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Don’t take a crappy schedule lying down. Try a better approach to course registration this semester and thank me later.

papersFirst, if you haven’t already done it, get an appointment with Elizabeth Morgan and go over your degree requirements. I would recommend doing the minimum allowable to graduate. Don’t be tempted to add a double major “just because;” it’s likely going to add stress as well as a number of classes to your requirements that you won’t want to take. And, in the words of Jack Pitney, outside of the Claremonts, no one gives a rat’s tail about a “sequence.” Thankfully while there are breadth requirements and degree requirements, there’s a fair bit of flexibility about which classes and teachers you can take to fulfill the requirements.

Second, go to the conference room in the Dean of Faculty’s office and spend an hour or two flipping through the student evaluations from previous semesters. You will discover interesting facts about the teachers and courses there, like that you should try as hard as you can to avoid S. Davis in Philosophy. Make sure you adjust ratings for the fact that students’ ratings of teachers are biased against difficult subjects (e.g. math and science) and against 8am and 9am classes. I usually check the first three ratings (teacher quality, teacher’s knowledge), how much time students are spending per week doing work for a class, and the grade they expect to earn in that class. Yes, an hour or two with binders is a lot of time, but think about how much time you would be spending wanting to pound your head against the wall in a horrible class next semester.

Third, pick eight or nine classes that look interesting and taught by teachers with good ratings. Don’t worry too much about a course’s content– a good teacher can make any subject interesting, and the whole point of a liberal arts education is to take courses that aren’t in your area of specialty. If you’re not sure about a class, check the student handbook, which has an expanded description, or email the teacher to try and get a syllabus. Try to balance difficult classes and easy classes. Unlike college admissions, employers don’t care about the difficulty of your course schedule. When you sign up at the Registrar, sign up for the four (or five, if they let you) that are going to be the toughest to get into. The easy sciences and Dean Huang’s Philosophy class go first, as well as a few upper-level Econ courses. Even if you plan on taking a lecture class, don’t sign up for it yet– you can always add it at the beginning of next semester. If you are feeling extra determined, get a course add form, find the professor, engage them (“I just read your last paper on pricing toxic assets, but I had a question about…”) and get them to sign the form. Then when you go to the Registrar during your assigned time, you’ll be able to get into the class, even if it’s full.

Next semester, go to all eight or nine classes during the first two weeks. Make sure you have course add forms and your course catalog ready, and when you’re in class, act like a good student– sit in the front row and ask questions, so they’ll want to add you even if the class is full. Yes, this is a lot of work, but no one really covers that much during the first two weeks– if you miss a class or two you can catch up easily. If a class is boring, or not what you expect, leave immediately and check out a different class.

You only have time to take 32 classes while you’re here; don’t throw one away on a bad teacher. Use this strategy and guarantee yourself a thought-provoking semester.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Or maybe you could just ask friends that have taken a class whether it’s worthwhile…

  2. Or maybe you could just ask friends that have taken a class whether it’s worthwhile…

  3. Myself and two others actually analyzed 200 of the evals from last year for a research methods class. Students actually preferred classes that were harder over the easier ones, so any bias you find might be in the opposite order you expect.

  4. Myself and two others actually analyzed 200 of the evals from last year for a research methods class. Students actually preferred classes that were harder over the easier ones, so any bias you find might be in the opposite order you expect.

  5. Normal Personal, it’s tough to get good feedback from your friends when you’re looking at 20+ classes and you’re not sure who’s in which one. I use friends when I can.

    Matt F, that’s an interesting finding. Did you control at all for self-selection, i.e. the students who tend to enjoy school will choose to take harder classes, and the students who don’t like it will try to take easier classes?

    There’s no doubt that the mean scores for teacher quality in math and science are way lower than in philosophy or psychology. I find math & science easier, but I’m not a typical student.

  6. Normal Personal, it’s tough to get good feedback from your friends when you’re looking at 20+ classes and you’re not sure who’s in which one. I use friends when I can.

    Matt F, that’s an interesting finding. Did you control at all for self-selection, i.e. the students who tend to enjoy school will choose to take harder classes, and the students who don’t like it will try to take easier classes?

    There’s no doubt that the mean scores for teacher quality in math and science are way lower than in philosophy or psychology. I find math & science easier, but I’m not a typical student.

  7. What if a bunch of the classes’ timings overlap? Worth going to a potentially good one you didn’t get into at the risk of losing your spot in another one due to absences?

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