So! You’re an incoming freshman, or you’ve just changed your major, or you have just decided that you want to make sure you know when you’re going to graduate. Basically, you wanna know what you’re actually going to be DOING for the next couple years, and want to avoid being in school for three years longer than you need to be. Which is completely fair!

The problem is that I have yet to see a departmental planning sheet for a major that included gen eds. I have never seen a sheet that allowed for retakes or class conflicts. I’ve even seen planning sheets that actively left out classes required to graduate with a major.  SO. If you really want to get out in four years (or insert the number of years you want), then you need to do your own planning.

There are three main steps to this: Gathering, Sorting, and Timing.

Gathering is the process of collecting all the classes you will need to take in order to graduation. My school has a report called the STAR report, which lists all the requirements for your current majors/minors and all gen eds. That’s a good place to start, but it can be confusing. So I’d go and grab all those planning sheets, too – they may not be perfect or complete, but they will give you an idea of what order classes are supposed to be taken in. Gather all these resources, and put them in a spreadsheet!

Now we sort. This is the process of making sure each class happens roughly in order.

See how up there I have three columns? That’s the easiest way to do it. In Excel or Google Sheets, get three columns set up. Label one ‘Classes,’ and write the name of the class – be consistent on how you name classes, so it’s always the name or the department/number, for your own sanity. Label the next ‘Credits,’ and write how many credits each class is worth. Label the third ‘Semester, ‘ and list what semester the planning sheet says each class should be. If you’re really proactive, have a fourth column for the semester you’re going to actually take it, and a fifth for the EARLIEST you can take it and a sixth for the LATEST you can take it.

Go through each planning sheet, by semester, and write in the classes’ information. ALL the classes, from ALL the sheets. If your general education requirements don’t have semesters, just put them in their own group at the bottom. Leave duplicate classes in, for right now, you don’t want to miss something. At the end of each semester, I recommend leaving at least four empty rows before starting on the next semester. Leave your hypothetical fourth column blank for now.

Once you have ALL the classes written down in your sheet, it’s time for the Big Excel Guns. You’re going to copy everything you just wrote, and put it in a new sheet. In this new sheet, you are going to select the first column, the class name one, and sort the entire sheet alphabetically. NOW you know exactly which classes were duplicated across your various planning sheets.

Now go back to your first sheet, and at the bottom of every semester of classes, write “Total credits” in the Class Name column, and this equation in the second: =Sum(C1:C10) Replace the numbers with the row numbers for the that specific semester. Now you know what your various majors are requiring you to do each semester!

Flip back to your second sheet. Check and see which classes had duplicates, and then go back and get rid of the duplicate that was put LATER in your college career. I didn’t do that, and I nearly had to add a semester to my schooling. Next, if you haven’t already, start slotting in your gen eds. If you can, keep all of them to your junior year and earlier – it makes senior year much much nicer.

Now on to Timing! This is sorting out all of the conflicts and making sure you don’t miss anything.

You probably have some semesters with waaaay more credits than you’d like, or are allowed, or are humanly possible. Go online again and see if you can find your school’s course catalog. Starting with your last semester’s classes, figure out which courses have pre-requisites and what they are. Those pre-reqs can’t be moved to the same semester or later in your college career than the class they’re a pre-req for. Write down your findings in the columns you’ve made for them. For example, if you have a class that has a pre-req you can only take starting your fifth semester, the earliest you can take the pre-req would be fifth semester and the classes itself you could take your sixth semester.

Keep going until you’re done, or thoroughly confused. Either way, stop in at an advisor’s office after you’ve finished your spreadsheet, and have them look it over. It’s super helpful to have someone who knows your program tell you if you’ve made any mistakes!

Now keep in mind I’ve only made one spreadsheet like this, for myself. If you find shortcuts that work better for you, the more power to you! And if you have to take an extra year to fit in everything you want to do, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve got this!

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