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Posts tagged ‘scheduling’

Carpe Diem When Building Your Perfect Schedule

Checking scheduleMapping out your college schedule is always a tug-of-war between short-term and long-term gain. You don’t want a schedule that’s too hard or too easy (because that just means you’re putting off the hard schedule for later). You need to keep in mind the delicate balance between core requirements, credits for your major, and electives. Even if you map everything out in advance, your best laid plans could go awry when the classes you were eyeing all get scheduled at the same time.

When I was an undergrad, I developed a strategy early and held fast to it for the remainder of my four years: Try as many things as possible, avoid commitment as long as possible. First, I didn’t declare my major until the last possible minute. This was for two reasons: (1) I wanted as much time as possible to try everything first. (2) At my school, if you entered declared, there were certain freshman year required intro classes. Declare later and you could skip those, leaving more time for more interesting material.

The other piece of my long-term strategy was knocking out core requirements as quickly as possible, trading a comparatively tedious first year for more freedom down the road. It mostly worked out well, especially since I decided to go for a double major by the end of my sophomore year, so I needed all the room I could get credits for two majors before the end of the four years.

While the plan worked to a point, I made a big mistake by not leaving myself any wiggle room to do things on a whim. This screwed me out of a number of courses that needed to be taken sequentially. Since I’d eaten up my first two years with checking off the essentials, I didn’t have leave myself much time to work up to some of the higher level courses in my majors.

The second mistake was more tragic. My Medieval Lit course was run by a Prof. Wilson. Easily one of the best instructors I’ve ever had. He spoke seven languages (half of them dead ones). He could recite the first 100 verses of Beowulf from memory. In Old English. He was the sort of professor who could go off on tangents and loop them back around to the main topic. He could bring current events into a discussion of Pilgrim’s Progress and make it feel organic. He was passionate about what he did and you could feel it every time his class met. (For your mental picture, he might have been played by Richard Attenborough.)

When Prof. Wilson announced he’d be teaching a course called Heroic Literature, I couldn’t believe I could get credits for something so tailor-made to my interest. It would be a cross-cultural examination of the idea of literary heroes. It was a course of his own design, so no one else in the department was really qualified to teach it.

But I had my strategy, so I held off, opting to take it next time it came around so I could take care of more boring stuff first.

Near the end of the semester, Prof. Wilson was nowhere to be found. A few other professors in the department took over his classes for the remaining weeks. Eventually, word leaked: Prof. Wilson had a particularly aggressive form of cancer. He was diagnosed in November and passed away shortly after the New Year.

I wish I’d taken more classes with the guy. I wish I’d thrown my plans out and just gone with my gut. But I didn’t.

That’s my advice to anyone mapping out plans for the future. Not just for college, but for anything in life. If there’s something you truly want, go for it. Never put off the things you’re most passionate about. You never know if the only day is today.

How Not to Design Your College Schedule

There’s an art to designing the perfect college schedule. It’s a delicate balance between leaving time for your responsibilities while leaving ample time for a total lack of responsibility. It’s a way of spacing things out enough that you don’t overburden yourself, but keeping it tightly clustered enough that you can have long stretches of no work at all. Your perfect schedule is a set of fingerprints, totally unique to you. That being said, there’s a handful of horrible mistakes I made (or at least observed) when mapping out that elusive perfect schedule, so here’s a handful of caveats of things that might sound like a good idea, but really, really aren’t.

Don’t cluster your classes together (too much). Here’s something that at first seems like a bad idea, then seems like a counter-intuitive great idea. Stick with your first instinct. Some people will try to cram all of their classes into as few blocks as possible, but that’s just a one-way ticket to exhaustion. The more you cluster classes, the less downtime you’ll have to process information after the class ends.

Avoid classes at dinner time. My freshman year I took a number of 6:30 pm classes. Big mistake. While the idea of “Hey, I get to sleep in as late as I want” sounds pretty great at first, double check which hours you’re sacrificing in order to sleep more. Which hours would you rather have to yourself? 8-10 am — where everyone is either in class or still asleep — or 6:30 to 8 — when everyone’s either eating or socializing? You’ll just end up having a bunch of early-bird dinners by yourself.

If you must take a late night class, make sure it’s not art history. I took one night-time art history class and it was AWFUL. Why? Because once the class starts, the lights go off and the slide projector comes on. An hour and a half later they come back on, jarring half the class awake again. I wish I’d saved some of my notes from that class, since there was always a very clearly identifiable point where my notes stopped being recognizable as words.

8 a.m. classes aren’t as bad as they seem. (They’re worse.) I’m sure there are some very disciplined people out there who can handle these, but the average college student should stay far, far away. The problem isn’t waking up early. The problem is that college life leads to a lot of unexpected late nights, whether you’re partying or paper-writing. It’s better not to have that rub up against your classes. You woke up ridiculously early in the morning for high school. Once you start working, you’ll most likely start the day at 9 am.  Cherish the years when you can start your day at 10 or 11 am.

Don’t take Fridays off. One of the Holy Grails of college scheduling is the permanent three-day weekend. But it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s too tough to be social on a Friday by yourself, since most of your friends will still be in class. It’s even tougher to be productive, since, no matter how you try to trick your brain, it’s still Friday. A better approach? Take Monday off. It’s trickier to pull off, but if you do, you’ll feel like you added an extra day to the week. The weekend raps up, every one gets back to work, but you still have a day to yourself to sleep in late and prep for the rest of week.


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