By Donovan Makus
Everyone’s favourite time of the year is almost here. No, not the time between your last final and Christmas or Reading Week, even if those times are cherished. It’s time to start thinking about registering for courses in the 2020-2021 academic year.
If the prospect of choosing courses, building a timetable, and finalizing another year of your academic journey fills you with existential dread, you’re not alone. I remember registering for first year courses and being quite confused, uncertain, and more than a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. Should I take Calculus? (The answer should have been no.) Is having a 6:00-9:00 evening class on Thursday, and a 8:00 seminar on Friday, a good idea? (Also no.) Since that fateful registration time, I’ve grown to enjoy the experience, and being free for the first time in 4 years of the process, I felt it would be good to share what has worked for me and what I wouldn’t do again.
I’m not a registration advisor and can’t offer comprehensive, individualized, advice. With that in mind, there are some general tips that anyone can follow (if you don’t use these strategies already) from someone who has experience course planning and registering. I do not claim to be a professional! If you have a different approach that works, that’s great as well.
The first part of any planning process is to have the end goal in sight. If your end goal is graduating with your degree, then you should familiarize yourself with the requirements to do so. The way to do this is to request your program progress report through your OnlineServices login. You can choose any year since you’ve begun attending to generate your report, with the more recent calendars having less restrictive requirements as far as religious studies courses and other options are concerned. While this report is useful for seeing the courses you’ve completed or are currently registered in, and how they can help you complete your degree, it doesn’t tell you the order in which to take your courses, which is where the next resource enters the scene.
Almost hidden on the Concordia website are “program planners” for all the degrees and minors offered here. While the program planner requirements are the same as the progress report (assuming you select the same year for both) the program planner also includes a recommended degree progression. This is very useful, but you don’t need to follow it exactly. In some cases, this may even be impossible as the program planner wasn’t written to include the fact that some courses of some majors are only offered every 2 years. Even if your course registration follows your program planner exactly, you should still look at the course descriptions for the courses you need to take to ensure that you’ll have the right prerequisites before you need to take the course. How you space out your major, core, and minor requirements will depend heavily on when courses are offered, your major and minor, and your overall scheduling flexibility. My general advice is to try to complete your specific course requirements, such as PSY 211, earlier into your degree, leaving your later years for more general requirements. If you do this, you give yourself greater flexibility in these later years, making it less likely that you’ll end up in a situation where you have a course conflict or other issue that forces you to take another year. At the same time, make sure to mix and match the type of courses you’re taking. Unless you live and breathe a particular subject, it may become quite exhausting to take only biology, psychology or whatever your major’s courses are, exclusively.
Once you understand which courses you need to take relative to where you are in your post-secondary journey, you can start the process of planning your degree progression. Here, it’s important to understand the major types of courses you can take, and their relative importance.The first category contains your major’s requirements. For a psych major these would include Psych 104 & 105 and other senior Psych courses. For a biology major, BES 107 & 108 and other senior Biology courses. No matter your major, these are the most important courses to complete, as your program planner will reference these as specific courses that must be taken. Within this category, just to make matters more confusing, you have two types of courses: the big group, which consists of courses in your department you need to take, biology courses for a biology major, psychology courses for a psych major; the smaller group, which consists of other courses in other departments, such as chemistry courses for a biology major. The next category consists of your core courses, listed as “in addition” requirements in your program progress report. These courses are also important, but not quite as important as your major’s requirements, as there is more flexibility in choosing these courses. After all, “you must take PSY 104” is more restrictive than “6 credits of Social Sciences.” Everyone in your degree program, be it a Bachelor of Arts, or Bachelor of Science, has the same core requirements. The third major category of courses you can take are your minor requirements, if you are required to have one. Your minor consists of a minimum of 6 courses, which you may choose, so you have more flexibility here. You could even choose a minor that overlaps some of the requirements of your major, so long as these are courses found in the smaller group of courses mentioned above. The final category is the elective group, where you can take any course that fits your timetable and you have the prerequisites to take. Together, these 4 categories; your major courses, core courses, minor courses, and electives, constitute the 4 types of courses you need to bear in mind when developing your course selection.
