The Freshman 15: Tips For Choosing College Classes

For many of us, it is time to begin a brand new school year! On Monday, August 20th, I officially began my senior year of college, and with it came four awesome new classes (Guest Services Management, Marketing for Hospitality and Tourism, Theme Park Management and Writing for Publications). Ever since high school, I have enjoyed setting up my class schedules and planning out several semesters at a time, but in college, I received formal training on schedule planning through several jobs and advising offices on campus. Therefore, it is my honor to share some of my knowledge with each of you, as you embark on your first year of college (or second, or third, or sixth…) and begin setting up your own schedules for future semesters.

Wishing each of you a wonderful new school year, and looking forward to hearing how it goes!

The Freshman 15: Tips For Choosing College Classes

1. Start your day early.
When students first enroll in college, many are tempted by the idea that they no longer have to start the day at 7:30 a.m. and follow the same schedule they did in high school. Because of this, many end up scheduling all of their classes late in the day, and use the morning and early afternoon to sleep and play video games. Although you certainly have the freedom to do this, I would advise against setting up your schedule this way… instead, try to set up some earlier classes (9 a.m., perhaps, or 10?) to ensure that you’re up early enough to be productive. If you schedule all of your classes in the afternoon and evening, you may be more likely to slack off during the day and miss out on some of your responsibilities, but if you’re already up for a morning class, you will likely have the energy to accomplish more on a daily basis. Do this for your first few semesters, at least, until you have developed a greater sense of discipline in a college setting.

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2. Start planning ahead of time.
When you first select your major, consider creating a four-year plan based on the required coursework and necessary internships. It’s a good practice, during your freshman year, to know that you will take your prerequisites during specific semesters and your capstone classes as a senior. Have a basic idea of what classes you will need and when you will want to take those, and keep this plan in your records for future registration periods.

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3. Meet with your adviser.
When you’re creating your four-year plan, don’t forget to make an appointment with an adviser – at least in the beginning! Advisers are often untapped resources, but they have a lot of expertise on various undergraduate programs and can lead you in the right direction when you’re trying to select the track that’s right for you. They can also help you choose elective classes that will complement your major.

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4. If the class requires an override and you’re still a freshman, chances are you shouldn’t take it yet.
Because of my experiences with accelerated Honors freshmen (pre-med students in particular!), I have definitely met my share of new college students who wanted overrides into classes they weren’t ready to take, such as Organic Chemistry. Now, I absolutely admire their work ethic, and I do not doubt their intelligence, but we almost always advise against enrolling freshmen in classes like these because transitioning to college is already a full-time job. Figuring out how to learn in a university setting instead of a high school classroom can be a challenge in itself, but combine that with other away-from-home responsibilities and the balance of extracurriculars and a social life. You don’t need to start out with your hardest classes right away. Allow yourself to ease into college life, and save Organic Chemistry for another semester or two.

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5. Be aware of extra components of a class before enrolling.
Does your class have a lab component? Many students don’t consider this before they set up their schedules, and wind up ruining their grades because they didn’t schedule enough time to attend their labs. In addition, some classes require service learning projects, so it is important to be aware of this prior to enrolling in the class to avoid any surprises or disappointments. Pay very close attention to those sometimes-hidden extras when signing up for your classes.

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6. Your course catalog is your best friend.
Different schools treat their course catalogs differently, but it is important to be aware of what prerequisites and core classes your major requires before scheduling your semester. Simple enough, right? However, it’s important to make sure that even as a communications major, you take the correct math courses, and that as an an engineer, you take the speech class that is designated for your major. You should also be aware of other requirements, such as internships, co-ops, and applications to limited access programs. Keeping your course catalog on hand is an excellent way to stay up-to-date.

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7. Take your general education classes early.
Most colleges require their students to take a few general classes first, such as English, basic mathematics, foreign language and sciences. However, these classes can also serve as the building blocks for the classes you will have to take later in your major. Therefore, it is usually a good idea to take these in your freshman and sophomore year so that you can then access your more advanced courses. For example, pre-med students usually opt to take their introductory biology and chemistry courses as early as their first semester so that they can move on to anatomy and physiology and other major-specific classes. Taking gen-eds early is also a good idea because it allows you to get the classes you don’t want to take out of the way as early as possible. (I haven’t had to take a math class since the beginning of my freshman year, and I couldn’t be happier!)

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8. Use RateMyProfessors.com, but do so sparingly.
RateMyProfessors.com can be an excellent resource for learning about your professors ahead of time. You can gain a greater expectation of what your professor typically requires from the class you are going to take, how easy or difficult other students perceive him or her to be, and what the professor’s personality is like. However, be careful when you use this website, because one student’s opinion may completely differ from your own. I took one professor’s class upon reading his reviews on this site, but wounded up hating every minute of his class because I considered him to be bigoted and rude. Conversely, I have taken professors with negative reviews and actually enjoyed their classes. Take each review with a grain of salt.

