14 tips for selecting classes at Brandeis

Students offer their advice

Professor Amber Spry teaching in a classroomPhoto/Mike Lovett

Professor Amber Spry teaching a course

Registering for classes at Brandeis involves several considerations — particularly for first-year students. Luckily, Undergraduate Department Representatives (UDRs) are a great resource for the newest Brandeisians as they select their first courses and step into the Brandeis Core.

Here are 14 tips for selecting classes at Brandeis narrated by four UDRs: Emma Ghalili ’22 (Health: Science, Society and Policy), Luca Swinford ’22 (Education Studies) and Liz Gong ’22 (Biology), Mello Wilsted ’22 (Art History).

Don’t freak out if you don’t know your major yet

Emma: I’d recommend first-years to generally take classes you want and don’t worry about your major. You don’t need to declare your major during your first year at Brandeis, so take time to explore and figure out what you want to do. Take classes that interest you, not necessarily those that count toward a major or a requirement.

Also, if you’re interested in a particular area, stick with intro-level courses to start. Introductory courses survey several aspects of a particular field, so if you like it you can go into more detailed courses later. All departments at Brandeis are like that.

Take sites like RateMyProfessor with a grain of salt

Emma: How many conflicting reviews do you see on RateMyProfessor for the same instructor? Don’t allow sites like that to dictate what you take at Brandeis. Course and professor choices can be a really personal thing. I know you’re in your class group chat and will be hearing different things while you’re on campus, but it’s up to you to explore different options, especially during your first year. 

Taking four classes is a good start

Luca: Try to take four classes to start. One of the central tenets of Brandeisians is to do a lot — I’ve had some first-years tell me they want to take six classes to start. I totally get the impulse to want to accomplish a lot, but I’d recommend taking it slow at the beginning.

Liz: Taking four classes is an ideal start in my opinion (somewhere around 16-18 credits), and if you decide this is really too easy, or if you want to challenge yourself, consider adding another class next semester. But it's also really important to leave time for other things outside of academics that you may want to pursue. There are many extracurriculars that you may want to be involved in, and an additional class could take away from that.

Get out of your comfort zone

Luca: If you have that inkling that you want to take a class, DO IT, even if it’s out of your comfort zone or you’re worried that it might be overwhelming or too challenging. Part of experiencing college is confronting challenges. Enjoy the challenge, because it can be really rewarding.

Research what classes are new each semester

Liz: Always look to see if there are new course offerings for that specific semester. There will be a lot of classes that could be interesting to you from that list. Obviously you can’t take them all, but you can prioritize ones that really appeal to you.

Mix and match lectures, seminars, labs and studio classes

Emma: As a bio major, you have to take several prerequisites — usually lecture courses and smaller discussion sessions and a lab. So it turns into a lot of talking at you. I try to mix up my schedule because of this. 

It’s a conscious choice I make to take smaller courses with a lot of discussion if I know I’m going to be in a big lecture. It’s a good break in my schedule. Breaking up the day with discussion-based courses where every student can voice their opinion is a good change.

Luca: Larger classes and smaller classes serve different skills. Smaller classes favor oral articulation and recitation, while larger classes emphasize learning how to study. You need to learn both sets of skills.

Don’t worry about knocking all your requirements out at once

Emma: Many of the classes you take as part of your declared major or minor will also satisfy your requirements. You’re also not going to be at risk of not completing your requirements by taking just four classes in your first semester.

Mello: It’d be really boring to only focus on your requirements at the start. If you’re taking courses just to fulfill requirements, you won’t be happy. Take courses you’re interested in.

Craft a well-balanced schedule

Emma: Try to space classes out so you get mental breaks in between. Having three classes back-to-back on the same day can be challenging, so I’d recommend going for two back-to-back classes at most if you can help it.

Luca: I’d be cautious about giving yourself an off-day if your schedule allows you to have a day without classes. It’s important to be mindful and not just use your off-day as a time to sleep all day. Try to use part of that day for clubs and extracurriculars, meeting friends around campus, or reviewing material.

Take advantage of the pass/fail option

Emma: You can opt to pass/fail a course! While there are some rules around pass/fail you’ll want to look into, courses that are pass/fail do not affect your GPA. If you’re worried about taking classes that are out of your comfort zone, you can still get the course experience with minimal risk, since GPA tends to be a huge thing for some students.

Luca: Let yourself drop a class. I came into Brandeis wanting to be a psychology major, and that ended up not being the right fit for me. That’s OK. I didn’t know psychology wasn’t right for me until I started exploring, and one thing that helped me with that was being able to drop a class.

Look at the course offerings for each department or program

Liz: Look at the list of courses you need to take to complete a major. It can help you visualize your roadmap of classes over four years if you already feel like you know what you want to study. But don’t let this tip limit you, either. You have the freedom to explore different things in college, so try not to be too focused on completing the major at once. Things can change, and that’s OK.

Use the shopping period strategically

Mello: There’s no shame in dropping a class during the shopping period. Go to the first couple and see if it’s for you. You don’t have to stick with everything you register for permanently.

Seek out guidance from professors, UDRs, Roosevelt Fellows and Academic Services

Luca: If you have questions or need help, reach out to your network. That’s your UDRs and your professors. For me, I didn’t even know HSSP was a major here until I spoke to my academic advisor, and now I love it. 

Mello: Don't be afraid to ask for help. A lot of students ask me things like ‘how do I find this out?’ or ‘who do I talk to?’ and I think the best thing you can do is talk to professors. For a lot of classes, I’ve reached out to professors beforehand and they’ve given me a good sense of what to expect.

Find a University Writing Seminar (UWS) that appeals to you

Luca: This is your “learning how to write in college” class, and there are several options. It’s a lot of reading, and you’ll be writing papers based on what’s in the reading, so you want to be interested in the topic. 

Remember that college classes are different than high school classes

Emma: Try to remember that college is not like high school. In high school, you take eight classes a day with one lunch period. If you took eight classes in college, it would be nowhere near the same thing. I find that one hour of lecture at Brandeis takes two to three hours of extra time by yourself to make sure you got the material.

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