New Student Registration: Planning Your Freshman Course Load

new student registrationHigh school students rarely spend intense amounts of time thinking about course planning. They might be able to choose an elective here or there, and they might be able to provide input on specific classes they might want to take, but administrators take full responsibility for ensuring that these students graduate. As long as students go to school and pass their courses, they’ll emerge with a diploma.

Everything changes in college. Here, students have a remarkable amount of freedom to dictate what sorts of classes they’ll take, and how many different classes they’ll sign up for during a given year. This kind of freedom can be intoxicating, particularly for students who have never experienced anything like this in the past.

But with this freedom comes a great deal of responsibility. Specifically, students in college must ensure that they take all of the required classes in order to obtain their degrees, and they must do so within a specific time frame, or else they’ll see their schooling costs skyrocket.

Students who plan ahead tend to emerge from college just a little earlier, and they spend less on schooling as a result. This kind of planning should begin during the freshman year of college, and here’s how to make it happen.

Freshman Advice

While all students should meet with an advisor before choosing courses, there are some classes that are reasonable for all first-term students to consider. Typically, these courses begin with the words:

  • Introduction
  • Overview

  • Appreciation
  • General

These are courses that are designed to help students grasp the basic concepts involved with a particular field of study. These also tend to be the courses students must complete as part of their core requirements for school. Loading up on these types of classes can help students to stay on course to graduate, while helping them to adjust to life as a student.

In addition to basic, core classes, students should pick and choose a few classes that seem interesting or novel. Core classes can sometimes be a little less than inspiring, and a day filled with boring work could tempt students to goof off or leave school altogether. Studies suggest that about half of all college enrollees drop out, so it’s vital for students to do whatever they need to in order to stay motivated and enrolled. Picking a fun class here and there could help.

Students who didn’t feel challenged in high school might find hard, advanced classes intriguing, and for them, these classes might even seem fun. However, it’s not always a good idea for students new to college to experiment with classes that are challenging or difficult. After all, college classes are already much more challenging than the courses a student might take in high school. For example, the Chicago Tribune profiled a student who took advanced courses in high school, who had a freshman GPA of only 2.7. Even advanced students need time to adjust, and they shouldn’t push the difficulty level too far as a result.

If classes get too difficult, students can tap into a variety of resources for assistance, including tutors, writing laboratories and study groups. But students who choose wisely may not find that they need this assistance, as they’re not choosing classes that could be considered too difficult or too overwhelming.

Course Load

course loadWhile students have a great deal of data to parse concerning what classes to take, they also need to determine just how many classes they should take at one time. It’s a difficult decision, and there are a number of different factors to consider.

Some schools provide students with the option of taking a specific number of classes at one set fee each term or semester. It might make financial sense to take as many classes as possible, bumping right up against that limit, as it allows students to take advantage of their tuition and keep their overall college bill low. But experts suggest that students new to college life should keep their course loads relatively light. CollegeBoard, for example, recommends that students take only four to six classes each semester.

A light schedule isn’t necessarily an easy one, as most college courses require students to complete a number of activities outside of class, including:

  • Pulling together speeches and presentations
  • Writing papers

  • Studying the reading materials
  • Preparing for tests

While a student might only spend a few hours a week in the classroom, all of these activities can take up a huge amount of time when the student isn’t in class. In fact, these sorts of tasks could consume much of a student’s waking hours.

Even so, students also have other responsibilities to attend to. They have to sleep, eat and do laundry, for example, and they might have jobs to participate in. Some students have family members to care for, or pets that need attention. Students might also have volunteer activities that consume a bit of time. It’s also important for students to pay attention to their social lives, so they’ll stay connected and happy as they study.

In time, most college students develop a system that allows them to juggle all of the various demands that are placed on their time. But college freshman may have a little experimenting to do before they find the right mix of social, personal and academic activities. Keeping the course load light allows for that kind of testing.

Other Steps

In addition to planning coursework and pulling together a comprehensive checklist for school, students need to determine how they’ll pay for the courses they plan to take. We can help. At SimpleTuition, we’ve compiled a number of resources that can help students. You can browse our “Scholarship Center” to find out more about free forms of money that can help you to pay for school, or you can look through our “Find a Student Loan” page to see details about private loans that can help you to cover your bills. We also have a number of articles about how student education financing works. Please browse our site to find out more.


The Scholarship Center

Top Student Loan Pages

What are your financial aid options?