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9. Talk to older students.
Yes, advisers can be extremely helpful, but often you can get some of the best advice from students who are just a few years ahead of you. Students are a fantastic resource because they have undergone the same experiences as you not that long ago, and so they are most likely to understand your situation and have the best ideas as far as classes to take, professors to avoid, minors and certificates to consider and organizations to join. Having a mentor can take away a lot of the stress, and will make you feel less alone when selecting classes and solving the problems that can go along with it.

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10. Be wary of online classes, but take them if you think you can.
I have mixed feelings about online classes. I won’t warn you against them completely, because I think they can be extremely rewarding and they allow you to work at your own pace. However, I don’t suggest taking them in your first semester or two of college, because you are still figuring out your learning style and trying to develop your time management skills, and online classes may provide too much freedom and too little structure for a college freshman. However, once you have adjusted to university life and think you can handle an online class, feel free to try it out!

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11. Learn the rules of your college and be aware of legislation that could affect your education.
In Florida, the public state schools face “excess hour laws” that limit the number of courses a student can take and still receive in-state benefits. Because of this, students nowadays have to be especially careful when choosing their classes so that they can keep their scholarships. In addition, most scholarships require you to take a certain number of credit hours, so it is important to know about this as well before you decide to “take it easy” one semester. Keep up-to-date on these rules and regulations, and your bank account will thank you later.

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12. Take at least one class that genuinely excites you.
Let’s face it — it’s difficult to drag yourself out of bed to go to classes that completely bore you. If your schedule consists only of classes that you’re taking to “get them out of the way,” then chances are (unless you have a fantastic professor and discover that you love the subject) you won’t really enjoy your semester. Therefore, it is important to take a class that you are willing to get out of your dorm room to attend. During my freshman year, that class was my Creative Writing class — even as I surrounded myself with math/science classes that I dreaded, I made sure I had a class that I could use as an outlet. This made my semester a whole lot smoother.

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13. Have backups ready.
During registration periods, classes can fill up quickly. As a freshman, you may not have first priority when selecting your classes, which means that you will have to be flexible and consider viable alternatives. Therefore, before registration periods begin, be sure to have at least three additional classes on the back burner so that if some of your first choices are unavailable, you will still have useful classes to take and won’t feel completely overwhelmed as you rearrange your schedule.

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14. Be honest with yourself and know what you’re capable of.
If you hate studying and aren’t accustomed to a heavy course load, then don’t sign up for 18 credit hours right off the bat. Ease yourself into a schedule that works for you, and add on additional classes in future semesters after you’ve gotten used to a smaller amount. Don’t bite off more than you can chew in your first semester, because if things don’t go well, you will feel more discouraged in future semesters. Challenge yourself, but don’t overdo it.

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15. Learn from your experiences.
Evaluate yourself after each semester, and plan your subsequent schedules accordingly. If you find that you aren’t well suited for online classes, for example, then try sticking to face-to-face classes every chance you get. If you take a class with a professor that you love, see if you can take more with him or her. If you’re an engineering student who realizes she hates her math and science classes, consider changing your major. College is full of transitions, and during the next four years, you will learn a lot about yourself, your interests and your personal learning style. Analyze those discoveries and figure out how best to apply them to your life.

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College freshmen: What questions do you have about choosing college courses? What other questions do you have about the college experience? Is there a particular “Freshman 15” you’d like to see?

Other students and graduates: What advice do you have for students who are trying to plan their class schedules?

The Freshman 15: Ways To Prepare For Orientation

I remember it like it was just yesterday. Almost exactly two years ago, I drove three hours away from home to attend Freshman Orientation at the college of my dreams. At first, I wasn’t all that excited to be there — my high school friends were having a party at home that I would have rather been attending, and I was terrified that I wouldn’t meet anyone within the two days of speakers, schedule planning and campus tours. As it turned out, I met two of my closest friends at orientation, and I hardly kept in touch with anyone at that high school party. Orientation was what ultimately got me excited about going to college, and I couldn’t wait to move into the dorms and start hanging out with my new friends.

Above all else, Freshman Orientation was what really prepared me for a successful first year of college. Although orientations may differ greatly by school, they can serve as a great tool for getting to know your campus and making new friends. As a peer ambassador for my university this year, I had the opportunity to assist students in the honors college at their orientation, and so I picked up a few tips along the way. Incoming freshmen, keep these tips in mind as you prepare for orientation this summer!  — Tweet this!

The Freshman 15: Ways To Prepare For Orientation

1. Get excited.
First of all, you’re going to college, which is an accomplishment all on its own. Second of all, you are about to embark on a new chapter of your life. Look at either of those facts alone and you have all the more reason to be excited. Now is the time to stop worrying about the schools you aren’t attending, and start thinking about all the amazing opportunities you are going to have. A little bit of enthusiasm at orientation goes a long way — no one wants to talk to the awkward guy who is constantly rolling his eyes or brooding in the corner.

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2. Be open to making new friends.
While it’s true that you may never see some of the people you meet at orientation again in the next four years, you should still make your best effort to meet new people. You never know, you could wind up meeting your best friend! For tips on how to make a good impression, click here.

