How to Build the Perfect Class Schedule

Dear little sis, 

Happy registration time! If you are looking for tips to help you through the registration process, check out my previous post: 10 Things You Need to Know to Survive College Registration. This post is less about the technicalities of registration and more about building a schedule that works for you. When I entered college, I was so excited to finally have the freedom to create my own schedule. I was able to pick classes at times that worked for me, and I could choose classes I wanted…for the most part. 

This newfound freedom was also extremely overwhelming. I was asking myself all kinds of crazy questions like; What if I hate my schedule? Will I be able to get up for an 8am three days a week? Is a 3:00pm lab too late? The list goes on and on, friends. The thing is, there is no perfect schedule. You are going to have to make compromises, and ultimately no matter what schedule you end up with, it’s doable! 

The key is to not overwhelm yourself. I want to share with you some of the things I like to keep in mind when making my own schedule. Of course, everyone is different, but college is an adjustment and what used to work might not anymore. I think it is so important to just keep an open mind and don’t go into anything thinking it’ll be any less than great. 

What are your optimal working hours?

The most important thing to consider when creating a schedule is optimal work hours. I have always been a morning person. Once the clock hits about 7pm I’m done for the day. My brain just shuts off and is ready for some relaxing time in bed. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, but it was important to build my schedule around this known fact. I wanted to make sure I was done with my classes by 3pm most days to ensure I had plenty of time for homework before my slump. This meant I did have to include a few 8am classes, but I also didn’t do that to myself every single day. 

Just take a minute to think about the most productive times of your day. If you wake up in the morning and can’t function at all, you’re probably not going to get anything out of sitting in class. Classes are necessary to pass exams, so it’s important to show up 100%. I recommend trying to schedule classes that fall right in that sweet spot. 

On that note, don’t panic if you get stuck with a lab from 3-6:30pm when you hate late classes. It happened to me freshman year, but it was okay. I promise you will make it through. The class was only once a week and I promise it is possible to push through that one day. 

How many classes are too many?

Determining how many credit hours to take is always tricky. To be honest, I didn’t even really understand what the workload to credit hour ratio really meant. If we’re getting technical here, credit hours are supposed to be equivalent to the amount of time you spend in class per week. So, if you are taking a 3 credit class, that is equivalent to approximately 3 hours of class a week. Now, don’t bank on that. Most of my classes followed that theory, but many did not. 

It’s important to keep in mind most classes will require at least an extra hour worth of work outside of class per day. In addition to that, many labs will only be 1 credit, but they take up 3 hours of your day. Science classes are the ones to be wary of. If you’re in a major that requires little science then you will probably be safe with 16-18 credit hours. Those of you who are STEM majors, I highly recommend sticking to 15 credit hours for the first semester. That just helps ease into things and gives you a feel for how much work is associated with credits. 

I took 15 credits my first semester of college and 18 my second semester. Even though I took more credits my second semester, I actually had less work and felt less overwhelmed. I think much of that had to do with what I call the adjustment period. There are a lot of other things going on that first semester of college, and it’s hard to put your full attention on courses. That being said, starting out, the less credits you have the better off you’ll be.

Don't compare credit hours to workload

I feel like there is a lot of pressure from people around me to take a ton of credits, or sign up for as many classes as possible. My first semester I would tell people I was taking 15 credit hours and they would say things like, “I wish! I’m taking 18.” The thing is, credit hours means nothing in comparison to the kind of work you have. Some classes are a lot harder than others, and it’s okay to take less credit hours so you have time in your schedule to study.

 The key to being successful in college is not overdoing it. College is a time to enjoy yourself and not just be caught up in work and finding opportunities for your resume. Build experiences for yourself. I can tell you some of the best advice I have been given is to write my own narrative. College isn’t just about classes, it’s about creating your story. Make sure you have room in your schedule for experiences. 

Leave room for lunch!

There are lots of classes that fall back-to-back typically with only 15 minutes in between. I fell into this trap once and didn’t leave myself any time for lunch. Ladies! You have to eat! When you’re sitting in that lab and it’s 2:30pm you will regret your decision! Even giving yourself a 30 minute window is enough to grab something quick. I know it can be so tempting to not have to push a class to a later time. I’ve been there, and I’m telling you it’s not fun! So, plan accordingly and leave some room to fill that belly. 

How long does it take to walk to class?

This seems self explanatory, but it’s often forgotten. I live on a campus where I can get anywhere in about 15 minutes. That might not be the case for every campus. When planning your schedule just keep in mind walking time. If one class is in building A and another across campus in building Z it might not be smart to schedule those 15 minutes apart. Also, rain, snow, and extreme heat will slow you down so don’t even think about cutting it close! 

Do you want study breaks in between class?

I don’t do well with large gaps in between my classes. If I have an hour break, I will sometimes use it for laundry, but I typically find myself watching Netflix instead. Therefore, I don’t like to leave big gaps in my schedule. I actually prefer to set up my day similarly to a typical high school schedule. If you’re someone who just can’t focus through multiple classes in a few hours, then include larger gaps for studying. 

I also enjoy studying in quite hours of the day, usually after dinner, but if you like to go out in the evening it might be smart to have built in study time in your schedule. 

Leave room for social activities

Keep in mind most events on campus happen from the hours of 7pm-10pm. I try to not schedule classes for myself later than 6pm so I have time to eat and get ready for any event I may want to go to. These include club meetings. Clubs will usually meet on weeknights and having night classes can really interfere with that and limit your choices for involvement. Now, sometimes clubs will meet as early as 5:30pm, but typically you’re in the clear if all classes end by 6pm. 

This is something I didn’t think to leave room for in my schedule, but when I did it gave me the freedom to join whatever organization I wanted. 

I have Friday classes! What now?

A lot of college students will tell you they don’t have Friday classes. The sad truth is that’s actually fairly hard to achieve. Most classes are MWF so if you’re looking to avoid those Friday classes, good luck. Don’t worry yourself over this though. I typically had a lighter day on Friday than most other days of the week. Having classes on Friday really isn’t as bad as some people make it seem. 

By Friday, I had accomplished mostly everything for the week, so once I finished class I was able to relax and hangout with friends. I was able to go out on Friday’s, study, and still have multiple classes. I say all of that so you know having a class on Friday won’t kill you. 

How will this affect going home for breaks?

Yet another think I overlooked. Most college breaks begin on Friday as soon as you are done with classes. It’s important to consider how your schedule will affect travel time. A couple of my friends who live far away found it difficult to get flights if they had a class that ended at 3pm. This meant they sometimes couldn’t leave until Saturday morning. 

I had about a 2.5 hour drive, so if I wanted to make the most out of my break early Friday classes were the best. Just consider how your schedule might affect how much time you get at home. 

What if my original plan doesn't work out?

Do not panic! I rarely get the original schedule I planned for. At first, I always get upset and think my year won’t be the same without that perfect schedule. The thing is, I always end up being just fine. I promise no matter what happens, you will get through it. I even had a few night classes, and it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Don’t be afraid to try new things if you have to. Know that everyone is different and your perfect schedule will look different from mine. 

Plans are simply that, plans. They aren’t set in stone and they can be tossed aside in minutes. Just know, God will make sure you are in the right place at the right time FOR YOU. The best advice I can give is to pray over your schedule. Pray that God will place you exactly where you need to be, and be open to His plan because I promise it is 1000 times better than yours. 

With love,

ashley ardele

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