picking classes to reduce overwhelm in college

The Dilemma of Choosing College Courses: Picking Classes Smartly to Reduce Overwhelm

The key to getting A’s in college in your strategy, not your brain.

Being smart is great but it can only get you so far. Planning for a stress-free easy semester will get you farther than your brains will.

If you find yourself constantly burned out and frustrated about a course, regardless of how intelligent you claim to be, chances are you will under-perform.

Before I tell you what you need to do, let me tell you what not to do.

*Do not pick courses randomly because you want to fill your timetable block

*Do not pick courses because you have friends taking the class

*Do not pick courses because the name sounds fancy

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Here’s why,

When you pick courses because you are trying to fill your timetable block you are self-sabotaging.

For one, picking random courses shows a lack of interest. Lack of interest in the process, and in the course will leave you feeling overwhelmed and increase your chances of failing.

There is no doubt you may end up in the same class with friends, however, do not make them the priority when deciding what courses to take.

Asides from the obvious fact that friends can be a pretty strong source of distraction, their strength isn’t your strength. While one person can handle a course better, the other may not.

You don’t want to fall behind on your grades when it could have been easily avoided by picking a different course.

Go where your strengths are, not where your friends are

Do not pick courses because of the names.

You hear people say, “I have astrophysics at 1 pm and biomedical science at 4 pm”

Listen! Don’t try to be those who pick courses because of how the name sounds.

Everything doesn’t have to sound technical. Don’t set yourself up for failure, pick what you know you can handle.

It is okay to have Biology and English next. Let there be some balance on your timetable. Pick easy courses outside your major (whatever you consider easy). You have that option for a reason.

Oh BTW, You can pin this for later!

how to create a college schedule. top tips to selecting college courses

What you should do

In college, I used to obsess over planning my timetable. I become so heavily invested in planning my timetable because I needed it to look right, feel right and have a purpose.

Sounds like an outfit right? LOL

Trust me, then I will take days to go over what courses I wanted to pick, write it down on a template, plot it on a timetable, and monitor my enrollment start time to make sure I don’t miss a minute

In hindsight, it didn’t need to be that tedious but I will say, doing that really helped reduce the stress of school in the long-run

Now, how can you pick courses smartly to breeze your way to an A+?


Before you pick a course, you need to ask yourself

  1. Is it convenient? Do I have enough time, to wake up, freshen up and make it to class still feeling energized? Do I have enough time to make it to the next class without undue stress? If I had a test/exam, do I have enough time to prep?
  2. What is my productive time of day? You want to make sure you are picking courses at your most productive time of the day.

Because I am a morning person, I tend to schedule my most important work in the morning. I really hate to work in the evening because I get exhausted even if I haven’t done anything throughout the day.

There is just something about working in the evening that doesn’t just work with me.

The point is, you need to know what time works best for you. You want to schedule your courses to reflect that by keeping your classes at your most productive time of day. You will find yourself paying better attention in class and getting more work done.

3). What is my attention span? For the most part, most college courses are between 1-3 hours. If you cannot pay attention for 3 hours straight, you might want to consider classes that are a little shorter.

The beauty of choosing your courses in college is that you choose what timing works for you. The only thing is you may have to give up a free day. For example, on Thursday psych 101 has a class from 11pm-2pm with Prof X. If that doesn’t work for you, you can take psych 101 on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11pm-12.30pm with Prof Y.

You don’t want to waste valuable time surfing the web or sleeping in class because you can no longer bring yourself to concentrate.

Read Course Summary

Often overlooked, but very important.

Always read the course summary.

Usually, there is a brief description attached to a course code/title. Sometimes you may even get access to the current/previous syllabus of the course.

Read it!

Make sure you read it!

Ensure it piques your interest and let that be a deciding factor in if you are going to take a course or not. You don’t necessarily have to be familiar with the course description or what the course is going to teach, but you at least want to be excited to learn.

Having the right energy and attitude towards a course is important, as it will propel you to work hard at it.

Pick many courses

The irony!

I know it sounds dumb but it is actually pretty smart.

Pick as many courses as allowed till you reach the threshold for your course selection.

Picking many courses don’t actually mean you will do all the courses you chose. You may even drop half of them.

After picking the courses you actually want to do, pick more courses as your 2nd, 3rd, 4th option

The reason why you are picking many courses is so you can have a backup. Sometimes you pick classes and then at a week or two into the class you realize this is not for me and then you drop.

There is nothing wrong with dropping courses but for whatever reason, you need to pick another course as a replacement.

Now, time for you to make a switch, the good courses are gone, courses are closed because they are full, or there is a long waitlist.

You are left to choose whatever classes are open even if you don’t like them because you need a replacement to fulfill the conditions for your student loans, full-time requirements or whatever reason,

You really don’t want to take classes you don’t like so have options. If you ever get into such a situation, you can confidently drop the course

**Keep in mind, drop date deadlines to prevent financial charges**

Syllabus Selection

This was my favourite!

