Now keep checking every semester to make sure you stay that way!
7. Talk to your professors
Are you uncertain about what classes are good for you? Are you thinking of minoring or majoring in a program but don’t know if your skills and knowledge base are ready? Guess who knows you and your abilities: your professors. Professors have office hours for a reason. Make an appointment to talk about which classes to take. (Just please don’t go right before a big test. You’ll never get in, and your professor won’t have enough time to really help you!).
I was debating at one point on whether or not to bump my Spanish minor up to a major. I was struggling a bit in my current class, but I loved the language. I could not come up with a decision on my own. I went to see my professor. Not only did she help me with the topics I was struggling in, but she took the time to go through with me the classes I would need to take for the major as well as which ones she thought I might need to prepare more for. It was immensely helpful!
8. Use Rate My Professor
You’ve probably already heard this advice, but it’s worth repeating. Rate My Professor is a great website to learn about the teaching styles, homework load, and expectations of different professors and classes. I always used it when picking classes.
I do want you to be careful when using it, though. I tended to throw out the overly negative or positive reviews. I wanted to see what the average student thought of the class. The other thing to consider is something I’ve talked about elsewhere – take into account your academic strengths and weaknesses. As someone who would much rather write a 10 page paper than study for a test, I tended not to worry when a review said that the professor required a lot of essays. But that may not be how you like to learn. Pay attention to those details!
Are there any other things that you consider when picking classes? Do you have an awesome secret weapon when it comes to talking to professors? Let me know in the comments!