What should you look for when picking classes?

Choosing your classes for the next semester, or your first, can be both an exciting and daunting task. Whether you’re just coming into the program, or you’ve been there for a few semesters already, a lot of thought and planning should go into your class schedule. Below, we go into the three most important things we think you should consider doing before finalizing your schedule.

Check your requirement

When it comes to picking classes for the next semester, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. How do you know which classes are right for you? Well, one of the first things you should take into consideration are the requirements of your degree. Do you need to have a certain number of course hours outside of your field? Do you need to take a language? What about thesis hours, if you are going that route? All of these requirements are there to guide you. They are by no means telling you which specific classes to take, but they are there to help you out and keep you on the right track. Some requirements may be specific. For example, you need to take an introductory course such as Historic Methods as an incoming graduate student or a seminar as an exiting undergraduate. Before you pick classes, just be sure to go over the requirements of your degree and don’t be afraid to reach out to advisors if you have any questions—they are there to help you. It may seem like your requirements list is very long but remember that some classes can cover multiple requirements at once. At the end of the day, choose classes that you are interested in but that also satisfy your requirements. 

How to choose what’s best for you

In graduate school one of the most important, and nerve wracking, parts of the semester is when it comes time to pick new classes for the next semester. Picking the right courses is obviously very important in graduate school. While taking three graduate courses a semester over two years may seem, and in the moment feel, like a lot of it goes by quickly, so you need to make sure you are capitalizing on your time and resources. Making sure you take courses that are directly tied to your major or area of focus is key to helping you succeed. My first semester in grad school, one of the courses I wanted, US 1865-1920, was on a day that made it so I was unable to take it, so I had to take another course in its place. When the semester began, on my second day of classes, I learned that it had changed dates there was one spot open. I sat in on the class and signed up for the next day. While there was nothing wrong with the first class, US 1865-1920 fit directly into my area of study, and the professor would go on to become one of my comps advisors. Making sure to target the subjects and professors that focus on what interests you is the goal of taking courses, so make sure to never give up on the right ones.

Talking to your professors and advisor about classes

Figuring out what interests you and what requirements you have are the first steps to picking the right class, but the last is definitely to talk to your advisor. Go to them with the list of courses you think you want, and—in my experience—the list will serve as a starting point to a longer conversation. Your advisor is there to mediate your interests, what you think would suit you the best, and your academic progress, what will actually make you a better scholar. When I wanted to take a Victorian Literature course instead of my MA Capstone, my advisor said I could do what I wanted but the capstone would serve me well. That course ended up creating the project that I now want to be my dissertation. Most semesters, the discussions and results weren’t as extreme, but always talk to your advisor before the add/drop period ends.

On that note, if the course list is sparse that semester because all the professors in your field of study decided to take the semester off (which has actually happened to all of us on this blog at one point or another), then just go to your advisor, shrug your shoulders, and start the discussion from nothing. Most likely they will tell you to email the professors of some classes that may be somewhat connected to what you want to do and see if a project tangential to what you want to do is possible. This upcoming semester, I will be taking an Ottoman modernity course, which seemingly relates to almost nothing I do, I emailed the professor, and the majority of the course is about theoretical methods using the Ottoman Empire as a case study. My advisor pointed me in that direction, but it’s a good idea to introduce yourself in a short email or in person to a professor you are considering taking a course with regardless. Sometimes things may fit better than expected, and other times the course that sounds right up your alley is actually not the best fit. The best thing to do at all times, is to begin by asking.

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