Reclaim the Power of Course Selection: Tips for the indecisive

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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How do you choose your classes?


For all those indecisive intellectual magpies out there, this article provides some tips for choosing the elective course that will brighten your day without overburdening your semester.

Try Something New

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it’s sometimes surprisingly hard to follow. If you can overcome the fear of crossing academic lines, you’ll likely find that cross-disciplinary study holds numerous benefits, as it can open your mind to practices that might later impact your area(s) of study. For example, I took a popular course on child development and media in my sophomore year and ended up using one of the theorists from that course in my English senior thesis two years later. You never know what will prove beneficial in the future.

Choose by Professor, not Subject

This was one of my favorite pieces of advice I got when entering college. As counterintuitive as it may sound, sometimes it’s more worthwhile to choose a course by its professor than by its subject matter. Professors can be the difference between months of half-hearted work or a semester of rich exploration. Ask your upperclassmen friends or check sites like before choosing a course with a professor whose teaching style you may not enjoy. You can always get the textbook or read up on the subject later if you are still interested!

Class Size = Class Vibes

It’s fairly self-explanatory, but you can often judge a class by its class size. Larger lectures tend to cover lots of material with less chance for personalized learning, while smaller courses generally review less material more thoroughly with more chance for discussion with peers and professors. Choose the course with the best learning environment for you.

Weigh the Relative Gains

While that class on video game programming might seem cool, if you already have a busy semester, choosing an elective course that entails lots of course work or long hours may not be the best idea for your overall academic and mental health. Even though intellectual curiosity is a great gift, sometimes you need to weigh the relative gains of learning a new skill against the relative costs of coursework and class time, exams, etc. If you are really struggling to keep up after the first couple of weeks, there’s no shame in dropping a course! You can almost always retake it another time when your workload is lighter or during the summer.

Buy Yourself More Time

If you really (really) can’t decide between two courses, sign up for both! It’s far easier to drop a course after the first couple of weeks than it is to pick up an extra course later. You never really know until you step into a classroom whether that course you’ve been panting after all semester will be plain terrific or terrifically plain.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you feel more confident and empowered the next time course selection rolls around! Visit College Quest to discover other useful tips on handling the wonders and woes of college life.


Emma Hodgdon
Tufts University

Emma is a recent grad from Tufts University with a BA in English who loves playing the cello and reading all things Gothic. She spends her free time experimenting with calligraphy, learning to speak Chinese beyond the names of dim sum dishes, and desperately trying not to kill her poor succulents, Verotchka and Geraldine.