Spring courses were recently released on the university registrar, which means it’s time for many of us to start considering some difficult decisions. Choosing the course arrangement that best fits your priorities/schedule is crucial to ensure that you have a fulfilling spring semester.
Over the past four semesters, I’ve used many tips passed on by wise upperclassmen to help choose my own courses. Here are some of the best ones, followed by some resources that are helpful for choosing classes!
Things to Consider:
- Does the professor fit your learning style?: This is the most important thing when navigating the course selection process, and I’m going to use this as the basis for the rest of my advice in this post. Does the professor tend to transfer information through lectures, or in discussion groups? Does the professor cold-call students in class? How available has the professor made himself/herself to students outside of class in the past? Is he/she clear about work expectations and tasks? Take classes with a professor who suits you to get the most out of your schedule. This is not a rigid rule, as we all have certain time constraints and requirements to fulfill. Regardless, if you choose a topical class with a professor who doesn’t seem to suit your learning style, make sure to think carefully about whether acquiring the skills that class is important for your research, and evaluate how you feel in the class carefully during shopping period.
2. Time management: Make sure you give yourself enough time to really learn. You might be able to survive a 6 course semester, but you will not be able to take advantage of your teachers. Schedule your course load so that you have some free time to not only finish assignments, but go a step further– think of good questions, drop in on office hours, and built important relationships with teachers and peers. This is the only real way to make lasting connections with faculty, which are fulfilling in their own right but also crucial for independent work.
3. Spread of classes: As Bennett wrote in an earlier post, it’s often great to take classes outside your major or degree. Look for interesting classes in departments that you might not have thought of exploring before you came to Princeton!
4. The boring stuff: Distribution requirements, departmentals, etc are important, of course. But I’ve found that by organically growing a course schedule using the above three criteria, you’ll satisfy most requirements without trying too hard. Try not to take a distribution course just for the sake of checking off a category. Instead, find a great topic and professor.
And, as promised, here are the resources:
- My first stop is always www.easypce.com, which allows students to access the comment section of student course evaluations by searching for class name or professor. As always, take evaluations with a grain of salt- they might very well be written by disgruntled students unhappy (or overjoyed) at the class experience for reasons other than the professor. However, I’ve generally found them to be accurate and helpful.
2. Course registrar “evaluations” tab: There is no way to get reviews by professor using this method, as evaluation records are specific to the various incarnations of classes across time. However, I stress that it is worth it to sift through evaluations from different classes in a department to find some for other class that a professor you are thinking about might have taught!
3. Other students! In this category, I include your old/current RCA and PAA and any other students you are able to get in touch with. Always talk to students who have taken a class you are interested in, or those who have taken other classes with a professor you are interested in. Trying to fulfill an EM/EC requirement? Talk to a philosophy major about their favorite professors/classes in their department. Students majoring in the department of your prospective courses are a great resource. Graduate students can also often give helpful personal and detailed accounts of the availability and teaching quality of certain professors in their departments.
4. Other University faculty: This category includes your academic adviser, any professors you feel comfortable with, and your Director of Studies. Ask about courses in their area of specialty that they would recommend, or ask about courses they have heard good things about.
The research you do on course selection will pay off in a meaningful way when spring semester arrives! We are students, first and foremost, and there is no question that we should spend ample time making sure that our class choices are maximizing our potentials during our limited time at Princeton.
-Vidushi Sharma, Humanities Correspondent