Pointers For Selecting College Classes

With summer orientation going on for a lot of rising freshmen and transfer students I wanted to discuss an issue that is important when you choose your first classes, and that will remain critical as you continue in your college career. This is the idea of how best to select classes. As I present my thoughts on selecting classes, keep in mind (as is always the case with blog posts) that I am offering my opinion on this issue. There are bound to be others (e.g., professional advisors) who do not agree with me. But, my opinion on selecting classes is based on almost 30 years of dealing with undergraduates, including helping countless students select classes.

selectclass-computers-377117_1280To begin, I believe very strongly that the ultimate decision for which class to take or not take rests with you. This is very important, because it goes along with the idea that when you are in college you must take responsibility for your college career. Of course, there are those around you (e.g., parents, friends, professional advisors) who will be giving you advice. In the end, however, it rests with you. You can’t just sit there and have others give you a copy of a schedule while saying “Here’s a nice schedule” or “This will work best for you.” Make sure you understand what is on the schedule, and that you agree that the classes you are going to take are the ones you want and need to take.

This brings me to another critical point–there is an art to selecting classes. Each class you select must lead (as close as possible) to a perfect fit. This includes making sure you know who is teaching the class, when and where the class is taught, and finally what is the “value” of the class. Let me discuss each of these in some detail.

1) Who is teaching a class? Over and over again I hear stories from students where an advisor suggested a course, but never says anything about who is teaching the course. This is done despite the fact that the person who teaches a course is critical not only to whether you will enjoy the class, but if you will learn anything. For example, do you want a faculty member who is going to interact with the class, use various types of media, and generally be a nice person? Or, do you want someone who stand in one place in the front of the classroom, reads their lecture, and seems like teaching your class is the last thing they would like to be doing. Of course, you want the first instructor. It is that first instructor who will get you motivated to attend class and complete all work; higher grades will usually follow!

So when you select a class, check out who is teaching the class. If the course schedule says “TBD” that is not a good sign–it stands for “To Be Determined”. Often when this occurs a department may still be trying to find a part-time faculty or graduate student to teach the class. These people can turn out to be good instructors, but compared to a full-time faculty member with a stellar reputation there is no comparison. If you can find out who is teaching a class you want to take, check them out in three ways. First, ask advisors or fellow students if they know anything about the instructor. Second, many schools allow you to search faculty evaluation scores. There are scores based on surveys that students complete each semester. If you can look at these, make sure you are not signed up with someone who has low scores. Finally, there are online reviews of faculty (e.g., Ratemyprofessor.com). These websites are controversial and people complain that they are not valid. Nonetheless, I feel you have every right to give them a look and decide for yourself if a comment is just that of an angry student who is upset about their grade or that the comment has some value to you. The bottom line to me is that you should never take a class where you don’t know something about the person in the front of the room.

selectclass-auditorium-572776_12802) When and where is the course is taught? Now the two parts of this question get very tricky. Let’s start with the “when” part. As you can imagine, a school cannot have all of their class on certain days at ideal times. For many students this would be Tuesday and Thursday (TR) between 11 AM and 2 PM. Students often like a TR schedule because it allows for a 4-day weekend. The 11-1 slot means you don’t have to get up too early or stay on campus too late. The problem is that most students take 4 or 5 classes so there is really no way you can fit in everything on this TR time frame.

So now the decision-making begins. Here are two critical questions: (1) Are you willing to take classes on any day; and (2) Are you willing to take classes that start at any time of day? These are questions only you can answer, but I want to make an important point: Don’t let anyone tell you to take a class on a certain schedule that you really are not happy about. For example, if you just do not think you can get up for an 8 AM class, I believe you should not take this class. Let me add that I understand that you may have to take a class that early if it is a required course or there is simply no other time you can take a particular class. Also, there are those who argue that letting students determine when they want to take classes will lead to scheduling nightmares, again because students want to take classes at “prime” times. Finally, it is argued that when students get a job they will have very little say over their work schedule so they need to get used to taking classes at all times, early or late. Still, I believe that forcing a student to take classes at times they do not prefer decreases a student’s responsibility for their college career, and will likely lead to lower motivation and less learning.

