For those of us who aren’t graduating, or have only one semester to go, it’s not unlikely that right around now you’re worrying about the semester to come. In my experience, sometimes this is super straightforward, and sometimes it’s a matter of running around like a chicken with your head cut off trying to scramble together something coherent.

I’m guessing a lot of this blog’s demographic is in the later situation.

I’m going to be a bit more straightforwardly giving advice this time around, in the form of something of an algorithm for planning a semester. Mix, match, and modify parts to suit your needs. For me at least and my executive dysfunction, having a flowchart like this is a useful part of not stressing out about the semester ahead.

Step 0: The Nitty Gritty

Make sure you know the actual, literal procedure of things you need to do to make your class choices official. You may need to get a sheet of paper to someone by a particular due date, you might need to do things on a school website, etc etc. If you have any questions or confusion, find a guidance counsellor, advisor, or even an instructor and ask them for help. If you think you may forget to ask, go write them an e-mail super quick. Even if it’s 3am or something.

Also make sure you know your degree requirements. Again, if you don’t know what these are or how to find them, ask. These are critically important! If you don’t fulfill your degree requirements, you don’t get to graduate until you do! If you’re in college and undeclared, try to just focus on general requirements for now.

If you’re new to this, make sure you understand what prerequisites and corequisites are. Prerequisites are things you have to do before you’re eligible to take a course, and corequisites are things you have to be doing while taking a particular course to be eligible for it. In most cases, these are courses in and of themselves. For example, you might have to take pre-algebra before you can take algebra, or you may have to take calculus and advanced physics at the same time.

Step 1: Learn What You Need and Can Take

Take a look at your degree requirements and organize them in some way that makes sense to you. You’ll probably want to set aside anything you’ve already taken or that you’re currently taking, and it would be wise to mark courses that have prerequisites you haven’t fulfilled yet. If there’s a requirement that can be fulfilled by a lot of courses, instead of writing down all of the potential courses, it might be best just to make a placeholder for the requirement. Depending on your school, there may also be classes that are only offered in certain semesters.

Essentially, create some sort of visual representation of all of the courses that will be useful towards your degree and that you can take in the next semester. It can be as simple as a list, or something more ornate like a flowchart or tree diagram. Just do whatever makes the most sense for you and feels easiest.

For the sake of an example, I’ll use a bulleted list for this. (I’ve made this degree plan up completely from scratch by the way. Any resemblance to real degree plans is purely coincidental.)

  • English 101 – Intro to Literature
    • Need for English 102 and above
  • Compsci 200 – Python II
    • Need for AP Compsci
  • Elective Requirement Placeholder
  • Social Studies Requirement (Can be Sociology 101 or History 300)

This doesn’t have to be detailed, but it should be fairly complete within reason

Step 2: Narrowing It Down

Now that you have a good idea of what courses you can take, it’s time to focus on what classes you should go for. When choosing between classes, there’s a lot you might have to keep in mind. Two classes you want may be offered at the same time, a course may be taught by an instructor you dislike, etc. While I’m certainly not your mother, I believe it’s always wisest to focus on classes that are prerequisites to other classes you need as soon as you can.

This is also a good time to work on picking out electives and choosing between options. If you have a choice between two courses and one of them seems better than the other, always do what you can to pick the better one.

If you’re overwhelmed, it might be a good idea to make a more detailed version of Step 1’s representation. For instance, writing in all of the details of a course you’re interested in that matter to you.

To continue with the example above, here’s a more detailed representation of my fictional English 101 class:

  • English 101
    • Need for English 102 and above
    • Teacher is Mrs. Lalonde, who I already know I like
    • Writing heavy course
    • Is on the 3rd floor
    • Offered during 3rd, 5th, and 9th period next semester

You can be even more detailed than this if you like; whatever details matter to you about a class, no matter how inane, can go on this list. If you don’t know some of the information that matters to you, ask around to see if you can find someone who does. From there, you should have a decent pool of data from which to make some final decisions.


Step 3: Dealing with Murphy’s Law

In many cases, it is inevitable that something will go wrong. A class may fill up, a clerical error may occur, et cetera. When this happens, remember to take a few minutes for perspective. In many cases, fixing these problems is just a matter of talking to the right person and letting them know the problem exists. In a full class this may be the instructor, in high school this will probably be the counsellor, etc.

Sometimes these people can’t help you. (And worse, sometimes they won’t help you; it’s unlikely, but school staff are people too, you know?) If the problem is such that it may prevent you from meeting your academic goals, raise it further, such as to the department chair, the principal, the dean, etc – you do not deserve to have your education sabotaged because of something like this. If it doesn’t and it still meets your requirements… you may or may not be out of luck.


Extra Credit: Plan Ahead

In many cases, we don’t really know what the future holds for us academically. But if you take some of the data from Step 1 and use it to plan ahead, you’ll probably save yourself some headaches in the future, especially if there are a lot of courses that have prerequisites.

Whatever your journey to next semester looks like, take care and good luck!

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