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A Guide to Choosing College Courses

written by: Ellie Walker•edited by: Amanda Grove•updated: 4/15/2011

Learn the basics of choosing college courses to fulfill major, minor and general education requirements. Extra space in a schedule after requirements are filled offers the perfect opportunity to take new, eclectic courses or even study abroad.

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    How to Begin

    Students as young as high school age can begin thinking about the college courses that they would like to take. Perusing a course catalog to get a feel for the various major and minor requirements will help students understand how much space they need to leave in their schedules for these required courses. The course catalog will provide a comprehensive list of all of the classes offered by a university, as well as the ins and outs of the various programs, their required courses, and the prerequisites for these courses.

    During the freshman year, it can be incredibly helpful to speak to an academic adviser, who can provide advice on choosing college courses early in an academic career. Advisers generally have a good sense of which intro-level classes are required for certain majors, which popular classes tend to fill up, and when general education requirements should be completed. If a student already knows his or her major or intended pathway, consulting a special program adviser--such as a pre-medical or pre-law adviser--can also be of benefit. Other students--especially upperclassmen--are also great resources for advice, as they will have sat through many of the same lectures and seminars and can provide honest, accurate advice.

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    Starting as an Undecided Major

    The majority of college freshmen begin their education as undecided majors. Without a clear curriculum in place, it can be difficult to navigate the maze of available college courses. However, a general tip for selecting college courses as an undecided major is to begin by taking basic college courses to fulfill general education requirements. Not only will this get students chipping away at required courses for graduation, but it will also expose them to a broad range of interesting subjects, one of which might become their major course of study.

    Fulfilling general education requirements early in an academic career can also be beneficial because it leaves larger openings in a student’s schedule in later years. Studying abroad, taking more fun classes in unfamiliar subjects, and exploring new intellectual avenues can all be made possible by careful planning to complete required coursework.

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    Understanding Prerequisites and Course Timing

    For most upper-level courses, students are required to take prerequisites and introductory courses beforehand. Many prerequisites begin at the 100-level and include large, lecture-style introductory courses, which are usually full of underclassmen (or the occasional upperclassmen taking an elective). These courses are often offered more than once per year, and they generally have a very large capacity that is designed to help underclassmen begin to build their academic careers.

    Once these courses in a major are fulfilled, students usually move up into the 200-level and 300-level courses, many of which will require at least one prerequisite course from a lower level. These classes are often much smaller, have limited capacity, and are only offered at specific times--some only once every two years. Sophomores and juniors should carefully scan the requirements for their majors to see if any of these classes are required; this will help them choose their courses more effectively to leave space for the small, infrequent classes.

    Overall, choosing college courses can be made easier by careful planning and consulting the help of advisers to create a workable schedule filled with fun and interesting classes.

    Source: author's own experience