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3. Take your placement exams before you get there.
Chances are, you’ll need to take some exams so that the school can decide what math and chemistry courses you’re ready for. If you haven’t taken your exams before orientation, a lot of schools won’t let you sign up for certain classes. Because everyone is trying to create their perfect schedules, it is important that you have met all your requirements before attending orientation so that you aren’t fighting someone a few weeks later for the last spot in a class.

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4. Ask questions.
One great thing about orientation is that it gives you a wider set of resources throughout the school. Not only do you learn about the various academic and wellness services that your school provides, but you also usually meet older students who have been through it all and can serve as a mentor for you. This is especially helpful if you don’t have an older sibling who goes to the school and knows a lot about it. No question is really off limits — they get asked pretty much everything, and because everyone else will be in the same boat as you, you probably aren’t the only person who is wondering.

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5. Distance yourself from your parents.
This doesn’t mean to disregard them completely, of course. Your family probably plays a significant role in your life, and they will continue to do so in the future. However, orientation is not the time to latch on. Most orientations do separate the families from their students, and this gives you the chance to choose your classes on your own (without parental pressure!) and prepare yourself for the not-so-distant day when you aren’t living under your parents’ roof. Even if you are staying with your family when you attend college, you will still want your independence. Fill your parents in on what you’ve been doing at orientation, but make sure they give you your space.

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6. Be prepared for the weather.
As a student in Florida, I may be a little biased, but because most orientations take place in the summertime, you never know if you’re going to have rain or shine. Weather.com isn’t always accurate, so make sure you have an umbrella on hand just in case. From personal experience, I have found that it seems to rain specifically on orientation days. Such is the life of a college student.

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7. Connect with your roommates.
Even if you have already found your roommates on Facebook, you may not have met them in person yet. Although there are most likely several orientation dates, you should find out if your roommates will be attending yours, and try to meet up with them at some point. It isn’t the end of the world if you aren’t able to see each other then, but if you can, by all means go for it. This should help alleviate some of the awkward “breaking the ice” when you meet again at move-in.

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8. Join in the festivities.
Yes, orientation is probably going to be long and tiring, but it is important to make the most of it and take advantage of new things. If there is an ice cream social at the end of the day, go and meet people. If the orientation leaders are dancing on stage during dinner and they ask students to join them, do it (or was that just at my orientation?). Try to be upbeat and energetic.

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9. Look at your general education requirements ahead of time.
As a freshman, your first order of business when planning your schedule will be to get some of your general education requirements out of the way. If you have access to a course catalog or the academics portion of your school’s website, look over some of these requirements and think about what sparks your interest. Advisers will be on the scene to help you craft your schedule, but it is a good idea to know what general classes are required and sound appealing to you.

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10. Find out about available clubs on campus.
Want to rush a fraternity or sorority? Find someone who’s an expert on Greek life. Want to find out if there’s a Quidditch club at your school? Talk to some of the people in charge of student involvement. At many schools, the different organizations will actually attend orientation to answer questions for incoming freshmen and recruit them for future meetings. I always stress the importance of getting involved early on. Why not do this at your orientation?

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11. Stay organized.
You will receive countless handouts, fliers, booklets and school paraphernalia while attending your orientation, so bring a folder or backpack so you don’t lose any of them. I found myself constantly flipping back and forth between papers at my orientation because of the sheer number of them — half the time, I didn’t know where to find what I needed! Keep everything together as neatly as possible so you can refer back to specific items later if you need to.

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12. Take advantage of social media.
Hopefully, you will meet a lot of new people at your freshman orientation. Although Facebook isn’t always the best means of communication, it is definitely a good way to group new people together and write quick messages back and forth. Exchange numbers with the people you meet, if you’re comfortable with that, but adding them on Facebook could be slightly less intimidating for the shy student, and allows you an instantaneous means of keeping in touch. When you return to school in the fall, it may be easier to reconnect with those people you met at orientation.

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13. Take notes if you need to.
After receiving countless tidbits of knowledge about your school for an entire two days, things can get pretty confusing. Instead of letting the information get completely lost in translation, write down the important things so you can remember them later.

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14. Be as flexible as possible.
When planning out your class schedule, things might not come out 100% as you may have hoped. This is okay — you have four years of college ahead of you, so you don’t need to rush your way through. Orientation may bring shocking changes to others. For example, the actuarial science majors at my orientation (including two of my friends) were informed on the first day that their program had just been cut and that they would have to pursue new degree programs. Although they were not happy about this at the time, they have thrived in their new majors and since cultivated new interests. Your mind may change, as well, and you may decide to change your major on the spot. Change can be wonderful because it allows us to grow as people and learn something new about ourselves. Keep an open mind.

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15. Have a sense of humor.
There’s usually at least one corny aspect of Freshman Orientation — a speaker who makes too many bad puns, an outdated video of campus life, a few dance routines sprinkled here and there — so it’s important to try and have a good time. Be engaged in what you are doing, but don’t let yourself become too pretentious as you go through the various presentations at orientation. Have fun!

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Questions for readers:
– What was your freshman orientation like?
– What did you learn from orientation or wish you had done differently?
– What topics would you like to read about in future Freshman 15 articles?