College Compass | Do’s and Don’ts of taking an 18-credit semester

College Compass is a bi-weekly blog that aims to help students navigate the highs and lows of college life.


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Students study in Hillman Library.

If you’re thinking of taking an 18-credit semester — don’t.

A course load this heavy isn’t bold, brave or logical in any circumstances. In fact, it’s highly irrational and rarely worth it because it overbooks your schedule and workload.

In pursuit of my plan to graduate a semester early, I decided to take my first 18-credit semester this year. I’ve found myself scrambling around campus at all hours of the day and all the days of the week. My social life has been on a steady decline — and my grades are not far behind.

In fact, my 18-credit semester has consumed my life so much that it has become part of daily discussion with anyone and everyone. My course load now serves as an explanation for every mishap that I’m confronted with. It’s my immediate justification for every ignored text, every neglected commitment, my frequent state of irritability and my numerous lapses in memory.

I’m sure this excuse has started to sound redundant, but for those of you in the same boat, I’m sure you find yourself using the same one.

Aside from the unpleasant and constant elevated stress levels, an 18-credit semester can also pose a high risk for other potential setbacks. Your grades can easily plummet and your mental health can take a dive as well. If so, this isn’t necessarily your fault, it’s just a natural consequence of imposing extraneous work and time restrictions on yourself.

While I don’t have extensive experience with a course load this heavy, the last seven weeks have given me some indication of the general dos and don’ts of an 18-credit semester.

But, in the occasion that you find an 18-credit course load absolutely imperative to the advancement of your college career, there’s a few dos and don’ts that you should make note of:

DO develop a system — the sooner, the better. When you begin your first 18-credit semester, you’ll probably find yourself all over the place for the first few weeks. The chaos may never fully dissipate, but having an organized system in place may help alleviate some of that stress. Establishing a routine becomes not only helpful, but crucial to develop some kind of consistency in your life. This year, I found that keeping 20 pages of syllabi was useless and ineffective in helping me keep track of my work load. So, I decided to make a massive document that listed out every day of the semester along with the class preparation and assignments from each class that went with each day. I also wrote down any meetings, events and additional obligations. While this may seem over-the-top — and it was — it helped me feel organized and allowed me to have one place to find all my assignments.

DON’T let yourself slip through the cracks. There will definitely be an adjustment period when you shift to this lifestyle — and if you miss a deadline or flunk a quiz one day, it’s not the end of the world. But if you feel yourself struggling to keep up with a class, don’t just give up or force yourself to figure it out on your own. I highly recommend staying in regular communication with professors — whether it be through email or in person at their office hours. Even if you know you only failed the quiz because you had five other assignments due that day, you need to make sure your professors know that you’re not just slacking because you’re lazy or don’t take their classes seriously. It’s important to stay on your professors’ radars, even if it’s just to check in and see where you stand in the class. Since your schedule is already restrictive, you want to avoid waiting until finals season to fight for your grade because you simply won’t have the time, and at that point it may be too late.

DO give yourself off days — the more, the merrier. This is absolutely imperative to both your sanity and your class performance. It’s important to give yourself a break to de-stress and catch up on school work. When I made my schedule I knew that, in addition to 18-credits, I would need to have some kind of job during the school year. So, I packed my Tuesdays and Thursdays with the bulk of my classes leaving Wednesday with one evening class, and the rest of the week I gave myself off. Yes, my Tuesdays and Thursdays are tremendously hectic — but I have a four-day-weekend every weekend and my Wednesdays are fairly empty. This not only allows me to have a literal break every week, but also warrants me uninterrupted days that I can solely dedicate to class preparation and assignments. Not everyone needs to stack up their schedule two days a week, but maybe setting aside weekday afternoons or mornings may be just as effective.

DON’T take 18 credits during a semester that you know you’ll be busy with other extracurriculars or a part-time job. If I had known I would need to take 18 credits, I would have never chosen to do so the fall of my junior year. After spending my entire summer abroad, and now preparing for studying abroad in the spring, getting a job is a priority in my life at the moment. Plus, as a third-year student, my classes have become fairly challenging as I near the end of my college career. My decision to take 18 credits this semester was objectively a poor decision — learn from my foolishness and don’t test it out for yourself. If you have a choice on when to take 18 credits, don’t take them during a semester that you plan on rushing a fraternity or sorority, getting an internship or working a consistent job. You’ll either sacrifice your academics, underperform in your job or internship, drive yourself insane or all of the above.

DO prioritze your academic success. If you sign up for this course load, you’ll need to prepare for the possibility that you may need to cut down on other aspects of your life to keep up the same grades. You may have to stay in some Friday nights and you may need to call out of work and actually mean it when you say you have an exam the next day. If you’re going to take 18 credits, it’s imperative that you do so without sacrificing your GPA. A dense schedule will feel time-consuming and mentally exhausting on its own — but your work outside the classroom is just as important. It’s crucial that in your time off, you’re staying on top of assignments and due dates.

DON’T sacrifice your health. If you feel that you are overworking yourself to the point where your mental health is at risk — stop. Don’t overcommit or overextend yourself, and don’t prioritize others in a time where you need to focus on your personal achievement. People may not understand your schedule, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t feel the need to constantly justify yourself with the “I’m taking an 18-credit semester” excuse because you may handle your course load differently than others. Though many people do take 18 credits in a semester, it is your individual experience and no one else’s. An 18-credit semester may be worth losing some sleep over — but it’s not worth losing your sanity. Pay attention to warning signs that you’re doing too much and stop yourself short before it worsens. If you’re not taking care of your physical and mental health, you’ll find yourself in an unpleasant position and most likely will be unable to sustain the lifestyle anyways. One subpar semester won’t destroy future opportunities, and it’s better that you don’t lose yourself in the process of trying to prove this.