Sorry, but I must add one last point about when you take your classes. Don’t forget to leave time in your schedule for lunch—you gotta eat!

As for the “where” part of selecting classes, this is also an important consideration. The main issue here is that you want to try and select classes in buildings close enough together that you are not scrambling to get to class. In general, there is a 10-minute break between classes. Most schools are relatively compact as far as the location of buildings. However, if you attend a large university it is quite possible that your classes will be far away. Getting to your next class may require you to leave one class a little early. If you have to do this, make sure you talk to your instructor about this. This is made tougher when the weather is lousy—think Chicago in the winter! Again, you may have no choice over where a class is located, but if you can be selective try and make sure that the buildings are kind of close. One thing you can do in this regard is to check out how long it will take you to walk between your classes.

selectclass-classroom-824120_12803) What is the “value” of the class? One could argue that every class has equal value—they are all important. However, I feel you need to be pragmatic about this point, and realize that some courses have more value than others. For example, I feel that required courses are more valuable than electives. The value of required courses is even higher for those required courses that are only offered once a year or once every other year. You need these courses to graduate so make sure you select these to take as soon as possible As far as electives, taking these is much more flexible. I realize electives may be really interesting and may not be offered on a regular basis, but it is best to take electives to fill in slots in your schedule when required courses just will not fit in.

I want to add three caveats to my position on required courses. First, don’t take a required course if it will lead to taking more credit hours than you had planned. The additional time and stress that the additional course will probably cause is really not worth it–just plan on taking the class another semester. Second, there will be a number of required courses you must take that are typically called “General Education” courses. One view about these courses is that they should be taken as soon as possible (e.g., freshman and sophomore years) so that you do not have a big delay between what you learned in high school and taking the class in college—think Math. Also, if you take General Education courses early on you can concentrate on courses in your major in your final years of college. However, others feel that there is no problem interspersing General Education courses with those of your major as you move through your college career. It’s your call on this, but I tend to side with the General Education courses throughout one’s college career viewpoint. Finally, sometimes when students select classes they use a strategy of selecting one more required course than they need. They then attend all their classes and drop the class that seems least appealing. In general, I am not supportive of this strategy, because before you drop a class you are holding the slot that another student needed.

I know this is a lot of information to think about, However, because selecting classes is so important to your college success I wanted you to have a faculty member’s perspective on this process. Good luck as you select your classes!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

College Summer Break: Use It Wisely!

With the school year coming to a close I thought it would be useful to discuss how best to think about summer break. In talking about this, it is important to keep in mind that my advice is for both those who will still be in college next academic year and incoming students.

I feel that the end of the academic year is a time to recharge. All those weeks of hard work have probably left you tired and in need of some much needed downtime. There is nothing wrong with just hanging out and getting yourself back to normal, at least during a part of the summer. For some of you, those initial days home will bring some much-needed sleep and a lot of good times with family and friends. Think of this aspect of summer break as a reward for a job well done. You made it through the school year and you are to be rewarded for all your efforts. Hopefully, your grades will reflect how hard you worked.

beach-690454_1280

I hope your time relaxing will include a few good books. As always, there is nothing like reading to calm you down and get your mind thinking about the world in new and exciting ways. In addition, all that reading will have residual benefits of improving your vocabulary, writing and thinking. In addition, what you read may even be related to what you are studying in school. The way I think about it, a good book goes a long way to a more relaxed person.

I understand that the summer is a time to refresh, but summer break is also a time to get things accomplished and to think ahead. One thing you might want to do is get a job during the summer months. It is likely that you can use the cash not only to do things during the summer or buy something you need, but it can also help you out with things you will need when school starts (e.g., textbooks). Also, if you can get a job related to your ultimate career plans that would be great–there is nothing like gaining experience in the workplace.

