Choosing classes may seem overwhelming — especially when it’s your first time. Students have hundreds of options to choose from — ranging from massive, auditorium-filling lectures to smaller, more interactive seminars. Some of those classes are easy to get into, while others take both planning and a good deal of luck.
Here are six things for new students to keep in mind when registering for courses:
How do I know what classes to take?
1. Keep your options open.
Some students enter college with a clear idea of their intended major, but many are unsure about what they’re hoping to study — and even those students who arrive on campus with a major already picked out often end up changing their mind over the next four years. Don’t think you need to fill up your first semester with all the introductory courses you need for your major; look up classes on topics you may have thought were interesting but never considered seriously studying.
2. Keep your graduation requirements in mind.
At the same time, you want to make sure you’re laying a solid foundation for the rest of your academic career. Many freshmen opt to take the mandatory writing seminar in their first or second semester, both getting a graduation requirement out of the way and learning skills that may prove useful in their other classes. Each of Penn’s undergraduate schools also has its own set of graduation and general education requirements; visit their websites for their specific requirements and lists of courses that fulfill them.
3. Check the reviews for classes and professors.
The student-run website Penn Course Review compiles end-of-course evaluations to rate courses on course quality, instructor quality and difficulty, as well as more specific areas like value of readings or instructor accessibility. If you’re trying to decide whether or not you want to take a course, take a look at its ratings on Penn Course Review — even for intro STEM courses that generally get low rankings across the board, the site can tell you what instructors to aim for or avoid.
How do you get the schedule you want?
1. Use PennInTouch.
Course requests are only evaluated at the end of the advance registration period; you don’t need to worry that a late decision will ruin your chances of getting into a class.
Until then, the mock schedules you can build on the website can help you see how different classes will fit together. Experiment with different combinations to see what classes give you both the content and schedule you want for your first semester.
2. Prioritize classes that are hard to get into.
This seems pretty intuitive: List smaller classes and seminars higher up in your requests. Courses that are larger but highly-rated may also be difficult to get into. Listing your top few choices as alternates for each other can help ensure that you get into at least some of the classes that you request.
Many lecture classes also require an accompanying recitation: a smaller, teaching assistant-led class where students may discuss the lecture or take quizzes. Recitations, though smaller, aren’t necessarily harder to get into; most classes offer several different sections, so if multiple sections fit into your schedule, consider prioritizing other classes above recitation sections.
3. Don’t get too stressed if you don’t get into a class.
Courses often fluctuate as people finalize their schedules; once someone drops a closed class, it becomes open for registration again for a brief period of time. The website Penn Course Notify lets students sign up to be notified when specific classes open; keep in mind that you cannot register for more classes than your credit limit permits, so you may need to drop another course in order to register for one that has just opened up.
Alternatively, this is where having multiple mock schedules can come in handy: Even if you didn’t get into one class you wanted, there might be others that work just as well with your plans and interests.
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