By Tracey Rector, Alumna of IUPUI
Whether it’s your first year in college or your fourth, picking classes for an upcoming semester can be fun. College provides more choices and flexibility so you can explore courses and subjects you’re interested in. Sure, there are standard classes you have to take, but there are tons of options you’re in control of, too.
Picking classes takes some thought, though, so I decided to get insight from than my adviser, Deb Perkins. Perkins was the director of Student Services at the IU School of Journalism for 27 years and retired from the school in 2011.
Looking into Colleges and Universities
“For students thinking of going to college, I would suggest – first and foremost – that you be on the college track that your school advises,” Perkins said. “However, you should be looking at different colleges and universities that you think you might want to attend and look at their requirements – not only their entry requirements, but requirements for the major you want – and plan your classes toward that.”
Perkins added most colleges prefer students have a few years of a foreign language under their belt, so if you can take a few in high school, you’re on the right track.
“Of course, English comp. and speech are givens; you've got to take them,” Perkins said. “I know most students do not want to take speech, but it is so important.”
Public speaking is very scary and intimidating for many people. In fact, according to All About Counseling, 75 percent of Americans suffer from glossophobia, which is the fear of public speaking. However, as scary as it may seem, taking a speech class in college can teach you effective public speaking skills and relaxation techniques and your professor may even help you learn what your nervous tics are and how to overcome them.
“While most hate it and don't want to do it, it is an integral part of our lives. Every day we make speeches, whether it is with our employer, our spouse, or boyfriend or girlfriend – we are always making speeches,” Perkins said. “We want to make our voice heard. We want to express an opinion, we want a particular job assignment and we want folks to know what we are feeling. We do these things without thinking about it, but we are coming up with pros or cons of what it is we want to convey. By taking a speech class, those skills are sharpened and we can become much better communicators.”
Perkins added it’s important to be yourself in a speech class. Look at the topics you have to speak about and think outside the box.
“If you like to camp, a great demonstration speech is how to put up a tent. If you like to cook, there are many varieties on this from how to bake cookies to crock-pot cooking. Don't be afraid to try something different. Same thing with opinion speeches, there are lots of opinions out there, just be sure you can document what you say. It's one thing to have your own opinion; it's another to have it based in fact. You are much better off if what you say can be documented and based on facts.”
For me, speech was mandatory. While intimidating at first, it was extremely helpful throughout my college years and into my career.
Math and Science
“Let's face it, most girls are not interested in these subjects, for that matter, neither are males that are interested in the liberal arts. But to get ahead in college, you need the basic preparations in these subjects,” Perkins said. “Trust me, you don't want to have to take the remedial classes to get into the required classes. I know from past experience that many students had to take anywhere from four to 12 credit hours of remedial math classes to get to the math class that their major required.”
Perkins says that for some students, those remedial classes are almost a semester of college credits that do not count for anything, not even elective credits. She warns to avoid getting caught in that trap.
For most schools, you will most likely have to choose a minor or second concentration. Perkins recommends to choose something you would like almost as much as your major for your minor. Or perhaps something you can use along with your minor to get you ahead in your career. For instance, I majored in journalism – and knew to make it in this market you must be able to do it all. So I chose new media as my second concentration and learned about design, web design, HTML, etc. It was extremely helpful and while tough, it was great to get that experience.
But does your minor have to relate to your major? Perkins says if what you choose for your minor is something that interests you, it is valid and you can make it work for you.
“Are you most interested in music but not sure how you can make a career of it? Try mixing music with public relations or business administration,” she said. “You can do the same with art or history. Want to be a gamer? How about a computer science or informatics or new media degree paired with a journalism degree?”
The Bottom Line with Choosing Classes
“The bottom line is that you should choose courses that you are interested in that will fulfill school requirements as well as personal requirements,” Perkins said. “If you are in high school and you are qualified, you should take as many advanced placement classes you can in high school.”
If you do take AP classes (or any equivalent, varies in different states), don’t forget to make sure the credit is listed on your transcript so you can receive college credit for those classes.
Perkins says many high schools now offer dual credit programs, where you can take a class in high school but receive college credit.
“My last piece of advice is to make friends with your adviser. It doesn't matter if you are in high school or college, that person can be your best advocate and help you navigate the treacherous water of your educational experience," Perkins said.
I can say firsthand it was amazing to have a relationship with Perkins, my adviser. She knew what my strengths and weaknesses were and helped me plan my semesters so they weren’t too overwhelming. Sure, you can plan your semesters out yourself, but your adviser will know what each class is like and what it would be like for you.
In general, always keep the future in mind when picking classes. Pace yourself. Some semesters will be tougher than others, so if it’s possible to save a few classes you’re interested in for later on in your career for a hard semester, save them! It can make a semester a little easier for you. But don’t be afraid to take those tough classes either. You’ll be surprised what you can do.