When students begin college, they're often intimidated by the rarified atmosphere of intellectual life, so their colleges walk them through course enrollment and see to it that they enroll in a variety of courses designed to give them a good start on academic life. After the first semester, however, students begin to make more informed and independent course choices, which may be based on requirements, practicalities, and personal bent.

Overview

When students begin college, they're often intimidated by the rarified atmosphere of intellectual life, so their colleges walk them through course enrollment and see to it that they enroll in a variety of courses designed to give them a good start on academic life. After the first semester, however, students begin to make more informed and independent course choices, which may be based on requirements, practicalities, and personal bent.

Is it Hard or Easy?

Many freshmen and sometimes sophomores and upper classmen often try to schedule courses that they have heard are easy. This may be a symptom of laziness, but it may also be fear. Sometimes taking a course that seems easy is a practical concern: When a student enrolls in challenging courses, she may offset the workload by enrolling in one "easy" course so that she can still carry a full-time credit load for financial aid purposes and allow enough time and intellectual space for more challenging courses. In fact, College Board, a student advisement organization, recommends this approach.

Who's the Professor?

It's not unusual for students to try to get into a course because of the reputation of the professor teaching it. This may be because a professor is perceived as easy, or because the professor is an outstanding scholar in her field or because the professor is regarded as a fine teacher.

It's a College Requirement

Nearly all colleges and universities have general education requirements, which cover a variety of disciplines within the humanities, mathematics, the natural sciences and social sciences. Students can choose from among lists of approved courses, but must take at least one course or more courses in each discipline. The idea is to give students academic breadth, as well as depth, so that when they graduate they will have a fuller sense of the world and how it works.

It's a Major Requirement

All students must fulfill their major requirements, and every major has a list of required courses and a list of major other courses from which students may choose, as long as they complete a required number of major credits before graduation. Some schools also require that a student choose a specialization within the major. For example, a student majoring in business may have to choose a specialization in management or finance, so a given student will also have to choose courses that fulfill his specialization.

Graduate or Professional School Preparation

Students who plan to attend graduate school, law school or medical school often enroll in courses that they believe will help them either on an entrance exam, such as the Law School Admissions Test, or that will give them a head start once they are working toward a graduate degree. These courses may include logic, philosophy, research methodologies, advanced writing and others.

Schedule and Course Availability

Once in a while a student has to choose a course because it fits his schedule and it's available. This happens when a student's schedule is tightly constrained by major requirements. For example, some courses are available only once every two years. It also can happen when a course that a student wanted to take is filled and the student is thus "closed out" and must make a last-minute choice that fits into a schedule of other courses.

Personal Interest

At some point, many students try to fit in a course or two based purely on personal interest. While their majors may reflect their primary interest, most people are interested in more than one intellectual pursuit, so a biology major who has a passion for movies might take a film course.