Scheduling Your First Year of University

Your first year of university is going to be hectic. There will be a huge learning curve compared to high school that you weren’t ready for. Classes will be harder than anticipated, assignments will be more work than in previous years. Five different projects will all be assigned and due within one week of each other. You need to work evenings at your job, too. And so, all of a sudden, time management becomes one of the most important factors in your education. How will you manage it all? Well, below, you may find an arbitrary number of commonly asked questions to help you set yourself up for success in that first year.

How Many Classes Should I Take in a Semester?

Great question. It depends on a couple things. For one, are you working? If so, how many hours per week? If you were like me and worked twenty hours per week, I would recommend no more than four classes. Trust me, any more than that, you’ll find yourself quickly overwhelmed trying to balance work and school. If you do decide to take four classes rather than the traditional five, you can always make up the two classes lost (per year) in the summer. That’s what I did, and it worked out fantastically. If you decide to take five classes per semester, prepare thyself. While five classes only adds up to roughly 18 hours of in-class instruction per week, the amount of work outside the classroom can be staggering. You will find the workload from high school to university is like being dipped into a bucket of cold water.

What Classes Should I Pick?

At this point, you’ve already applied and been accepted into a program and now need to pick some first-year classes. I realize that some majors are more pre-planned than others and you are auto-enrolled in the bulk of your courses. If you are enrolled in such a major, the following advice would only apply to your first-year elective classes. If you are enrolled in a program like English or many of the social sciences, there is a huge swath of possible first-year classes for you to choose from. What I would suggest, first of all, is printing out a list of all the possible first year classes that you could take—for goodness sake, ensure that the classes you select count towards your degree. Nothing like taking a $500 pottery class that only counts on your tax return, eh? But I digress. Highlight all the classes that you’d be interested in and make a note of the times and days of those classes and build a tentative schedule. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice a class you’re interested in if it doesn’t fit with your schedule. There will be other opportunities! The thing to remember here is that your schedule dictates what classes you pick. Don’t let your classes dictate your schedule.

First year classes aren’t hard. Oftentimes, they serve as an introduction to many of the concepts you will discuss in later years. However, you need to take them seriously; it’s important to get good grades in that first semester because your GPA hasn’t been established yet. Fail a class or two, and you are on academic probation, and that means trouble. You will spend the rest of your degree digging yourself out of a hole. Err on the side of caution with things like language classes—they can eat up a bunch of your time.

Should I Take Evening Classes?

I can’t think of a good reason not to. I took evening classes on more than a couple occasions during my undergraduate degree, and I found that evening classes were often one three-hour block once per night—rather than the typical hour-and-a-half twice per week. Having the evening class cut down on my travel time drastically, and I would purposefully schedule an afternoon class that same day; I would have a break in between classes where I could finish required readings, complete assignments, and prep for my next class. If you are a night owl—I know many people who are; don’t feel bad if you happen to be one—these classes are a blessing. I found myself to be much more attentive in the evening classes than, say, an eight AM class, which segues nicely into my nice question.

Should I Take an 8:00 AM Class?

This one’s tougher to answer, and I’m on the fence about it, so I’ll give the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, the good: You get a positive start to the day, and you have the potential to finish your coursework before lunch, giving you the rest of the day to study or work. Now, the bad: First, you have to wake up at an obscenely early hour, especially if you take transit, made even harder if you happened to work late the evening prior. Then, you have to fight rush hour traffic to get to school. After that, you have to sit through a two-hour lecture while fighting the urge to nod off. The ugly? I’ve seen someone fall asleep during one of these early-bird classes, and the professor took insult to it. I suppose the advice here is that there are good and bad things to taking early classes. Decide how committed you are to the class before registering.

Your first year of university can potentially be a make-or-break year. You learn a lot of things: How to schedule your time, what times work for you, how to manage multiple assignments, what your interests really are. Take an evening class and see what you think; conversely, take a morning class. Nod off, and you know not to take another. You will undoubtedly make mistakes, but that’s OK. Learn from them. However, the one mistake I would say you must not make is this: Do not overload yourself. Do not sacrifice your GPA trying to cram as many classes into a semester as you can. Remember that you are not just learning the course content, you are learning another very valuable life lesson: How to schedule your time effectively.