As far as thinking ahead, you might wonder what there is to prepare for, but it doesn’t take long to think of a list of things you probably need to do during the summer to ready for the next school year. I am not saying you should do all of these things right away, but at some point during the summer there are various tasks that you should try your best to get done. Here are a few:

1) visit your doctor and dentist

2) volunteer with some group, organization, or research lab—it will be great if this is related to your ultimate career goals

3) make contact with faculty who you might want to work with doing research when school begins

4) get your head together about career planning by checking out websites that offer information on various careers (e.g., careersinpsych.com if you are a Psychology major)—if you are a student getting ready to apply to graduate or professional school, start pulling application material together

5) continue to work on your resume

6) get an internship—these are great when they pay, but even if unpaid an internship gives you important practical experience

7) although it may cause you some “mental pain”, take some time to go over certain subject material that you will need to deal with when school starts

8) carefully read anything sent to you from your school, and respond immediately to any requests for information

hot-air-1373167_1280Students who are ready to start college for the first time have other things they need to consider doing during the summer. These include:

1) learn about the college town where you will be living if it will be new to you

2) start buying the things you will need for school—you don’t have to buy everything, because some things you will only learn that you need once you are on campus

3) create a LinkedIn account to help your professional career and to keep in connect with professors and other students

4) attend your college orientation, where you will register for classes and here more about life at your new school

5) if you are going to live away from home: (a) generate a packing list; (b) contact your roommate; and (c) investigate job opportunities if you need to work

6) consider attending a pre-orientation event where you can meet other incoming freshmen and faculty

7) check with the Financial Aid Office to confirm any aid you expect to receive

8) find out about the computer situation at your new school (e.g., what computer resources are available)

9) plan a budget

10) make your travel plans for arriving on campus, including how you will get all your things to campus

In closing, just remember that the summer should be a time for you to enjoy. The school year will be here before you know it. Take full advantage of this time off and be ready to go once school begins!

Special Guest Writer–Dr. Jerry Hauselt (Southern CT State University): Faculty Expectations

Professors expect that college students will act differently than high school students. Why? Because college is voluntary and expensive. Therefore, it is expected that students will take their education seriously and take responsibility for maximizing their investment of time and money. Professors expect that students will act like scholars, and come to class ready to engage with the material. You need to have the same attitude towards studying as you’d have toward training: success comes only after sustained hard work. One of my colleagues explains this to her students by telling them that they should come to class prepared to prove that they are the smartest person in the room. Students with this attitude succeed not because they impress her, but because they know the material.

Many students enter college without realizing that THE RULES HAVE CHANGED and they need to change their attitude towards academics. In high school, studying and doing well may not be popular, but in college, it’s why you’re here.

I try to convey to my students that rules have changed with the following elements from one of my syllabi:

Electronics/Facebook Free Zone. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE! NOW! Texts can wait. Also, TEXTING KILLS GRADES. If you want a poor grade, keep texting. Are you paying tuition so that you can text friends in a crowded room? Are you paying tuition to have a comfortable seat in which to make Mark Zuckerberg rich? Please note that your friend’s latest tweet or Facebook post or last night’s basketball scores WILL NOT be on the exam. Put your phone away for an hour. It won’t hurt. If you find this unfair or foolish, DROP THIS CLASS!

Respect, Please. We are here to learn about psychology. We are not here to chat, text, or engage in other behavior that will negatively impact another person’s ability to learn. You are not as quiet as you think when you text or comment to your neighbor. If you must sit and talk to your neighbor, do it outside this class. If you find this unfair or foolish, DROP THIS CLASS!

Another important element of respect for others is remaining in your seat during class. It is disruptive and rude to those around you to leave in the middle of class and return. Please take care of what you need to take care of before or after class. If you find this unfair or foolish, DROP THIS CLASS!

Electronic Access. We will be using the internet and email. It is your responsibility to gain access to both (available free in campus computer labs) and be familiar with how to use them. YOU SHOULD ALSO PLAN BACK-UP ACCESS. Learn where there are other computers you can use if yours fails.

