17 credits and all 8 am classes? That sounded just fine to me; my naïve, overconfident freshman self thought I knew exactly what I could handle. That backfired on me pretty quickly. I managed to do pretty well, but spent the entire semester miserable. I studied every night while my new friends watched movies and hung out. I probably consumed the same amount of coffee as a small village.
Decide on a Number
Classes should give your brain a run for its money, but they shouldn’t make you want to drop out for hood. Creating a good schedule can make sure you have the best college experience. Feel up for the challenge? Planning the perfect schedule might not happen right away, but it is very possible.
Start with the number of credits you want to take. “If you’re taking four credit classes, I’m a huge fan of taking between 12 and 16 credits. It’s not enough to overload yourself, but it’s not too little either,” said Luther College Professor Dr. Maren Johnson. Figure out what you think you can handle, and go from there.
Factor in Your Other Commitments
Of course, other things factor in to how many credits you choose. Sports, clubs, music ensembles, jobs and anything else you have to do outside of class matters. If you want to play football and join the band, taking 18 credits won’t work for you. But if your extracurriculars don’t keep you that busy, you could probably juggle more. It’s not as straightforward as it seems.
You thought about it and decided how many credits you want to take, but now you have to pick the actual classes. Do you take gen eds? Classes for your major? Electives? “If your program is sequenced, like math majors, then get your generals out of the way as soon as you can. If not, you can continue to take them until you graduate and be fine,” said Luther College Professor Dr. Amy Engelsdorfer.
Make Sure You’re on the Right Path
In a Bachelor of Science program, you can get your generals out of the way pretty quickly. In a liberal arts program, it might make more sense to spread them out evenly. “Spreading out your liberal arts generals can help you find the classes that you are more interested in, and they might even help you in classes for you major. Try to take a few classes in your major right away so you know if that’s what you really want to do,” said Johnson.
Balance Your Classes Like You (should) Balance Your Diet
Remember how much your mother always emphasized balancing your diet? That concept applies to your schedule too. “Balance out not only classes from your major and other subjects, but also balance really difficult classes with easier classes so you’re not too overwhelmed,” said Dr. Lori Lohman, marketing and business professor at Augsburg College. Taking four senior level classes or multiple credits all within your major might be great if you want to live in the library, but otherwise spread those out over two semesters. Why not pair a fun and easy elective with one of your more challenging major requirements?
Map Out Your Major(s)
Anyone who wants to double major or decided their major late knows that you need to wave goodbye to the flexibility you once had when planning your schedule. You need to cram in those extra classes if you want any possibility of graduating on time. But instead of pushing yourself for a semester of pain, why not take an extra semester to give yourself some wiggle room?
Of course, that could add to your debt, but it might actually be worth it. “I’ve found that when taking an extra semester, it’s no harder to get a job in the spring than it is in the fall. If you’re going to get a job straight out of college, you’ll get it no matter when you graduate,” said Engelsdorfer. So what do you want: less stressful semesters or more debt?
Factor in Food
You also want to make sure you save time for things like lunch. If you take four classes back to back, you won’t pay attention during the last class. If possible, spread your classes out throughout the week. You might think that having no class on Tuesdays sounds awesome because you can just study all day, but let’s be honest, you will just sleep or watch Netflix.
Above all, talk to your advisor and your professors. “You have to be willing to be creative about what could be. Your professors know how to help you create a good schedule and they know how to help you graduate on time if you’re struggling,” said Johnson. “We’re there to help you have the best college experience you can have,” said Lohman.
They’ve done this 100 times and know exactly how to make your schedule work. If all else fails, they might even help you get around that pesky class you really don’t want to take.