My College:

How Many Classes Should They Take?

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Congratulations! Your high school graduate is heading to college this fall. Now it’s time for reality to set in. Here are some tips for success when it comes to course selection.

1. Register for New Student Orientation

It’s very important to register for freshman orientation, which will be your student’s best opportunity to meet with an academic advisor on campus. Depending on the school, orientations are held over the summer or at move-in, and colleges work hard to make them fun as well as informative.

Chances are your student will have a chance to register for first-semester courses during orientation. How do they choose?

2. Have a Graduation Plan

Simple: Begin with the end in mind.

When choosing classes for a first semester, begin with a graduation plan. As in high school, find out which classes are needed to graduate, and which will meet the requirements for graduation in your student’s major. If they are undecided about a major or field of study, make sure the classes chosen can be used in multiple departments.

Most colleges and universities require about 120 credit hours to graduate with a degree. If a student takes five three-credit courses, that’s 15 credit hours per semester and 30 credit hours a year, which translates into a four-year degree. And the college will want them to graduate in four years because the higher the percentage of four-year graduates, the higher the college is rated in a variety of rankings.

3. Understand How Credits Work

What does it mean to take a three-credit or three-hour class? This literally means you get one credit or credit hour for each hour you spend in class each week.

Therefore, a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class that meets for an hour will give three credit hours for the semester. Tuesday-Thursday classes typically meet for 90 minutes to reach three hours. If there’s a lab or a required discussion group, a course may provide four credit hours.

Each hour of credit will also require out-of-class work. Yes, there’s homework in college; in fact, there's much more than in high school. For each hour spent in class, students will study two to three hours outside of class.

4. Take Life Balance into Consideration

Are 15 credit hours, or five courses, right for your student? It's not just a numbers game. Consider the homework load of a course and their extracurriculars, such as athletics and rushing a fraternity or sorority.

If your student is a worker bee and you’re confident in their ability to adapt to college, they could go for 15 credits. If you’re feeling less confident, 12 credits, or four classes, might be a safer choice, with a one-credit gym class for good measure.

If they are entering with Advanced Placement, Dual Credit or CLEP credit, they can safely take 12 hours the first semester. And, remember: They can always make up hours by taking a summer class or two at a local community college (for much lower tuition, too).

5. Maintain Full-Time Student Status

But don’t drop below 12 hours a semester, which is usually the threshold to be considered a full-time student. Scholarships, financial aid and a parent’s ability to cover a child on their insurance may all require them to remain a full-time student.

So, there are a lot of considerations, but your family won’t go it alone. A school academic advisor or a professional can be there to help you, either during orientation, via email or in virtual sessions. The advisor will help your student with course selection for their entire first year, make sure they're getting the required courses, and monitor progress toward graduation.

Shane Cole is a college and scholarships counselor and community development director for My College Planning Team. He has a bachelor's degree in health education from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a master's in counseling from Lewis University. Contact MCPT at 630-470-6880.
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