What are your thoughts on Dr. Hauselt’s pointers?

Special Guest Writer–Jake Bailey: Starting College

So you’ve begin your freshman year. By now, you’ve read over your syllabi (hopefully), settled into your dorm, and have some kind of routine you follow every day. Class is already starting to pick up, and it may start seeming a little scary. I know when I was in your shoes, I was not doing so hot. Specifically on an emotional level. Everyone would give me all of these tips on time management and campus resources. They helped tons don’t get me wrong, but there are a few tips I’d like to pass down to all of you that you do not hear as often. In addition to the usual academic advice you hear a lot of, this advice is important to heed.

The first piece of advice is rather simple, but makes a significant difference: keep yourself healthy. In my first year of college, I didn’t do a great job of taking care of myself. I put 100% of my energy into my classes, and almost none into myself. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, eating right, etc. I didn’t even look like myself and my grades suffered. I know money is tight in college, but try to eat decent food even if it is a few bucks more. You’re also going to run into situations where staying up all night to finish a paper seems absolutely necessary. I don’t know about y’all, but I need my beauty sleep. Complete as much of that paper as you can, then PLEASE get some sleep. Humans aren’t meant to stay up all night. Get your hair cut. Exercise if you want. Shave regularly (not trying to sound like your parents). All of those seemingly small things really do help, and you will feel 100% better.

My second tip: find a hobby. Find something you can do with others or by yourself that relaxes you. A lot of you probably did some kind of extracurricular activity in high school. Sports, marching band, student government, volunteering, whatever it is–it’s not as easy to do in college. Luckily for you, there are tons of clubs you can join on campus. Even if you for some reason can’t find a club you like, there are many other things to do. I played club dodgeball for a couple of years and loved it. Now I’m taking boxing classes. Just find something you really like. It keeps you in a rhythm and keeps your head clear.

The last thing is a little harder than it sounds. Talk to people. I know, just starting a conversation with a complete stranger out of nowhere seems tough. But guess what? It isn’t. Crack a joke about something that just happened to the person standing in line in front of you. Get to know the people in your classes. You never know what could come out of it. You could be talking to your best friend.

I hope this helps everyone. Don’t spend too much time worrying about the future. I promise if you just buckle down in class, make friends, and do what you love, everything else will fall into place.

Special Guest Writer–Jenny Wu (post grad): Lessons From a post-Grad

Do you have an approach to college? Have you thought about what your goals for college are? I didn’t. For those of you who are just starting to apply, who have just stepped on their campus of choice for the first week of classes, or who have just switched their major for the first time, remember this: you must be bold in college. When signing up for classes, meeting new people, or deciding what to do in the summer, be bold.

I was frantic the last two years of my high school life: writing essays, deciding whether to apply to 7 colleges or 12, traveling on the weekends or breaks to tour college campuses with my father who was probably just as stressed and anxious as I was about what my decision would be as I was. I never asked myself when I made my college decision about what I wanted my lifestyle to be like or what I wanted to do after college and whether the colleges I was considering would be able to help me get there. The phrase “professional development” never crossed my mind. I can confession now that I made my decision based on branding, on reputation, and on the affirmation of my parents and high school teachers.

Throughout college, I had the traditional experiences and then created many of my own. I went to classes, did my homework, crammed for my exams. I pulled all-nighters, went to parties, slept over in my friends’ dorm rooms. I lived in dorms, moved out of dorms, work-studied, got a real job. I had a great time doing these things, but upon graduating, I realize that those years and months when my life revolved solely around the campus and my classmates actually taught me the least out of all of my four undergraduate years. The best thing that ever happened to me is when I realized I was bored going to the same house parties, bars, classroom buildings, and club meetings.

