Charting your course for the upcoming semester: Upperclassman imparts her knowledge of course planning, utilizing websites RateMyProfessor and Coursicle

YELENA FLEMING // THE FLAT HAT

Syllabi are on Blackboard, and classes are right around the corner — the new semester (and add/drop season) is finally here! Planning the theoretically ideal schedule is hard enough on its own, and as any seasoned student knows, it’s not uncommon to be going into add/drop week without the classes you need due to limited seats and the absolute horror that was registration. We sure love waking up at 6:00 a.m. after a solid four hours of sleep only to brave Banner crashes and not get the classes we need! 

Ever since one of my friends overslept registration by over six hours and frantically texted me while in class asking what he should sign up for, I have considered myself the “schedule-planning consultant” friend. I genuinely like helping others get the best schedules they can, and as we near add/drop, I thought I’d assemble a list of things that I keep in mind when planning my schedule in case these tips prove helpful for other students, especially incoming freshmen (for whom this is their first add/drop rodeo). These tips mostly apply to electives because — let’s face it — we don’t always have much of a choice when it comes to required classes.

Rate My Professor, a website commonly used by students to determine which professor to take classes with using their fellow classmates’ anonymous reviews, can be helpful if you use it properly. I know some people who choose their electives almost entirely based on RMP difficulty ratings, but I would caution against that. Difficulty ratings on RMP should be taken with a ginormous grain of salt. I have taken “easy” classes with “easy” professors and found them just as hard or even harder than so-called “hard” classes with “hard” professors. 

One of the main problems with the difficulty rating is that there are no set guidelines for defining difficulty. Sometimes, someone who self-reports a B in the class gives it a one for difficulty and says it’s an “easy A” … but didn’t you say you got a B? Alternatively, I have seen reviews by students who have given a class a four or a five for difficulty … but then again, they got A’s? 

People’s standards of difficulty depend not only on the grade they’re aiming for (for those aiming for an A, a class could be considered hard; for those aiming for a B+, the same class could be perceived as easy), but also on skills, interests and what they’re accustomed to. What may be an easy class for one could be a difficult class for another, just based on previous experiences alone: a student from an extremely competitive prep school may find a class to be a one or a two while someone who came from a less academically rigorous high school may rate the same class a five. 

Skills and interests are perhaps even more important to consider. As someone who loves writing, reading and learning languages (and who is not a STEM person), I’m going to have a very different experience in a humanities class than my friend who excels in STEM. I’d probably get destroyed in his math and physics classes, and he’d probably get annihilated in my language and writing classes. 

So, consider the difficulty rating with a grain of salt and try to take electives that genuinely interest you, especially in subjects that you’re strong in. I would much rather take a harder class on material that I’m interested in than an easier class on material I’m not. If you like the material, the ‘hard’ class doesn’t seem as hard … and on the flip side, if you’re not interested in the material, the ‘easy’ class is the one you likely will dread every day. Instead of focusing on professor difficulty, consider the percentage of students who would take the class again and look for trends in the quality rating.

Make sure to also look at RMP comments or even the course syllabus if you have it. Is the class a seminar? Lecture? Are there group projects? Timed, in-class essays? Is the bulk of your grade based on exams? Papers? Some combination of the two? Is there a participation grade? Significant reading? Class discussion? The best advice I can give is to know your interests, strengths and weaknesses, and try to align them as much as you can with both what you have to take and what you want to take. 

My favorite classes are seminars with lots of group discussions. I prefer papers over exams because I like writing, but I try to avoid in-class essays and group projects because I tend to find those more stressful. I try to take classes that fit these preferences when I can because I thrive best in (and am happiest in) those conditions. I have friends, though, who love to hide in the back of huge lecture courses, hate class discussions, love group projects and prefer exams to papers. One of my friends refuses to take any elective that requires memorization, another refuses to take any psychology class and yet another picks art electives because they require the least amount of reading and writing. What works for you may not work for your friend.

