Personalizing your class schedule


Kaitlyn Jakola, Editor in Chief

First: Take a breath. You’re in college now. Really. You applied, you were accepted and soon you’ll be on your way to a degree from a great university. High school, with its constant pushing, fighting, squabbling over grades and viewing your peers as not friends but competition, is over. You may be competing later, for jobs or graduate school slots, but for now, your education is about you. Write that down.

The complication is that there are a lot more choices to make, from majors and minors to optional discussions and independent studies. It is overwhelming, especially when you’re already getting acclimated to a new campus, friend groups and, possibly, weather. It is not a reason to freak out. But I know it’s hard to resist a meltdown, so I’m here with some advice.

Things to remember:

Don’t take on too much, too early
If you load up on reading-heavy, high-intensity classes right away, you’ll reach burnout sooner than you had ever imagined. You can take a lighter load the next quarter, sure, but once you’ve exhausted yourself it’s hard to bounce back. Low grades early on will mean you start out with a lower GPA, and it’s harder to boost your GPA than it is to let it fall. A difficult, but interesting, class may be worth the effort, but balance it with an elective or something less demanding.

Read (and fill out) CTECs
CTECs (Course and Teacher Evaluation Council) are weird and annoying and somewhat complicated, but they are also useful. They compile student survey responses about course content, workload, lecture quality, teacher attitude and more, and they tell you the distribution of students from NU’s different schools who filled out the surveys each quarter. That’s a lot of information, although some reviews are more reliable than others, and they can help you decide if the child psychology class you want to squeeze into your Wednesday afternoon is worth the work.
Remember, though, that to access CTECs during registration, you have to have filled yours out the previous quarter. You’ll get about a million reminder emails — so many, in fact, that they’re easy to ignore — but if you do them right away, it will save you a headache later on. If you do forget, ask friends for advice on classes they’ve taken and see if they’ll look at CTECs for you. Professors are also surprisingly honest if you ask for advice on potential courses, so if you know someone in the department, they may be able to give you even more information about what a class will include.

Take the classes you want to take
It sounds basic, but the best way to enjoy a class is to be interested in the subject matter. You may have to take physics or biology for your major requirements, but try to couple them with a class you find intriguing, like History of the Holocaust or Reading and Writing Fiction. Electives aren’t a burden, but a chance to develop a side interest — or find a new passion. Even classes with bad CTECs could turn out to be great, so take chances sometimes.

Know your physical limits
With two quarters left at Northwestern, I’ve had class on Fridays maybe four quarters, and only a handful of my classes have ever started before 10 a.m. That may sound lazy, but I know my body and I know that with my extracurricular commitments, I don’t often have the option of going to sleep early. By Friday I really need the break to rest and run errands. I also use Fridays to cook myself real food, a pleasure I don’t often get shuffling back and forth from campus during the week. Point being: You know how much activity you can handle, and you shouldn’t commit yourself to a schedule that will push your body further than its abilities. It’s your choice if you want to sign up for an 8 a.m. sociology lecture all the way across campus when you know you usually don’t wake up until 8:45 a.m.

Think geographically
On a similar note, remember that sidewalks are crowded, everyone hates bicyclists and the shuttles are always on time until you actually have somewhere to be. Ostensibly, the 10 minutes between when your lecture ends in Annenberg and your discussion begins in Parkes are for travel time, but they will probably also end up being your time for a lunch break, mid-morning meeting, phone call to Mom, gossip exchange and/or computer charger retrieval. If you think you can run from Swift to Fisk on top of that, be my guest. But don’t come crying to me when you complete your mad dash to Block for your film class only to realize it’s Tuesday and you’re supposed to be in the basement of Tech for an economics discussion— I’ve got a photography lecture to catch in McTrib in two minutes.

Don’t feel infinite
Finally— and this is going to sound contradictory to everything I’ve already said—remember that your time at NU really is limited. You have 12 quarters, give or take a few for study abroad or multiple majors, and they go quick. Don’t put off big required classes, especially ones you have to take in sequence. Think carefully before passing on a smaller, unusual class, because it might not be offered again before you graduate. The same goes for outstanding professors: The best ones always leave the quarter you finally have room for their courses in your schedule.