How to choose courses like a pro
With Summer and Fall 2023 around the corner, academic advisor Cory Fairfield unlocks the secret to creating a successful road map for the upcoming semesters.
It’s that time of year. You're ending one semester (finals coming up!) — and getting ready for the next semester.
That means you’re probably scrambling to figure out which required courses you have left to take and which electives (maybe ones you’ve been hunting for a few semesters) are now available.
It’s time to dig in your heels and finish the semester strong, but it’s also time to reflect on what your goals for the summer and fall semesters are. FIU News spoke with Cory Fairfield '16, M.A. '17, who is assistant director of academic advising services at the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts (CARTA), to get the scoop on how you can take a few minutes today to smooth your start into the summer and fall.
What are some tips for students as they plan for the next semester(s)? What kind of classes should they be looking for?
Students should be looking to fulfill their majors’ required courses. You don’t want to get stuck taking an extra semester later on because you didn’t plan ahead and missed an opportunity to take a course you needed to graduate on time.
Students can take a look at some resources offered by the academic departments to help them narrow down their course choices. For example, students may opt to look through their academic catalogs or MyMajorMaps to determine how to sequence their courses. This is a great first start. Students should then take their plan and run it by an academic advisor who may know about future changes in scheduling or availability, like a spring course being permanently moved to the summer.
If you want to take courses that are really interesting and fascinating and you have free elective room, look for courses outside your major that pique your interest. I did that when I was a student at FIU, and it was great. It gives you a new perspective on what you’re learning. Another option you can explore is to do a study abroad or exchange program. Some majors have study abroad programs that complement a students' major. Check with your advisor to see if this might be an option for you. Learn more through the Office of Education Abroad and the National Student Exchange program.
You can also get an internship. Internships are critical for us at CARTA. For example, we encourage our architecture students to get an internship before they graduate, and of those that do, many land a job before walking across the graduation stage. You should be looking for opportunities that develop you as a person, things that help you grow and make you more marketable.
"Each semester is an opportunity for students to balance their lives better and align themselves with their goals."
— Cory Fairfield, academic advisor at CARTA
How can students set themselves up for success during the upcoming semester?
You should ask yourself, “How did this semester go?” Did you get the grades you wanted to? Were you overwhelmed? Were you able to sleep eight hours every night? Are there logical courses to take in the summer or fall that can build off of the knowledge you received in the spring?
Each semester is an opportunity for students to balance their lives better and align themselves with their goals. As such, students shouldn't just randomly enroll in whatever is being offered. Take a look at how you did this semester, and plan for the next semester accordingly. Maybe you took too many courses or took on too many responsibilities outside of academics, and overwhelmed yourself. Maybe things happened in your life, like getting a new job or having a baby, and you want to make adjustments for how you’ll handle next semester.
Another thing is, sometimes students look at each semester as an isolated event. But they shouldn’t. If you take an introductory course in the fall, but then wait two semesters to take the next course in the sequence (i.e. College Algebra and Pre-Calculus Algebra or Survey of Art History I and Survey of Art History II), by the time you take the second course, you forgot the fundamentals from the intro course. If you just got the foundations in your mind, then keep going. Try to build off the things you’ve developed this semester.
You should also be meeting at least once per semester with your academic advisor. This is very important. Your advisor can share information you didn't know about courses or requirements and can help you think through your academic and career goals.
Are there any other steps students can take to prepare for enrollment?
Course capacity is an issue that many students face each semester when trying to register for the appropriate courses so that they can graduate on time. For students in their freshman year, they may not be as picky as to what they take. However, students closer to graduation must determine the necessary courses to graduate early on and secure a seat rather than waiting until the day that their registration opens.
Students should search for course offerings early on and add them to their cart so that they can enroll first thing in the morning when they wake up (or on their assigned time) on registration day.
If a required course for graduation is full, students may also check for a wait-list option or reach out to the instructor on a case-by-case basis.
Do you have any advice for how students can finish the current semester strong?
At this point, we are more than halfway done with the semester, and students likely have a good idea as to how they are going to do in their courses. Study habits have been established and schedules have been created. This makes for an excellent opportunity for students to start searching for opportunities to get involved around campus.
Organizations such as Homecoming, Student Government Association and the Student Programming Council offer plenty of opportunities to engage with our FIU community. Research has shown that students involved with clubs/organizations and activities outside of their academics actually perform better in classes and are more invested in their education than those who are not.
This is an excellent opportunity to end the semester on a fun note. Then, when the next semesters start, you can already start off involved with something.
What is the one thing you wish students knew as they continue their journey?
GPA is really important, especially for honors societies and internships, but grades are not everything. There are some students that could have a B- in a course, and they want to drop it because it will ruin their 4.0 GPA. That is a big mistake.
The truth is, once you graduate and apply for a job, very rarely are people looking at your transcript and saying you’re not getting a job because you got a B or C in a course. In some fields, interviewers might ask how you did on certain courses, but at the end of the day, you’re going to graduate and you’re most likely going to get the job whether you got a B or a C in a couple of classes. I want students to know that they don’t need to get caught up in the grades so much that they’re not learning nor enjoying the experience.
My biggest mission is: Are students learning and happy while they are here? We don’t want students to burn out.
If you’re going to dedicate time and money to earn a degree, you really want to enjoy it. College should be the best experience of your life. You have to find ways to have fun. Enjoy the experience. Enjoy learning.
This story is part of a series featuring expert tips directly from academic advisors addressing topics relevant to students and their success. In the series, advisors share valuable insight and students pick up bite-sized information to help them throughout their journey.
"College should be the best experience of your life. Enjoy the experience. Enjoy learning."
— Cory Fairfield, academic advisor at CARTA