A Guide to Selecting College Courses

“Nobody calls them classes here."

A Guide To College Courses | Admissionado

Your high school day goes something like this. You wake up at an ungodly hour, lucky if the sun is even out.

You shiver at the bus stop. First class starts at 7:30am. You barely make it to lunchtime, where you chew on a slice of something that vaguely resembles pizza. Then it’s a slog through a few more hours of class until the final bell rings at 3:30pm. You make your way over to soccer practice, student government, or whatever your extracurricular jam is. You make it home by 7pm for dinner and spend the remaining hours doing homework until you can’t keep your eyes open anymore. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Let me reassure you, my tired friend. College is so much better. Like a bajillion times better in so many ways.

square cafeteria pizza

“Nobody Calls Them Classes Here”

The primary way it’s better? Classes. All you’ve known your whole life is the daily grind of school, where it can feel like you’re trapped in Groundhog Day, unable to distinguish one day from the next. But when you arrive at college, you’ll have three major realizations about classes. Here they are. (Also, let’s start calling them courses because it’s much more sophisticated.)

REALIZATION #1: Take Your Pick!

The first realization you’ll have in college is, “Whoa. I can pick all of my courses. If I don’t want to take something, I don’t have to!” Long gone are the days when you’re forced to take biology even though the smell of formaldehyde makes you gag.

In college, you finally get the chance to pursue your academic passions, which is honestly the greatest feeling in the world. You have four years to be a knowledge sponge, soaking up all the information you can on your selected major.

The best part about a liberal arts education is that you can basically study whatever interests you most and still work in a variety of industries after graduation. You can become an expert in Norse mythology and wind up working in finance. You can major in sociology while interning in the fashion industry, and then still go to law school after college. If it’s a pre-professional education you’re after, like engineering or pre-med, you’ll have the freedom to pursue that as an undergrad, too.

Depending on where you go to college, you may have to take certain required courses called “General Education” or “Core,” but usually you have multiple options within each requisite field. I can honestly say that three of most transformative courses I ever took each fulfilled a requirement, meaning that I would have never taken them unless I had to. Yet, they expanded my mind in ways I never thought possible, and I gained a solid perspective on important topics like human evolution, astrophysics, and global health issues.

Let’s not forget the icing on the cake of college courses: electives! At most schools, you can fit about one elective into your schedule each semester, and these can be anything you want—from Ancient Egypt to Nietzsche to the poetry of Dante, and everything in between. I always encourage students to not only seek out topics for electives that interest them, but also professors who are passionate and engaging, since they can make pretty much anything interesting.

REALIZATION #2: All the Time in the World

The second realization you’ll have is that most courses are only a few hours a week. The average college course only meets for an hour on selected days – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10am, for example. Or Tuesday and Thursday at noon. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll learn less. Instead, the information disseminated during the course meetings becomes infinitely more important.

You’re also expected to do more work on your own. After all, you’re an adult now, so you have to take on more responsibilities. This means doing the required readings, problem sets, and any other assigned homework. (Excuse me. Coursework.)

The decided advantage to a more open-ended schedule is that it leaves so much free space for activities! Extracurricular activities, to be exact. These are an important part of college, since student-run activities are what create vibrant campuses. There are organizations that address the needs of undergrads, like student government. Other clubs focus on preparing you for certain careers or future paths, such as entrepreneurship or pre-law. There are also a plethora of groups that allow students to express and enjoy artistic endeavors, from orchestras to improv comedy troupes to acapella groups.

Just like with academics, the greatest part about activities in college is that you’re free to pursue your passions. Mostly, undergrads don’t participate in a million activities just to pad their résumés, like an overeager high schooler. College students usually pick one or two activities and then devote a solid amount of time to each. If you truly care about journalism, you’ll be excited to spend late nights hammering out content at the school paper. Likewise, if nothing in the world makes you happier than a game of ultimate Frisbee, chances are you’re going to have an amazing time practicing and playing the game with your school’s Ultimate Frisbee Club.

REALIZATION #3: Courses > Classes

The third realization is that there are various formats for courses, which are often more exciting and enriching that your average high school class. The latter is usually run by one teacher instructing a room of anywhere from 5 to 30 students. College courses, however, can be comprised of one or more different formats:

Lectures – These are what you first think of when considering college courses: a professor standing in front of a group of students giving an hour-long presentation. Every professor has a different style, so the lecture format can vary. It might be mostly talk, or the professor may like to engage with students throughout the hour. In recent years thanks to technology, visual aids have become popular—images, PowerPoint presentations, and videos.

Discussion Sections – Oftentimes when a course is on the larger side, meaning that more than 50 students are enrolled and attend lecture, the course will be split into discussion sections (or just “sections” for short) that meet during the week. Sections are usually led by Teaching Aids (TAs) or Teaching Fellows (TFs), likely graduate students who work with the professor. These TA-led sections are smaller gatherings of about 8 to 12 students where you can discuss and ask questions about the information presented in lecture. Sometimes with science or math courses, the entire semester will be based around sections with no lecture at all.

Seminars – These are intimate gatherings of a handful of students and a faculty member, where the idea is to learn through close interaction. Seminars may only meet once per week, but for a few hours each time. They present excellent opportunities to delve deeply into course material and form meaningful relationships with professors and other students. In truly great seminars, there’s a sense of camaraderie that builds within the environment of learning together.

Labs – For science courses, labs represent a crucial time to enhance your knowledge, and the content of labs varies. For a biology course, a lab might mean a time to actually enter a physical laboratory to conduct experiments. For a chemistry course, it could mean the same, or it could be more like a section to work on the week’s problem set. For psychology or sociology, it might be a time to be out in the field doing research. Labs also exist for art courses as well, and they can be called “studios.” This could be your weekly time to work on a piece of visual art, like a painting or sculpture, with the professor present. Or it could mean time spent in a computer lab, digitally editing photographs or video footage.

Class dismissed!

There you go! A thorough description of why college courses are so incredibly awesome. When you think about it, college is an intellectual adventure, and your courses are points along the map of your journey.

Or if you don’t like that metaphor, then think of courses as the meat in the college sandwich. Sure, bread and condiments are nice, but the meat is what fills you up, right?

Whatever metaphor you prefer, I can promise you that courses in college are way better than high school. Just please… don’t call them classes.

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