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In Pursuit of the Perfect Schedule: Tips for Picking Out Your First-Year Classes

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Whether you’re an academic superstar, a party monster, or something in between, mapping out your course schedule for your freshman year can be a real challenge. Some ambitious students bite off more than they can chew, packing their first-year schedules full of ultra-challenging courses and then crashing and burning mid-way through. Others opt for a super-simple first-year schedule, only to find themselves becoming bored and disengaged from the learning process before too long.

So, what’s the secret to picking out first-year classes that will work for you? Most college counselors recommend aiming right for the middle – a schedule that’s challenging, but not overly exhausting. Of course, you’ll have to craft a compromise between your needs, the requirements of the major you’re interested in pursuing, and your school’s policies. Here are some more tips to help you pick the right courses for your first year in college.

Begin with the end in mind. College is a great time to explore your interests and broaden your horizons, but it also makes sense to ensure that even your earliest classes are headed in the right direction in term of your academic and professional goals. Even if you haven’t yet decided on a specific major, you’ve probably already got a pretty good idea about which departments you’re most interested in. Make sure your first-year schedule will at least get you pointed in the right direction.

Aim for balance. The perfect first-year schedule is one that’s got a good mix of different subjects, difficulty levels, and class times. For example, a first-semester schedule full of nothing but killer courses with 8 a.m. start times is probably not the best way to kick off your college career.

Know your strengths and weaknesses. College success will come much easier to you if you have a realistic understanding of your own limitations and assets. You can use this knowledge to build a first-year schedule that plays to your unique mix of talents. For example, if science is tough for you, but you’re a whiz at literature and composition, start off with an introductory course load that combines a basic biology seminar with a few challenging humanities courses.

Take classes designed to help freshmen succeed. Many colleges offer courses that are specifically geared to boost your chances of success in school. For example, a college composition course will help you brush up on your research skills and teach you how to write a basic college-level essay. Some colleges offer workshops in college study skills, while others offer courses designed to introduce you to all of the different majors that are available. All of these are good bets for your first-year schedule.

Get input from the experts. Most colleges require you to sit down with a counselor or registration clerk before finalizing your freshman year schedule, but even if it’s optional at your school, it’s not a bad idea. An experienced administrator will be able to determine whether the course selections you’ve made are a good match with your prospective majors, your background, and your level of academic skill.

What classes do you plan to take during your freshman year? If you’re already on campus, what advice would you give to first-year students who are just beginning to put their schedules together? Share your insight and opinions in the comments.

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