Understanding Your College Student’s Class Schedule
College is different from high school in many ways. Both students and parents expect there to be differences, but they may be unsure of exactly what those differences are.
One of the major academic differences between students’ high school lives and their college lives has to do with the student’s schedule of classes. Students will spend less time in class. Typically, high school students spend approximately six hours a day in class – that’s approximately 30 hours per week. College students may spend between twelve and fifteen hours per week in class. Because college students spend so much less time in class, they are expected to do the bulk of their academic work outside of class. College students who are clear about the difference have a much better chance of academic success in college.
A second major change regarding a college student’s schedule is that the student has much more control, and therefore responsibility for, his own schedule. Students usually plan their schedule in consultation with their academic advisor, but students then may make changes. Unfortunately, some students may make changes that may not be in their best interest in the long run. There are many factors that dictate a “good” college schedule.
Having a conversation with your college student about his schedule may be enlightening to both of you. Ask your student whether he has consulted with his advisor to create his schedule. Ask why he is taking the classes that he has chosen. Ask about the times of classes and the instructors.
A reasonable schedule of college classes is often a delicate balance of many factors. As you and your student think about her academic schedule, consider some of the following.
- Has your college student considered all placement information he has received from the college? Many schools administer inventories or assessments to incoming students to determine the appropriate level of writing or math or another class. Students may be placed in a particular level of a course based on SAT or other standardized scores. Students who register for a course below the appropriate level may find themselves having to do an additional course at the appropriate level later. Students who register for a course above the recommended level may find themselves struggling in the class. If your student questions a placement, he should discuss it with his advisor. He may be allowed to retest, or at least he will understand the reason for the placement.
- Your student’s schedule may contain some courses that meet all-college or general education requirements. Most schools require students to take some courses in several areas to round out their education. This will help your student have a broader view of the world and to see how many different areas influence each other. You may need to help your student understand the reasons for some of her liberal arts requirements.
- Your student’s schedule may contain some skills courses to increase her abilities in areas such as math, writing, speaking or computer skills. There is an obvious advantage to taking these courses early in your student’s college career so that he may use those skills in future classes.
- Your student’s schedule should contain some classes in her major, if she has declared one, or in an area thats he is considering. Taking one or two courses in the major early in her college career will help your student to confirm that this is the correct field for her. Encourage her to explore early rather than wait until completing all of her general education requirements. Having a course or two in the major will help her to stay focused and motivated. If, perhaps, she realizes that this may not be the appropriate field for her, she will have time to explore a new area.
- Your student will need to pay attention to pre-requisite courses. Many upper level courses require that students have taken particular introductory courses first. Occasionally, there may be more than one pre-requisite. Students should look ahead to see what they may be interested in taking next semester or next year and be sure that they are making progress toward that course.
- Hopefully, your student will have at least one course occasionally that simply feeds an interest or love of a subject. Most students have at least a little room in their academic career for general elective courses. These are courses that do not fulfill any particular requirement, but still add credits toward graduation. Students often discover a new interest or passion through these seemingly random exploration courses. So if your student’s schedule contains an art, music, creative writing, drama, or other unusual class, don’t discourage her from exploring.
- Not all courses are offered every semester. Your student may need to consult with her advisor or department chairperson to make sure that a particular course will be available when she needs it. If a course is only offered once per year, or even every other year, careful planning may be required.
In addition to considering the types of classes on your student’s schedule, there are many other factors that need to be balanced.
- Your student will want to listen carefully to his advisor’s recommendation about the number of credits he should carry. There is usually a minimum number of credits to be considered a full-time student (important for athletic eligibility, housing, and financial aid). There is usually also a maximum number of credits allowed. Some students are anxious to take the minimum to ease their load, or to take the maximum to try to finish early. Both extremes may potentially be dangerous. The academic advisor can help the student determine what is appropriate.
- Your student might consider teaching style as he puts together a schedule – balancing some lecture classes with more interactive or participatory classes.
- Not all classes are equal. Some classes may have a reputation for a great deal of work, while others have a lighter load. A balance of heavier and lighter work load, or academic and skills classes, will help to make a schedule manageable.
- Your student may need a balance of early and later classes, shorter or longer classes, classes that meet once a week, twice a week, or three times a week. Students may be tempted to create a schedule with classes that all meet on the same two days a week, for instance, but soon realize that it is extremely difficult to have all major assignments or tests on the same day.
- Your student may need to consider the locations of classes. Can she comfortably get from one location to the next in time for class?
- Your student may need to work a class schedule around an athletic schedule, drama or music rehearsals, work, or other activities.
Creating an appropriate schedule of college classes is, in many ways, a fine art. Most academic advisors or advising centers are skilled at helping students think through many of these issues. As a parent, you can help your student think about the factors that may influence his schedule – and then you should encourage your student to work with the appropriate person at his college to create or evaluate his schedule.
As well intentioned as we may be, as parents, we may not understand some of the subtleties or requirements influencing scheduling. Encouraging your student to use the college resources available to help him with his planning will be yet one more step toward the independence that we know is the goal for our students.