One very important task that each college student faces each semester is choosing his classes for the next semester. It is exciting for students to consider the wide array of classes from which they may choose, but also intimidating to consider the implications of making the appropriate – or inappropriate choices.
As parents of college students, we may feel that we should have some input. Discussing your college student’s class choices is always a good thing. It will help you to understand your student’s interests and goals, and it may help your student to clarify his thinking as you talk about his decisions. However, it is important to remember that it is your college student who will be taking the classes, and that he has, hopefully, made informed decisions in consultation with an Academic Advisor who understands college expectations and requirements.
Although you should be taking more of a back seat in the course selection process, it may be helpful for you to understand some of the considerations that your student may be weighing as she chooses her classes. You may need to encourage her to think about some of these issues and/or discuss them with her advisor.
- Your college student should consider any all-college requirements. Most schools require all students to take a set of core courses that span several areas. This set of courses may be called general education requirements, all-college requirements, liberal arts requirements, or something similar. The student should work to take a few of these courses each semester. It is often not necessary to complete all of these requirements before taking courses for a major, but she should be working at completing these early in her college career.
- If your student has chosen a major, he should look closely at the requirements to complete the major. Taking a course or two in the chosen major early in his college career makes sense. This will give him an opportunity to feel as though he is getting started in his chosen area, and also to reassure himself that this is the correct major for him. He may not want to wait until he has completed all of the general education requirements before getting started with the major.
- Your student should consider carefully what the “normal” load of courses or credits per semester is. She will need to be careful that she takes enough credits to be making significant progress toward graduation, but also that she is not taking on a load of courses that is going to be overwhelming or impossible to complete successfully.
- Your student will need to look ahead to see whether certain courses have prerequisites, or other courses that need to be completed prior to taking the course that he wants. He may need to take a specific course this semester in order to take another course next semester.
- Some students thrive on early morning classes and do their best thinking at that time of day. Some students find that they are at their best in the afternoon, or find that their energy is lagging by late afternoon. Some students prefer evening classes, while others can’t stay focused by evening. Some students prefer classes that meet several times each week, while others like classes that meet only once a week. It is important that your student consider her preferences for timing of classes. However, she will need to be flexible. Not every class will be offered at the most opportune time.
- When your student thinks about the timing of his schedule, he should also consider how many classes he can comfortably take on a single day. He may want to think about spreading his classes throughout the week. While it may seem appealing to have all of his classes on one or two days, this will mean not only a lot of time spent sitting in class on those days, but also that all assignments will be due on the same days. Will he be able to be organized enough to stay on top of things?
- Your student will also need to think carefully about external factors that may affect his schedule. Does he need to work around a sports practice schedule? Is he a commuter who needs to consider traffic issues? Does he have an off-campus job? Some of these factors will force your student to think about his priorities. Should he choose his schedule around his part time job, or can the job be flexible enough to allow him to make class choices a priority?
- Not every class that your student takes will be of the same difficulty or interest to her. She may want to consider the balance of her classes. One or two classes that may be a stretch per semester coupled with one or two classes in more comfortable subjects may make a lot of sense. She may need to consider the subject area, level of class, and/or teaching style of the instructor.
Putting together an appropriate schedule for a semester, a schedule that will allow your college student to succeed, is a balance of many factors. The more knowledgeable that your student is about college requirements and norms, about her own interests and strengths, and the more closely that she works with her advisor, the more successful she will be.
As a college parent, you may be most helpful as a sounding board, and guide. Ask questions for your student to consider, offer some observations, but remember that she will be the one sitting in the classes. Respect her choices – even if they may not be your choices.