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College Freshman: Starting off on the right foot
With the time rapidly approaching for a new class of freshman to start piling in to colleges all over I thought I'd give some advice on how to pick classes. Almost all colleges have some sort of base requirements that every student must complete, in addition to their selected major, before they can graduate. This guide is going to help you figure out how to utilize those requirements so that you, the freshman, can start college off on the right foot.
More than likely you will or you have already, chosen classes. This is where it all starts. You sign up for classes, you buy books and then you learn...hopefully. When I was a freshman I really didn't know what classes to take. I kind of just signed up all over the board for anything that had an interesting name and relatively cheap books. My strategy served me fine but this upcoming strategy is much better.
If you're like me you probably heard someone say that when you get to college "You won't have to take any classes you don't want to". I just want to clear that up now...it's a lie. There will likely be some requirements for undergraduates. Before you arbitrarily pick classes find the undergraduate requirements and keep it open in a separate window or print it out, whatever works for you. You need this list, it is integral to this plan. Next, you should look it over and familiarize yourself with it. How many and what kind of credits are needed and where. Do you need a history credit even though you want to be an engineer? Do you need to take a PE class? Is there a math requirement even though you want to major in art? These are the kind of things the undergraduate requirements will tell you. You need to know that to help pick out good classes. For the ambitious ones who have a major already decided you need to do a little extra for the plan to be the most effective. That will be discussed under the next heading but if you have no idea for a major you can jump ahead the the choosing classes section.
If you have a solid idea of your major then you will certainly need what are generally called the major requirements for your major. For example, if you plan to major in Physics you can probably search your school's website for the place where it will list the core classes needed for Physics majors. Generally you should be able to type your major in the search box of your schools homepage and you can find the requirements from there. Once you have found them you will need to treat them similarly to the undergrad requirements. Keep the window with that info open, print it out or whatever works for you. Then familiarize yourself with it. Do your core classes need to be taken in a specific order? Can you take any classes concurrently? Might you have placed out of a class? This and much more will be provided to you upon reading your major requirements. With those in mind go ahead and start picking classes.
Once you have looked over and understand your undergraduate requirements and major requirements you should be better equipped to pick classes. This is where the knowledge you just gained becomes really important, especially if you aren't sure what you want to do. Of course, if you already have a rock solid plan, for example, you are planning on being a pre-med student, then sign up for the classes you know you need. For everyone else here is the next phase of the plan...
Using the undergrad requirements as a guide find some classes that will get you credits for the things you won't get with your chosen major track. For example, if you are the Physics major from above you would likely get a lot of math and science credits but not so many history or art credits. In that case you should try to find some classes to fulfill those requirements you wouldn't get on your major track so that I won't have to struggle to get them done later. I'd suggest getting the classes you won't like out of the way. Professors take it easier on you when you are a freshman than if you are a junior. Also if you take the classes you hate now you won't have to worry about having to take them later when you could just be taking the classes you like or the ones that go towards your major. Another great thing about knowing your requirements early is that there is a chance that you can find classes that will give you credits for multiple requirements. For that Physics major there may be a class that gives an art and history credit (art history for example). Knowing that can greatly cut down on the number of classes you end up taking over all. This especially helpful if you are a double major like me or if your major just has a lot of core classes.
If you are one of the undecided ones what this process does for you is gets the necessities out of the way early. That way while you don't know what you want you can still explore your interests but at the same time you are doing something helpful for whatever track you end up choosing. The benefit is multiplied if you took the classes you didn't like first. For example, when you get to be a junior you already got all those terrible math requirements out of the way so now you can just focus all your attention on all those history credits you have to do for your History major. For the person who already knew what they wanted they did all the fluff first so in their later years, when it gets harder, all the nonsense is already taken care of. I assure you, you will stress yourself out if you get to senior year and find that there is a requirement you are missing.