When registering, you should prioritize your major and core courses, but beyond that, you also have additional registration rules to bear in mind, which are included as small notes in your progress report. It would be tedious to list them all, so I’ll focus on the most important, starting with the junior credit limit. For everyone (except math majors) you can only take 48 credits (16 courses) in first year (1XX) classes. What this means, in practice, is that you need to be careful not to take too many first year classes early in your degree, so that if you decide to go a new direction, be it a new major, minor, or entirely new degree, you didn’t pay for first year classes that won’t count towards your graduation credits needed. You can still take more than 16 first year courses, but the credits for these courses won’t count and won’t help you reach the 120 credits you need to graduate from a 4-year degree, or 90 from a 3-year degree.
Once you know the major types of courses and have prioritized your timetable, starting with the courses you identified as major, core, then minor requirements for your current year of study, you can start building a timetable. Depending on your major, you may find that there is only one section of each course offered, making building your timetable straightforward. If not, and even for those with relatively set schedules, you will likely need to add courses to reach the 3, 4, or 5 courses you plan on taking each semester in order to graduate on your proposed timeline. I’ve always prioritized my major courses, then my core, followed by minor courses, and filled out the rest of my schedule with electives. This is also a good time to consider external requirements (other than the program planner) that you need to meet. You may have prerequisites, minimum course load requirements, and even year over year progression requirements (taking mostly 2nd year courses in 2nd year, or taking mostly 3rd year courses in 3rd year) that you need to consider. Finally, to add another complexity, some departments may rotate the courses offered each year, so that a single course is only offered every two years. Unfortunately, some of these courses may be degree requirements, requiring you to plan two years at a time for some Biology and Environmental Science majors to ensure that you can take the course when it’s offered, by having the required prerequisite courses.
The exact arrangement of your timetable is a matter of personal choice. If you prefer early mornings you can, within the limits of your major’s degree progression, create a schedule that takes advantage of this. Likewise, you could try to start at 10:00 or later each day. My one piece of advice here is to remember we’re all humans, and that a schedule that looks beautifully compacted in the timetable may turn into a 14 week slog when put into practice. If you have no choice, go for it, but if you can, try not to schedule evening classes and labs the night before an 8:00 start; these kinds of schedules quickly become horrible as the school year progresses.
With that in mind, my method for course registering was to use a spreadsheet, configured with rows for each time slot (8:00 and 9:00, etc…) and columns for each day of the week. The benefit of using the spreadsheet is that it’s easier to read than a piece of paper that has had courses added, scribbled out, and added again. To make my schedule, I would first place my major requirement courses in the spreadsheet, filling up those time slots. Next I would add my core and minor requirements, entering all available time slots for both. With this step completed, I would eliminate any courses that conflicted, leaving me with anywhere from 2-5 major, core, or minor requirements in my schedule. From here, it was a matter of deciding which schedule worked best with work and my personal preference, and filling in any remaining convenient time slots with interesting elective courses.
Now, after making your spreadsheet, you may encounter a problem. Two required courses may be offered at the same time, or overlap only slightly. Perhaps you are missing a prerequisite for a course with 4 prerequisites, or some other registration issue. In these cases, you can try and push off the problem for a year, or, if you want to graduate that year, or for some other reason need that issue fixed, you can appeal to your dean to take two courses at the same time, with a valid reason for doing this. Having taken two courses that conflicted for 1.5 hours a week, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this option, but if you have supportive classmates to take notes, plus understanding instructors, you can make it work. If you want help with this kind of an issue, be it a course conflict request, or an appeal to your Dean or department chair, your students’ association councillors are there to help you, and as experienced advocates, will gladly complain about this issue for you.
While registration may be a lengthy process, as demonstrated by this article, the ability to directly control your post-secondary journey is an enormous privilege and will definitely improve your planning skills. I’m not an expert, and any advice offered here should be taken as possible courses of action rather than the wisdom of an Oracle; the registration advisors may be able to offer better advice. However, it’s useful to understand how other people work through this process. Hopefully, with time, you’ll learn to appreciate the joy of building a timetable that is truly a work of art, or spend a semester complaining about why your degree requirement is only offered at 8:00 every semester. No matter which year you’re in, course registration time means a new year with new opportunities to learn. Hopefully you are also able to schedule a break once in awhile!