As the fall semester approaches, students across campus are hastily making their final tweaks and last minute changes to get their schedules to be perfect — or as close to perfect as possible.
The process of choosing classes usually starts with research. Students sift through course descriptions online, looking for appealing classes that fulfil their academic requirements. This research is generally supplemented by an advising meeting.
Nora Smith, a rising sophomore planning to apply to Pitt’s School of Education, finds it easier to pick classes now that she decided to major in developmental psychology.
Smith originally planned to be a general psychology major, but after taking a few classes focusing on specific avenues of psychology, she realized she wanted to go the developmental route.
“I started out getting most of my Gen Ed requirements out of the way, and I actually enjoyed those classes — a lot of those overlapped with major requirements for developmental psych so that definitely helped me make up my mind,” Smith said.
The semantics of Gen Eds, or general education requirements, are daunting, and figuring out what kinds of foreign culture and natural science courses actually fulfill a requirement can be more than frustrating for students who are just starting.
But in many cases — like Smith’s — getting prerequisite courses out of the way while they are still figuring out what degree they would like to pursue is extremely valuable for getting ahead in their academics, as well as figuring out potential majors and minors.
Although Smith has settled on developmental psych as her major, she found her extracurriculars exposed her to an abundance of options.
“After joining the Campus Women’s Organization, I seriously considered a major, or at least a minor, in gender and women’s studies,” Smith said. “I am also really into poetry and the people [in Campus Women’s Organization] showed me that I could pursue a degree in that, or even English writing.”
Smith said that her specific academic goals influence the specifics of her schedule. For example, she prefers to schedule early classes so she has time for lab work in the afternoons. This semester, she will also take less credits to allow time for research.
Students like Nora, whose primary responsibility is completing their degree, have a lot of leniency in how they go about scheduling. When opportunities such as research and other academic resources — like study abroad — present themselves, it is easy for these students to incorporate them into their schedules without falling too far behind.
For other kinds of students on campus, the freedom to take the classes they want anytime they want is not as easy. For example, student athletes abide by a lifestyle that contains two major factors that heavily influence class selection — travel and practice.
Ashley Paquet, a rising sophomore majoring in administration of justice with a concentration in cyber crime, is on the Pitt women’s soccer team. As an athlete, perfecting her academic schedule comes second to her athletic schedule.
“The times of classes are always extremely important,” Paquet said. “If the times for classes are at the same times as practices or games, we cannot take those classes.”
Paquet’s teammate and fellow sophomore Kate McEachern is also an administration of justice major, but is taking up a second major in psychology and a minor in sociology.
McEachern echoes her teammate’s struggle in scheduling but brings up another struggle for student athletes who are scheduling — the matter of which professors are teaching which classes.
“The professor is pretty important … it can be frustrating when you miss class for traveling,” McEachern said, adding that some professors are more accommodating for athletes missing classes.
For all students, their experience in the classes they choose are extremely dependent on those at the front of the room. Professors are the ones who create the classroom environment, and when it comes to learning, they must be effective.
Student athletes like Paquet and McEachern seek professors who understand their lifestyle and explain concepts clearly. Often, their teammates help to identify those professors.
For other students, knowing which instructors to schedule early for and which ones to avoid comes down to word of mouth and the website most visited by scheduling students — ratemyprofessor.com.
With online sites, however, the reviews tend to evaluate quality in terms of personal opinions. These kinds of resources provide a guideline, not a guarantee of the experience in that class.
“I used Rate My Professor, but I found that whatever the rating of a professor … I always felt the opposite,” Smith said. “I think that those ratings are too personal and usually say more about the student that had the professor than the professor themselves.”
When choosing which classes to take, it is also important to know what role an advisor — be it an advisor for undeclared or declared students — plays in creating a schedule. Advisors advise — what a student does is up to them.
“Last year, I had a general Arts and Sciences advisor and I found that they could not help me much with things that had to do with developmental psychology,” Smith said. “They were extremely helpful with things like organizing Gen Eds and study abroad, but I had to do most of my own research on how to approach my major.”
The main job of an advisor is to sort out the technicalities of students’ time here at Pitt, and most importantly, they make sure students are on track to get their degree. Students themselves define who they will become and what they want to study.
For most students, this is a relief. Going to college can be a challenge for some, as the safety nets of high school are gone. But most students find that the amount of freedom they have both socially and in their academics is a welcome change.
“It is empowering being able to pick my classes myself,” Smith said. “I really enjoy it.”