I did this a lot and believe me, it relieves you of potential future stress

You usually get the course syllabus within the first two classes after you have been enrolled

If possible, print out all your syllabus or do it digitally it doesn’t matter.

The point is, you want to evaluate the course work and make a projection

You take into account assignment and test deadlines. Check if there are any clashes across all your courses.

Look at the weighted percentage of the assignments, how many pages the assignments are if there are any exams etc

how to pick college course smartly
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After your evaluation, you make the judgment to see what works and what is going to be potentially stressful. If you have to, you can drop a course and take it at a later time. If you think it is easy or you can manage then go for it!

This is great for organizing and planning out your semester in such an efficient way. When midterm seasons comes, you are not stressed about having two courses weighing a lot of marks clashing. Even if that is the case, you know it will happen and so you will plan better for it.

Rate my prof

Always check course ratings

You cannot, I repeat, cannot, be a college student and not familiarize yourself with rate my prof

Rate my prof allows you to see feedback from other students about a course or professor. You can filter by the university, course code, professor’s name. It is amazing how many reviews that site has for almost all professors. All you need to do is search

Search to see what other people are saying about the course and about the professor.

Of course, it is just opinions and you may have a different perspective. Sometimes, the professor may just have one review from an angry student which is why their rating is terrible, it is possible

However, from ratemyprof, if a professor has multiple terrible reviews, chances that your experience will be different, is really low

So don’t just neglect it because it is someone’s opinion. Read the comments, get an insider’s perspective into the course you are looking to take and let that inform your decision wisely

Study Aids

This doesn’t have to be a deciding factor but the more the merrier

Study aids are great, they make college courses easier and they provide support when needed

You want to research to see if there are study aids relating to your course. This can include YouTube videos, crash courses, khan academy, etc.

You want to have the satisfaction of knowing that, if you ever need help there are other outlets without having to go directly to your professor or teaching assistants

There are few I recommend,

Oneclass: Couldn’t have graduated without it. In oneclass, you will find detailed notes on almost any course you are taking. The great thing is you can search by your professor, university, course code, etc. The fact that you can find a particular note and tests on a particular course for particular professor is amazing. Whenever I missed classes or I needed extra notes to study, it was my go to. I loved it1 it was a lifesaver.

Skillshare/Coursera/Lynda: These are great E-learning platforms. They are actually designed to educate and teach different skills and courses. Whatever you need help with, you can type in the search bar and it will populate results for you on your topics. Different teachers, teaching styles just pick whatever works for you. Also, most schools partner with one of these platforms as an additional resource for students, so you don’t have to pay for it. You just need to find out from your blackboard, Moodle or student center. My school partners with Lynda, and even though I am done I still have access to it, so it comes in handy.

Quizlet: I don’t know how true this is or what the research is based on but Quizlet actually reports that “Over 90% of students who use Quizlet report higher grades”. However, what I do know, is that they are a great learning resource. You can find flashcards, practice questions, and study games to help you study smarter. So why not?

Online groups: Online groups include Facebook course groups, study groups, online textbook stores or just plain transactional conversations. You can contact people who have done the course to tell you about it, you can join study groups to see what people who have taken the course talk about on there, or you can purchase books, notes, and test banks.

The problem is professor’s advice not to purchase test banks or notes. I get it!

Probably not the most effective way to learn but its smart. And the fact that they are concerned, means they just might repeat the questions. So why not peep if you can right?

I won’t say use it or don’t use it. That is a decision you will have to make on your own

But, college is already quite stressful so don’t make it any harder on yourself. Be strategic about your plans

In conclusion,

Picking classes smartly is not in any way downplaying your intellectual ability but just another way to make school a whole lot easier for you

What Should You Do?

Pick a course at a convenient timing: Ensure you give yourself enough time to get to all your classes without feeling burnt out. You also want to pick courses at your most productive time of day. If possible, pick courses with a shorter duration of time if you know you cannot pay attention in long classes.

Read Course summary: Know what the course is about before choosing it and ensure it piques your interest.

Enroll in many courses: Make sure you have options. This doesn’t mean you will do them. Perhaps one doesn’t work out the way you thought, there is another you like. This way you can meet the minimum requirements, don’t have to be on a wait list and you also don’t have to do courses you don’t like. Keep in mind drop date deadlines for courses you aren’t going to do.

Do a syllabus audit: Before the drop date deadline, check on all your syllabus. Make a projection on all courses. Ensure there are no major course work clashing, ensure you are satisfied and can handle all the course work including tests and exams. If you think you cannot, best to take course at a later time. If you can, use it to plan a semester timetable for yourself.

RatemyProf: Use this online tool as a great resource to look into your professor. Look at your professor’s ratings and feedback from other students. Chances are, if the reviews are terrible, you may not have a better experience so if possible avoid the course.

Study aids: Use study aids to research course content and workload. Also use them as a great resource for your classes. A few study aids I recommend include crash course on YouTube, khan academy, One class, Skill share, Coursera, Lynda, Quizlet and Facebook online groups.

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