Another thing to note when using RMP is to take claims that a class is ‘interesting’ or ‘boring’ lightly, especially for classes without prerequisites. An intro-level class on Greek Art and Archaeology may be ‘boring’ for a STEM major who needs a COLL 200 ALV but ‘interesting’ to a Classics or Art History major. If the “this is such a boring class” review came from a Classics or Art History major, you may be right to be worried! But what if the review was written by a student who took the class thinking it was going to be easy despite having no interest in the topic? 

One of my favorite classes of all time — and one which I also found to be easy — was deemed not only really hard but also incredibly boring by one of my friends. I did what any sensible TWAMP would do and immediately removed this person with terrible taste in classes from my life. Kidding. The point is: same class, two completely different experiences. And both are equally valid. 

I would add, however, that patterns prove valuable. If the majority of reviewers make the same claim: the material is incredibly interesting, the class is ridiculously hard, you absolutely must take a class with this professor before you graduate, etc. you should keep that in mind. 

Consider the time of a class as well as your day’s general schedule. Some people prefer early morning classes so that the rest of their afternoon is free while others prefer afternoon and evening classes. One semester, a friend even rigged his schedule so that his first class began at 3:30 p.m. on any given day (allowing him to sleep until 3:00 p.m.). While that level of schedule manipulation is certainly not possible for everyone (I still am in awe that he managed to do that), it’s a good example of knowing your weaknesses and trying to plan around them as much as you can. 

Not only can late classes interfere with dinner plans and club activities, but they also can result in decreased productivity if you’re not careful. If I have a 9:30 AM class, I’ll be perpetually exhausted, yes, but at least I’ll have finished class and the next day’s homework by noon. Last semester, when my first class began at 3:30 PM on Mondays and Wednesdays, I was sleeping in until noon. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would go to class at 12:30 p.m., go to class again at 2:00 p.m., then go to class again at 3:30 p.m., and I wouldn’t be done until 5:00 p.m. After four hours of classes in a row, all I wanted to do was eat dinner, relax and not do homework. After all, it was evening already.

This segues into my next point: take into consideration how many classes you have in a row. It doesn’t have to be (and sometimes shouldn’t be) a deal-breaker — I’d still choose the same schedule of four hours of classes in a row again because they were hard-to-get courses that fulfilled major requirements, and I ended up loving the classes. Just realize that having multiple classes in a row without a break is exhausting, and when you add clubs and activities on top of that, it’s even worse. My Tuesdays were booked non-stop (with only a dinner break) from 12:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. because of classes and clubs. It was rough.

Another point to consider when taking classes is geographical distance. Can you physically get across campus in the amount of time between two classes without sprinting, biking or using a time-turner like Hermione Granger? Ten minutes is practically enough to get a sloth from Chancellors to James Blair. Boswell to ISC is a bit of a hike but doable, but what about from Boswell to Blow? What about from the Business School to Blow? Yikes. 

Also, keep class frequency and length in mind. I tend to prefer two 80-minute classes twice a week over three 50-minute classes, but that’s a personal preference — there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Twice-a-week classes tend to have a heavier course load each night, but you don’t have to do the homework or attend class as frequently. Meanwhile, thrice-weekly classes give less homework and require less time per class, but you must attend more classes in a given week (and usually on Friday).

Other miscellaneous tips: try to spread out your writing-intensive classes or more difficult classes (especially important if you’re a STEM kid, at least from what I’ve heard). Taking classes with friends can be fun, but don’t take a class you’re not interested in just to be with a friend — and remember that things can go south fast if there’s drama. Also, always try to balance requirements with fun electives when you can.

For those hoping to get into an already full class as we near add/drop, download Coursicle, an app that sends you notifications about seat openings, and email professors for overrides (cross your fingers that there is classroom space and that the professor is in a generous mood)! And of course, if you have questions, talk to your advisor. Add/drop begins August 30th at 2:00 PM and runs through September 12th at 11:59 PM. Hopefully, you’ll get everything you need by then, but if not, there’s always the next registration…

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