One of the things that many college students, and their parents, worry about as they head off to college is creating an appropriate schedule of classes. Although your college student will mature and experience many things while in college, academics are the main reason for attending. Taking the right classes matters.
There are many factors that go into creating a good schedule, and your student should use the college resources when considering what to take. At some schools, incoming first-year students are given their schedule, with no options. Although your student may be disappointed about not making choices, this should mean that your student is assured of taking courses that he needs.
If your student has options in creating her first schedule, she will usually get some guidance from her advisor or an advising office. She will need to consider courses for her major, general education courses required by the college, and possibly a minor as well. She may need to make sure that she has a balance of types of courses so that she isn’t taking all lab sciences or all writing intensive courses at the same time. Of course, she’ll also need to think about times of day that are best as well.
But in addition to balancing all of the requirements, it is often helpful for students to consider one course per semester that is at least a little bit “out of the box.” This may be a course that is not required for anything, but that is in an area your student simply loves or has always wanted to explore. Taking something “for fun” or “to explore” or even “to challenge beliefs” is part of what the college experience has to offer, and may be a way that your student discovers a new passion or talent. This may also be a way for your student to gain confidence and self-esteem as she discovers something that she is good at doing.
As college parents, we are often nervous that our student may make a mistake with his schedule or “waste” a course. We worry when we see something on his schedule that doesn’t “count.” At most colleges, students will need more credits than they have requirements. This leaves room over the course of their college career for a few electives – courses that are not needed, but still provide credits. One question that your student should ask his advisor is how many of those credits he might have. This may vary by major.
Once your student determines that he can afford a few elective courses, encourage him to take at least one “out of the box” class. Encourage him to take a risk. If he is worried about his GPA, he might explore his school’s pass/fail policy.
An “out of the box” class will mean different things to different students – and at different institutions. Some schools offer obvious “crazy” courses such as The Science of Harry Potter, Psychology and the Simpsons, Baseball and the American Culture, Learning from YouTube, Zombies in Popular Media, The Science of Superheroes, or Women in American Pop Comedy. Don’t dismiss these rather silly sounding classes; they often require serious research and provide strong academic material behind the title that markets the class. A course called How to Watch TV, for instance, requires students to critically evaluate how television has impacted the American culture. The course combines both a study of media and a study of American culture.
“Out of the box” classes may not necessarily be as wild as some of the titles mentioned above. They may be simply something that intrigues your student, such as a music appreciation class, guitar lessons, a dance class, chorale, or even an interesting literature, language, broadcasting or acting class.
Encourage your student to work closely with his advisor to be sure that he is making progress toward graduation, but also to explore and find some new ways of learning and some new areas of interest. Considering an “out of the box” class might be just the avenue for some new discoveries.