One of the biggest challenges upon entering university or college is the task of creating your own schedule. The courses you choose—and the way they are scheduled—can have a huge impact on your academic success and your mental health. Whether this is your first time building your own schedule, or you’ve been doing it for years, here are our tips for developing a plan that won’t leave stressed and exhausted:
Do your research
In order to graduate, you need to understand the requirements of your program. Are there courses you absolutely need to take? Do they need to be taken in a particular sequence? Are these courses only offered once per year? Knowing the answers to these questions is essential. Start with the courses you absolutely need to take and then build from there.
Get up early
Ugh, the worst. But on registration day, make sure to set your alarm and be ready at a computer with a secure internet connection. Also, practice calming breaths: these registration systems are notorious for crashing or freezing or just causing general distress. Keep a cool head and carry on.
The best advice I ever received about registering was to over-register and shop around. In other words, register for as many courses as the system will allow and then, once classes start, attend each class to make an educated decision about which to keep and which to drop. Also, don’t despair if a class is full at the start of term: attend anyways, speak to the professor, and wait. In most cases, a spot will open up or the professor will squeeze you in.
Focus on balance
This is a big one. Don’t just look for inspiring or interesting professors. Try to find a balanced workload. Do all of your classes have midterms the same week? How many papers would you have to write? Do they all require a massive amount of reading per week? This might not be the right mix for your academic success or your mental health. Plot the assignments out in your calendar to ensure that you’re picking a balanced mix.
Know your needs
Do you prefer to study at the school library or at home? Are you a commuter who travels a long way to school? Do you need breaks to recharge? Your personal needs can and should be reflected in your schedule. If you commute a far distance to campus, you may want to pile all of our classes into two or three long, packed days. If you like to study at school, you might spread the classes out, so that you can force yourself to spend some productive hours at the library.
Don’t forget logistics
Universities come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t discount the distance between buildings. Most universities build in 10 minutes of travel time between classes; classes either end 10 minutes before the hour, or start 10 minutes after the hour. However, on many campuses, 10 minutes is simply not enough time to travel between certain buildings. Take the time to look up how far (and how steep – I’m looking at you, McGill!) the distance is between two buildings and adjust your schedule accordingly.
Elissa Gurman completed her PhD in English at the University of Toronto. She has taught undergraduate, graduate, and college students at the University of Toronto and Sheridan College.
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