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Picking the right college courses.

ONE OF THE FIRST orders of business in any new semester is picking--and getting settled into--your courses. The job can be incredibly exciting and, if it is your first time, quite intimidating. Especially at large state universities and community colleges, it can seem like there are more choices than stars in the universe, and who really knows what goes on in anthropology, linguistics, or communication studies--as well as applied developmental psychology, geospatial information systems, and ichthyology?

However, even if your school's course catalog resembles a complicated maze, if you follow these dos and do nots you will have the tools needed to build a balanced schedule full of the best courses your college has to offer:

* Do scour the online course catalog--and the online course page (when available)--for as much information as possible about what the course involves. In the best case, you not only will find a detailed course description, but a list of the books to read, the assignments required, and even a course syllabus.

* Do not limit yourself to just the courses you know--like American history, English literature, or Spanish--or to those courses recommended by an advisor as the "standard first-year program." One of the main points of going to college is to find out about subjects-even whole fields of knowledge--that you never even had heard of before, or that are not required. Besides, you probably are tired of those old subjects anyway, and you quickly will get tired of taking all of the subjects your college requires, too.

* Do haul on over to registration (or, if you are just starting college, orientation) at the very first available opportunity. You will guarantee yourself the best choice of classes and times if you are at the head of the fine. Many popular courses--and some required ones-do not have enough places at some colleges, and, hey, it is a first-come, first-served world, especially in a time of overcrowding and cutbacks.

* Do not load up with a basket of courses that would overwhelm even Hermione Granger and her Time Turner. Although you might impress your dorm mates with the biggest course load ever, their admiration might fade as you start to fade by midterms. It is better to take the normal course load, perhaps even one that is a bit lighter than normal if it is your first semester and if you can. Going from high school or the professional realm to college can be a steep learning curve with lots of adjustments, so it is a good idea to leave yourself some margins on time and energy while you get into the swing of things.

* Do carefully consider which world or foreign language to take--and at what level. Some languages are much harder than others--among the toughest are Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian (though these do offer better job potential). Once you have picked, in many schools you are stuck with four semesters of the stuff (more than virtually any other college sequence). You do not want to find yourself doing hours of homework and studying each night for a difficult language you have no intention of using in the future when you could have had a much lighter foreign language workload with French or Spanish.

* Do not overestimate--or underestimate--your level of knowledge in the language you took back in high school. If you have a good mastery of a language, do not go back to baby talk--the very first courses will bore you to tears. However, if the best you can do in the foreign language is count to five--and you are not all that sure about four, come to think of it--you probably do want to sign up for whatever-language-it-is 101.

* Do make sure to select the correct level math course for your background and ability. In our experience, more mistakes are made in signing up for math classes than in picking any other courses.

* Do not assume that, just because you got a 4 or 5 on the AP test, you are ready to take multivariable calculus. College courses--especially high-level calculus courses--can include advanced theory, which is a good deal harder than figuring out areas under curves.

* Do be aware that some departments, especially science, offer introductory courses designed specifically for majors in the field, and others (so-called "service courses") designed for students who would "just like to learn a little something" (translation: pass the requirement) in that science. If you have a serious interest in a field or are thinking you might major in it, by all means take the intro for majors rather than the sublevel service course that, besides being boringly routine, will not count for the major when you get into it. (You would not want to take--and pay for--two intros, would you?)

* Do not take the physics course for majors if you really need to be in the physics course for poets--or drawing for art majors if paint-by-numbers is all the art you ever have done. Not only are the majors courses going to be too hard, they are going to focus on all of the boring, technical stuff you would need in order to major in that field.

* Do consider taking an online intro course or even a MOOC (massive open online course) if you are self-motivated, like to set your own time schedule, or want to learn at your own speed.

* Do not sign up for the online version (assuming you have a choice) if you are bad at managing your own learning, need a fixed time for class lectures to actually get you to attend the lectures, or cannot face the class unless you have a flesh-and-blood professor pushing you to do the work (and be honest with yourself when making this assessment; telling yourself, "my study habits will change from this point forward" is a bad idea, because they probably will not).

* Do balance your program, choosing some courses that are easier, some that are harder, some that interest you, and some that fulfill requirements.

* Do not listen to your mother or father telling you to "Get all the requirements out of the way first." You will suck the joy out of college and miss out on chances to take courses you actually might enjoy.

* Do check out the first-year experience course or freshman seminars. They are a great place to find out more about your college, polish up your skills, or read a book about globalization and the decline of American culture-and, in many cases, you will get a real, breathing faculty member, not some newly hired teaching assistant or adjunct faculty person.

* Do not, if you are an upper-class student, consult with a general college advisor. Rather, be sure to consult with the undergraduate advisor in your department. Not only will the undergraduate advisor help you pick courses that will best suit your program or interests within the field, he or she also may offer you the dirt on which professors put everyone to sleep, which barely know their stuff, and which are teaching some course only because the chair of the department dumped it on them at the last moment. Your departmental advisor can be your best ally in picking courses.

Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman are coauthors of The Secrets of College Success: Over 800 Tips, Techniques, and Strategies Revealed, and, respectively, professor of art history and a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
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Title Annotation:Education
Author:Jacobs, Lynn F.; Hyman, Jeremy S.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2016
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