I became bold. I had started academic and social activities on campus since the first month of my freshman year. I found my own internship the spring semester of my sophomore year through cold calling and finding connections/references. I sought a good research mentor my sophomore year: took a whole semester e-mailing professors and graduate students and going to interview with them until I settled on working in the lab of the professor I have now worked with for almost four years. I completed a minor outside of the college of Arts & Sciences, which my major was in. For all of these experiences, I had to hassle administrators for overrides or to enroll in independent credits after the add/drop period. I had to cudgel faculty members to sign my paperwork for my internship as an advisor. The entire struggle to create my college experiences outside of the structured programs at my university taught me more about myself and being an adult than anything else did at the time.

So be bold going into college. Be bold while you’re a college student on campus and off-campus. Don’t start your adult life after graduation. Start it now.

View Jenny Wu's LinkedIn profile View Jennifer Wu’s profile

Surviving in a Large Lecture-2

Previously I discussed how important the Instructor is to having a great experience in a large class. You also have a big responsibility in a large class. Here are 7 tips I think you need to keep in mind for large classes:

1) Avoid any temptation to get lost in the crowd. With so many students it is very easy to let the crowd take over and lose your individuality. Be yourself, not a number!

(2) Attend class! Be part of the college experience by interacting with your Instructor and the other students in class. Moreover, there is usually a strong relationship between attending class and getting a high grade.

(3) Get to class early. This will give you a better chance to get a seat near the front of class where you have a great chance to talk to the Instructor and you can focus on the lecture. Also, you have some time to talk to the people who sit near you. It is really important to get to know people in your class, not only for notes but because your classmates are potential life-long friends.

(4) Try your best not come to class late or leave early. Quite frankly, this can really be rude. Also, when you arrive late or leave early everyone notices—I don’t think you want the “spotlight” on you. In addition, when you come in late or leave early it can interfere with the Instructor’s lecture. Of course, sometimes things are beyond your control, so if you must arrive late or leave early do it in a way that you will hardly be noticed.

(5) Don’t be afraid to ask a question/make a comment during class. Too often students think that this will annoy the Instructor of a large class. I know I don t mind questions/comments at all, and I think most faculty don’t either. Go for it! It is probably something others in the class are thinking.

(6) Talk to your Instructor. This can be in class or during their office hours. Quick hint: Remind your Instructor of your name each time you interact because it may take just a bit for your Instructor to really learn your name. You never know how getting to know your Professor can help if you need a letter of recommendation or when there is an opportunity to get involved with that Instructor’s research.

(7) Come to your large class focused and ready to learn. Having a more “positive” attitude will probably lead to your liking the class more, learning more, doing better in the class, and finding that the time of the class zips by.

Enjoy your large classes!

Surviving in a Large Lecture 1

For better or worse, many of you will likely take large classes in college. In case you’re wondering what “large” means, it’s relative—that is, it’s defined in comparison to the size of the other classes at your school. At a big university you might have 50,000 total students on campus and large classes of several hundred or even close to a thousand students. Your class might have more than your entire high school graduating class, and this can be pretty daunting to think about. Do NOT let this overwhelm you! If you think that any big class should be avoided, stop assuming this, because it’s simply not true. Some of my best classes were large classes and some of my worst classes were small classes.

Keep in mind that whether a large class is successful greatly depends on the instructor—there are countless examples of students packing a lecture hall just to hear a certain professor teach. Most instructors who teach these classes are volunteers, because teaching this kind of class requires a lot of work. Instructors not only have to make sure that each lecture is highly organized, but also have to be prepared to deal with many more students than normal. They generally have to be more organized than other instructors, because the class would be unmanageable if they weren’t. Therefore, your instructor will know how to speak clearly, present demonstrations, show videos, and use other technology like social media.

Instructors who teach large classes often have a certain personality. It is hard to pin down that personality, but one way to think about it is that great instructors of large classes really show (verbally and non-verbally) how much they love being in front of a crowd. In addition, these great instructors always think of exciting things to do in class that will motivate you to keep attending. The key thing is that an experienced and motivated instructor will work hard to make a large class more like a small class. You’ll feel part of a community, rather than feeling like an isolated student. One last thing to keep in mind: if you get into a large class, and you can tell right away that the Instructor just doesn’t care about the class (let alone you), my advice is that you should drop it and add some other class.