College was the first time I had complete autonomy over the classes I was taking. In high school, I could choose which classes to take to some extent, but had no say in when those classes would take place or which teachers I took those classes with. At UChicago, I can choose how many classes I want to take in any given quarter (between three to four), what those classes are, and which professors I want to take those classes with (and consequently or correspondingly, when those classes take place).
It can definitely feel overwhelming at times to pick classes in college, given the sheer amount of options you have. I can admit to having been overcome by indecisiveness once or twice when choosing courses. From my personal experience these past two years, I’ve compiled some tips and tricks to creating the optimal schedule. These tips can be found below.
My first piece of advice is to push yourself, but also know your limits. I think it can be tempting to lean one of two ways, either taking many higher commitment classes in a term, or taking only less time-consuming classes. I have definitely been guilty of both. Sometimes I want to remain firmly entrenched in my comfort zone, and other times I have stacked too many challenging courses on top of each other in a quarter. Above everything else, I think balance is key. Don’t let yourself get away with a schedule that you know will make you too relaxed. On the other hand, you should also be wary of when you’re pushing yourself too hard, and try to ease up a little. For example, this quarter I am taking Economic Policy Analysis and Econometrics, which are traditionally thought of as the two most time-consuming courses in the Economics major. To balance them out, I am taking only three classes this quarter instead of the usual four, and mixing the two economics courses, which have a focus on problem sets and exams, with a history class that focuses on papers and readings.
This bullet point follows neatly from the first, in that you should try to challenge yourself in picking your schedule, but also be aware of your limits. I definitely encourage pushing yourself to get up earlier, if that’s something you think you can actually accomplish, by taking earlier classes. If you know, however, with certainty, that you will probably end up hitting snooze every morning and skipping class, don’t schedule an 8 am course. If you’re about to create a schedule through which you will sit through three lectures in a row and know you’ll be tired in the third and that your attention will suffer because of that, don’t do it. This is something that has personally happened to me more than once. In the fall, I was in class or at work from 8 am to 2:50 pm every Monday and Wednesday. When I was creating my schedule, I hadn’t really taken my own physical and mental capacity into consideration, and my output suffered because of it. In the winter, I had an 8 am class again, but this time around, I had a break from 9:20 am to 11:00 am. I would go back to my apartment and nap between classes, which enabled me to be alert and attentive in my 11:00 am class. I was able to be a better student in the winter, because I reflected on what had happened in the fall and planned a schedule best suited to my habits. I would urge you to do the same.
This bullet point also follows from the first. College is a time to explore and try new things, so if your niche is your major and you decide to only take classes in your major during a certain term, I would encourage you to swap one or two out for something different. You never know if you’ll take a class that you could end up falling absolutely in love with. In my case, I never would’ve decided to pursue a history minor if I hadn’t decided to take Introduction to Russian Civilization just on a whim. Even if the class ends up not being your cup of tea, it’s still an opportunity to look at the world through a new lens, and get exposure to new people outside of the bubble of your major or in the same year as you. The history students in my Soviet Union class are totally different than my usual economics peers. It’s been really refreshing to get to know them.
Another important piece of advice is to do some digging on classes you plan to take before you decide on them. If your school provides course evaluations, be sure to look through those to get an idea of the course expectations. See if you can find a copy of the syllabus. It’s important to know broadly what the workload and how time consuming your courses are, so you don’t end up in a class that you might end up struggling with and dropping, or that may be too low of a commitment for you. Last spring, I registered for a class to take in the fall. When our courses appeared on the UChicago class portal, however, I took a look at the syllabus and realized that the amount of reading I had to do for the class wasn’t feasible given my workload overall. I dropped the class and switched into Introduction to Russian Civilization. If I had done more research on the course last spring, I would’ve realized earlier that the class wasn’t right for me.
A consistent theme across this blog post has been the need for balance. This applies here once again, in that it’s important to also leave some time for yourself to rest and refuel, and also to fit your extracurriculars in. School should come before your extracurricular commitments, but if you know, for example, that your tasks for a student organization in a certain term will be more than usual, you should see if you can aim for a less time-consuming class schedule for yourself. It’s important to not overdo it in college. Giving yourself time to unwind, time to listen to music or talk to friends, can do wonders in boosting your morale and motivating you to finish strong when the going gets tough at certain points during any given term. For me, this means setting time aside on Sunday afternoons during the fall and the winter to watch New England Patriots games. I like to create my schedule so that I usually have my classes in the morning. I’ve never taken a class that ends after 3 PM. This gives me some time to relax and do some light homework in the afternoon, before heading to the gym before dinner. For me, making time to exercise is almost miraculous on my psyche.
Although UChicago students are required to meet with their academic advisors once each quarter their first year, and once a year after that, I find that my peers underutilize their academic advisors beyond what’s required. An academic advisor’s job is to literally help with things like choosing classes, so definitely turn to them as a resource as much as you want! They can prevent you from ending up with an unrealistic schedule, and can help you build a four year plan, putting together electives and requirements in a balanced way. For me, the economics department undergraduate advisor as well as my personally assigned academic advisor are the first two people I turn to when I have questions about my schedule for a given quarter.
Another great resource to turn to are older students, who have been in your shoes and have taken the classes you’re considering taking. They can give you an honest opinion on the feasibility of your schedule, and provide you with insight into the professors of those courses. Ahead of this quarter, I was struggling to decide between taking Financial Accounting and Economic Policy Analysis. I reached out to older Women in Business (an organization I'm in) members and sisters in my sorority to get their opinion on if it mattered if I took Financial Accounting before or after recruiting for internships in the summer of 2020. They were all so willing to help, and perfectly honest, reflecting on their own experiences to give me their opinions on the course of action I should take. I would not be where I am today if I didn’t have such an awesome support network to turn to.
Although picking out your class schedule in college might seem daunting at first, with these tips in mind, you should be equipped to configure the most optimal plan for yourself! Choosing classes can be a really fun and exciting experience, with endless possibilities ahead of you, so do have fun with it!