Choosing First Semester Online College Classes

Apr 23, 2013 | By Jessica Santina


Q. Can you give me some advice for choosing classes in college? What online courses should I take in my first semester?

This is a great question — one I wish more students would ask. I don't think many of my students pay enough careful attention to choosing classes in college, especially for that all-important first semester, which is the foundation for success, or failure, in your college experience. Choosing online courses in college can be even trickier, because you can't just pop in to observe a class or chat with the teacher. You might not even know what you'll major in yet. See: How to Choose an Online College to learn more about choosing the right online education.

My first, and most important, advice is that you need to talk to an academic advisor or counselor prior to registering. Most schools have these professionals on hand. Before you discuss choosing online courses in college, be sure you actually have a choice. At some online colleges, students take only one accelerated course at a time, and if they're in their very first year, there's a sequence of courses they must take, in a particular order, before delving into electives or courses that fulfill their majors.

Your advisor can also talk to you about course rigor or workload, help you contact professors, and make recommendations about what courses might be a good fit.

Next, I personally recommend getting those core requirements out of the way. Now, there are varying schools of thought on this, and some might disagree with me. But the way I see it, you'll have to take them anyway. And that senior who got stuck in my English 101 class was pretty irritated about it. The core classes usually cover the basics of a wide range of subjects. So you'll get a taste of a lot of different disciplines, which is especially useful if you're unsure about your major. Plus, it might expose you to something new. I really like the idea of being pushed and having your beliefs challenged. I mean, isn't that what college is all about?

I also can't recommend enough the importance of taking a basic, comprehensive writing course in that first semester. You'll use your writing and researching skills in all your classes, and effective writing skills are critical in online courses, since you may not often have an opportunity to express yourself orally. It's a great foundation for your college experience.

Things For Students to Consider in their First Semester

Know Exactly How Much Time Your Other Priorities Need

The first semester of online college classes are usually the hardest, as you're figuring out how to manage school, work and family obligations. So don't push too hard until you have a routine that feels comfortable.

Don't Overbook Yourself With Too Many Courses

Consider workload balance. Look at the curriculum for the courses you're considering, and make sure you don't sign up for three courses that all have papers or exams due in the same week.

Research Your Curriculum and Professor

If you can, try to research your professors and their classes. Can you talk to former or current students about their experiences? Can you call the professors and ask a few questions? Also, although there are pitfalls to online review sites such as RateMyProfessors.com or StudentsReview.com, they might be a good way to get a general sense of course content.

Here are a couple other sources I like that deal with this topic:

The College Board's "8 Tips for Choosing College Classes"

U.S. News & World Report's "7 Tips for Selecting College Classes"

Good luck with your decision! I'm happy to answer any questions about your online college experience — just submit them here. Or follow me on Google+ to hear more from me.