College students can avoid dropping courses and failing courses by making the right decisions when they register.  There are a number of factors to consider.

The College Board offers advice for scheduling college classes, but there are considerations to take into account based on the type of course.

Note: At this point, I have not found any reference material that I would recommend, at least not any books on this topic.

General Education Courses

General education courses, also known as gen eds, are required for most associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees. Colleges identify explicit criteria, though usually those criteria refer to categories of courses. For example, many American colleges require two semester of English, usually composition courses. Many colleges also require a speech course. Larger colleges and universities specify classifications of courses but offer options to their students. Four of the most common classifications from which students must choose courses are Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities, and Mathematics.

Students should consider a number of factors when choosing their gen eds. Some of these considerations are:

  • Prerequisites – Many courses, particularly math and science courses, have prerequisites.  Sometimes, the prerequisites are courses that do not count toward a degree.  For example, if a student has not otherwise met the requirements to take a 100-level math course through ACT, SAT or placement exam, he/she may be required to take a developmental course, which used to be known as a remedial course.
  • Co-requisites – These are courses that must be taken during the same term or during a previous term.
  • Likes and Dislikes – Students should choose courses that interest them.  Sometimes few if any courses in the required classification seem of interest.  In these situations, students should review the course description, talk students who have taken the course, search for information about the course online, or contact the instructor for information.  Students who are motivated do much better in courses, and motivation hinges on a student’s likes and dislikes.
  • Course Delivery – Many popular college course are offered in traditional classroom settings and via distance education.  While the temptation may be to take an online section of a dreaded math courses, the reality is that a math-phobic student should never take an online course.
  • Instructor – The worst thing a student can do is to choose an instructor whose students label as an easy grader.  Conversely, instructors labeled as fair and demanding are usually good choices.

Courses Required for a Degree

Most degrees have required core courses, sometimes identified as major program requirements.  Students must take these courses.  Considerations when registering include the following:

  • Prerequisites and/or Co-requisites – These requirements should be identified early in one’s studies.  Failure to do so can delay graduation.
  • Likes and Dislikes – If the core courses do not excite you or at least interest you, it is time to rethink your educational goals.  Most likely, you are pursuing the wrong degree.


Electives should be the fun courses, the ones a student can’t wait to take. The best advice for students is to go with your gut. There may be implications based on career aspirations or graduate school requirements. Seldom do these negate what you are most motivated to study. Regardless, that motivation will make your junior and senior years much more enjoyable.

© 2011 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

August 21, 2011


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