Registering for a new term is an exciting time. A new chapter in your life is waiting for your pen. Your school’s course catalog probably feels like a veritable smorgasbord of choices, ranging from the mundane (“Ledger Accounting in the 1800s”) to the exotic (“Intro to Malaysian Stretch Techniques”). One thing, though, is for sure…

The courses you choose will largely determine your stress levels, sanity, and general happiness for the next several weeks and your educational satisfaction for years to come.

So how do you make sure you choose the right courses? Definitely, your research should go beyond the course catalog, where course descriptions might not adequately describe what each will require. Also, your research needs to happen before registration–if you wait until the first day of classes, you’ve most likely severely limited your options. Here are five tips to help you choose the right college course for you:

college tips

1. Make Sure It’s Worth It

Lots of courses sound fun and they very well may be. But, while there is certainly room in your college experience for a few fun courses, you want to make sure that the courses you choose will keep you moving toward graduation.

To do this, consult the office that oversees your major, if you already have one. These offices usually provide advisors and written materials that list which courses count toward your major and specific tracks or emphases within your major. They will also tell you the order in which these courses should be taken. Typically, a group of foundational courses has to be completed before you can register for higher-level courses. Make sure you’re following the prescribed sequence.

If you don’t have a major yet, start investigating the majors you’re interested in. Find out which prerequisite courses your prospective majors require.

Knowing which courses your major (or prospective major) requires makes it easy to fill your term with courses that will keep you moving toward graduation.

2. Know Your Options

Most courses will offer the same course at different time slots; some will be available from a myriad of different instructors. Know this: even though they may have the same name, each of these will be different, sometimes dramatically so. And you want to pick the right one.

As you sit down to plan and choose, make sure that you have each of these choices out in front of you.

3. Don’t Squeeze It Into Your Schedule

For whatever reason, you may be tempted to force one more course into your schedule at an unusual time. Maybe it’s too early in the morning. Maybe the course concludes only five minutes before you’re supposed to be at work. As diligent and productive as you’d like to be, be realistic with your schedule.

Schedule time to walk to your next course, for meals and much-needed breaks, and taking care of out-of-class work. Make sure your work schedule and class schedule are in harmony. If you’re not a morning person, do not register for a 6:00 am course (personal experience!).

This is a great place to note that many online courses eliminate a lot of scheduling problems, because lectures and assignments can be done at the student’s leisure. If your work schedule is too hectic to comfortably let you attend classes, you might consider the flexibility offered by online courses.

4. Take Class Size Into Consideration

As you register for courses, you’ll see numbers that indicate how many students each course can accommodate. Large numbers usually denote a bigger lecture hall-type setting with less interaction between students and instructors, whereas smaller class sizes mean a more traditional classroom setting, like what you probably experienced in high school.

Which one of these is best depends on your personal preferences. Some people thrive in large lectures, others in small, intimate groups. Know which one works best for your learning style and choose accordingly.

5. Investigate the Instructor

Finally, not all instructors are created equal. Even in the same course, different instructors can take the material and the workload in totally different directions. Of course, the course catalog won’t tell you the difference between each instructor. This is where you have to do your own sleuthing to make sure you get the best instructor for your needs and learning style.

Talk to people who have taken courses from these instructors before. Find out what their lectures were like, how heavy their assigned workload was, and what their temperament was like. This is the single best way to know whether an instructor will be a good fit for you before your register.

Now, if you’ve followed these tips, here’s a bonus tip: you need to get registered ASAP before other people take your spot. Especially at larger universities, good courses fill up almost instantaneously. When registration opens, be ready to pounce.

What has your experience been in choosing college courses? What are red flags that a courses should be avoided? How do you pick a winner? Give us the skinny in the comments below!

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