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Monday, April 6, 2015

How To Pick College Courses

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“How am I supposed to know that?” he told me. His eyebrow was lifted. He was looking at me like I’m an idiot.

Fortunately, I was returning the look at him. “How much are you spending on college every semester?”

“About 10 thousand.”

“And you’re telling me that you’ll pay a teacher 2k or almost 2k to teach you without looking them up first and asking a few questions.... By the way, I totally can teach you...” It took him a minute to get my point.

I tell this story because too many students forget this unbelievably important factor. In college, you could be paying thousands of dollars on every one of your courses. Maybe less, or maybe a whole lot more. You’re being absolutely stupid not to pick your college courses and teachers carefully.

When it comes to courses, many students end up spending an extra 10 grand on classes they’ll never enjoy or use. (This is particularly true for liberal arts students. Unless you’ve got that kind of money lying around, that’s sure as hell not an investment.)

What’s even crazier in my mind is just hoping you’re picking good teachers. A good teacher makes or breaks any course that you take. Most students have experienced this plenty throughout high school. Some teachers require you to invest hundreds of hours out of class just to pass the course. Other teachers require you to show up and occasionally do something to get an A+. Why wouldn’t you aim to pick that teacher? (I can think of a couple situations but those are rare circumstances.)

How do you pick the right course and teacher lineup?

Picking The Specific Courses

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Is the course required to get a specific technical degree that you’re trying to obtain? If yes, the answer should be obvious. If no, then it should be obvious but sometimes isn’t.

Don’t waste your money taking unrequired courses unless you have some VERY specific plan with it. You should virtually never consider it as an investment because any financial reward from it is tricky to predict. A degree has a clear financial reward. Extra classes, do not.

If you’re crazy enough to take an unrequired course then treat it as the luxury it is. Earn the money to pay for it and don’t pay for it with student loans. Student loans are a good when they’re an investment, they’re just another credit card debt for unrequired courses.

Picking The Time

Rarely pick a course in the time of day that you won’t enjoy.

If you’re not a morning person then don’t sign up for early morning classes. There is no reason to try and fight the person you are right now. Maybe, with a little work, you could be a morning person but when you’re in college is absolutely not the time to try and find out.

If you like to hang out with friends in the evening, you might want to avoid nighttime classes. You can usually get all of your classes in a time of day that you won’t feel as tempted to skip.

Of course, you can only be so picky and still get the courses you need. If required you can compromise a little on this point. How much you can compromise is essentially a balance you’re going to need to find yourself but with sleeping times in particular, many students overestimate their ability. (Sure, at 10pm you think getting up at 6am will be easy but at 6am you’re going to be thinking, nooooo way. Alarm off.)

Picking The Teachers

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This is one of the most important parts of selecting a course (for the strategies I teach.) If you want to spend very little time working outside of class then you’re going to need to pick a teacher that is very accommodating for that. Let’s face it, many teachers give boring slow busy work that no one can finish quickly.

If you want an A+ then you also better check out your teachers. Many teachers intentionally avoid giving really high grades. (Remember grading is subjective. One teacher’s B+ is another teacher’s A+. Find the one that will get you the A+.)

This information is usually readily available around campus if you’re willing to look.

First of all, check online professor review sites. They’re not great but they’re a good way to rule out some of the really bad teachers.

The best resource you have is the students around you. If you’re looking for an easy course then ask someone who has taken that teacher’s course about it. Ask them if they found the teacher easy. Then ask more details about how well they did, how enjoyable the class was, and things like that.

There will be some teachers that you can’t find out about. Sometimes you’ll have to sign up for their courses. This is okay because you always have your final option.

Final Corrections

After college classes start, you will often find out how wrong your estimated guesses actually were. Sure, you’ll have some really good courses but at least one or two of your classes are going to suck. The time to deal with sucky classes is early in the year. Switch out of them.

Really… it can seem like a pain but do whatever it takes to switch because this is a huge decision. You’re going to invest tons of hours into your classes. You might as well not hate every second of them.

The good thing about signing up for classes after the semester starts is that you can usually ask other students to look at other another teacher’s syllabus. When you can peek at a teacher’s syllabus, you get a great view of your time investment in the future.

For example, if the teacher explains that 90% of your final grade comes from a couple tests, you can feel pretty confident you won’t spend much time doing homework. (It sounds scary but these are the kinds of courses that you can spend almost no time on if you’re confident with your study routine. If you’re not confident about your study routine then make sure to check this blog out for help.)

Do not settle when it comes to picking classes. By spending a few hours researching, you can save yourself hundreds of hours over the semester. Take the time to look into your classes before you take them. Pick required classes at good times with good teachers.

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