The average college student’s logic in course selection comes down to one question: “what time is it?”
Well… that and if it’s required for their major.
If a course is at a good time and is required for the student’s major then the student signs up for it and hopes for the best. I tend to assume this is because high school never gave you such an awesome options like picking your own schedule so college students try to milk it for everything it’s worth.
Sure. Course schedule is important but it’s not the only important factor when you’re trying to choose the right course. When you rush into signing up for the most convenient class you’re setting yourself up for a number of potential pitfalls. You’re making a mistake that can cost you points on your final score, enjoyment of the class, and the education that you’re supposed to be paying for.
It’s kind of like you’re going car shopping, throwing ten thousand dollars at the salesperson and saying, “get me whatever is convenient.” You can virtually guarantee you’re going to be getting a worse deal than you could have got. As you’re calling the tow truck to bring home the lemon the salesperson sold you, you can consider how college works in the same way. (Yes… they work this same way. A good teacher can have an early class with better attendance than a bad teacher. Good teachers have sway that affords them more options.)
Here are a few of the most important things to consider beyond your schedule:
Never lose sight of how important good teachers are to a good class. Students that just pick their courses based on schedules end up having to hope they’re getting a quality teacher. Every time you sign up for a course without researching the teacher a bit you’re just encouraging more teachers to suck at teaching. They have no incentive to get better as long as there are students willing to pay their college to take their class.
How do you find classes with the best teachers around? Well… you need to research the teacher. There are countless ways to do that.
One of the easiest ways to check if a teacher is good is to start asking other people that already took their class. Students that have already had the pleasure (or displeasure) of sitting through one of the teachers courses usually have a reasonable view of the teacher. Naturally, never trust overly negative opinions from people that did bad in the class. Ideally you want to find someone that did well in the course and ask them what they thought. If they hated the teacher then alarms should be going off.
If you plan in advance then you might be able to sit in on a teachers course. It’s funny how you can usually get a pretty good idea how well you’ll learn with 5 or 10 minutes of a teacher’s course. It’s usually worth sitting through a course when you have the time for it.
Another easier alternative is just looking online for professor ratings on major websites. If you look on rate-a-professor websites you can usually get a pretty good idea about teachers in a major university. The fewer reviews you see, the less you can trust it but it can quickly rule out bad options. (Just don’t trust one or two majorly negative reviews. Angry students aren’t the one’s to trust about most teachers. Any teacher can upset a student or two.)
One idea that I’ve experimented with is actually talking to the teachers before the course starts. You can actually talk to them directly on campus but I would just send a quick email out to a handful of different teachers I was considering and politely ask if I could get a copy of the class syllabus. This would benefit me in four different ways.
1. I would know whether or not the teacher pays attention to their emails.
2. The teacher would typically say something that would start some basic conversation. That quickly helped eliminate and encourage certain options.
3. I would instantly give the teacher the impression that I’m a student that cares about my grades. While I may have been one of the biggest slackers in their course, they could never tell with moves like this one.
4. I would get a copy of the syllabus to see how emphasized different parts of the course were. I tended to like a test heavy course focus in college because it saved me homework and assignment time. (I was using the strategies I teach on this blog today to study for tests. I could generally score high on tests with very little effort.) On that note….
The Right Syllabus
Depending on your preferences and study style, you’re going to want to take a different kind of course. Some courses are designed to have tons of assignments worth only a few points each. Other classes only have a few assignments that make up your whole grade. You need to pick classes based on how you want to approach your work for class.
I would lean towards taking classes with only a few high value assignments because that frees up a ton of time and allows you to focus your energy on a few really important things. That may be because that’s the way I prefer to work. Having a ton of low value assignments allows you to lose a few assignments in the shuffle without completely ruining your final grade.
If that’s more your style then I could understand.
You also need to look into what your final grade is going to be composed of.
Fortunately, most teachers are explicit when discussing this factor. They’ll directly tell you that your grade is composed of a certain percentage for tests and a certain percentage for homework and so on. Looking at these factors you can find a style that meets your own strengths.
Most of this information can be found on a typical class syllabus. Your success in class can get a whole lot easier when you start paying attention to this factor even before you decide to sign up for the class.
Some of you conniving students out there (I mostly say conniving to amuse myself with a fun vocabulary,) are looking to boost your final GPA without regard to actually learning more. I can’t blame you with some of the competition out there. If you’re trying to compete for the top of your class, unless you’re exceptionally gifted, you’ll need to have advantages like this one.
Sometimes you’re just looking for a class to help boost your GPA.
Sure, we all would like to learn but that’s not the only factor worth considering in many schools around the world. They have an old saying that no one cares about your GPA when you graduate college but it’s not completely true. What people really don’t care about is whether or not you took easy courses to get that high GPA. A 4.0 still looks good when you’re looking for a career after college. Heck… a high GPA at least looks pretty on the transcript.
If you want to boost your GPA then you should be looking into courses before signing up for them. There are classes (even traditionally difficult ones,) that end up having a huge number of students scoring high. Most of these high scoring courses are that way because their teachers run the classroom that way. In most classes where this is happening, the students taking the course will know.
I remember slacking off repeatedly in one course and I couldn’t score less than a 97 in it. Ask other students and they’ll be able to tell you similar stories. Find those teachers (even if it’s the same teacher teaching a different class.) If you want a GPA boosting course then it’s all about finding the teachers (not the course.)
Take note that this is not the same factor as good teachers though. Good teachers can be tough graders with rigorous courses or easy graders with cake walks. Some terrible teachers are easy graders. If you want a good final score then you may just have to settle for a subpar teacher.
I know it’s easy to pick a class based on whatever schedule is convenient for you and your calendar. I’ve done it before to but I could always tell the difference in my grades when I did. I could consistently score 5-10% higher when I picked my courses and teachers carefully. This is a difference that makes all the difference if you’re competing for something academically.
Advice like this can earn you higher grades but if you’re looking to take it to the next level then you might want to keep up on the future posts of this blog. I share all the secrets I used to score near the top of my class while studying less than 95% of students.
If you want to know 5 things you should know graduating high school then you can access it over at our members only section.
Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to check out the archives, follow along, and read the ebooks in the sidebar to learn more.
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