5 Simple Steps on How to Pick the Best College Course For You

Photo by Joshua Earle

Picking a course for college can be the most daunting decision you’ll ever make in your life as a student.

After all, your course would determine what classes you take, which friends you’ll make, and what career paths you can take after graduating. And yet, what bothers me is that many college students I know are still unsure whether the course they picked is right for them or not.

Although you can always shift courses in your 1st or 2nd year of college here in the Philippines, shifting courses can extend your college stay for one or two semesters. That’s more classes to take, more tuition to pay, and more time in college without your batchmates.

But your college journey doesn’t have to be this way. All it takes is for you to follow a few simple steps that I’ve listed below.

Whether you are a college freshman thinking of shifting courses, or a high school student just thinking ahead, this article will help you pick out which college course is right for you. I’ve gone through the college application process myself, and even before I entered college, I already knew I picked the best course for me. Below are the five steps I followed to do this.

Step 1: Make a list of courses you’re interested in

This was the first step I did when I was picking courses for my college applications. And yet, some people don’t even do this. I’ve heard someone say he randomly picked a course because it was the first course he saw on the school’s application form. You don’t want to be that guy.

To make this list, what you can do is to first read the names and descriptions of every course in a school, and put the ones you think are interesting on a list.

After making this list though, try to cut it down to just to five courses you’re most interested in. Also, try to limit the fields that your courses come from. My suggestion is to leave it at two, such as putting only science and business courses, or humanities and social science courses.

If your top five courses that you’ve shortlisted are too different from each other, then you might need a bit more introspection about what you really want to take as a career path in your life.

If this is your problem, then you may want to read articles that will help you determine your skills, interests, and goals in life, and how these can help you find the right college course, like this one.

Step 2: Download the official curriculum for each course

After making your shortlist of courses, now is the time to fully understand what classes you might take up for the next 4–5 years in college. Reading a course description online isn’t enough for you to gauge whether a course is fit for you or not. In the end, it is the classes in a course’s curriculum that make it what it is, not by whatever it hopes to be in its description.

For example, if you read the course description for Ateneo’s Management Engineering (ME) course here, it’s easy to see why a lot of top students want to take the course.

What the course description fails to mention though is that you need a good grasp of Math to do well in the course. If you take a look at the ME curriculum, you’ll see that you have to take up four different Math classes. Most ME students that shift out of the course have to do so because of their low grades in these Math classes. This wouldn’t have to be the case if they picked a course with less focus on Math.

In the end, what’s important is that you understand what you are signing up for when picking a course, which you can easily do so by downloading the course curriculums.

Step 3: Talk to the course’s program director

Now that you’ve downloaded the curriculums for the courses you’re considering, you probably don’t understand what some of the classes are, or how they relate to your course.

The best person to answer these questions would have to be the program director of your course. (This applies mostly for students applying to Ateneo De Manila University. For other schools, try to find an administrator of the course or a faculty member under that course’s department).

Just by doing a simple Google search, or calling the school to ask, you can find out who the program director is and how you can contact him/her.

For example, months before the start of school, I was able to talk to the program director for BS ITE (Information Technology Entrepreneurship) in Ateneo, Sir Olpoc. He was able to explain to me the value of taking the course and how the curriculum fits the course’s goals, so I really knew this was the best course for me before I entered my school. That’s why I highly recommend for you to do the same too.

But if you can’t, then you can move on to the next step:

Step 4: Ask other people who’ve taken the course about its pros and cons

For obvious reasons, program directors won’t tell you negative things about their courses. After all, they would want more people applying to their courses.

Because of this, it’s important to get the perspectives of students who have just graduated from the course, or are currently taking the course as well. They’ll be able to offer you valuable insights a program director can’t, such as: What are the people in the course like? How are the teachers? How is the home organization? What job offers can I expect after?

To find these students, you can ask your friends and relatives in college first to see if they know anyone in that course. If that fails, you can do enough stalking on Facebook to find someone taking that course.

You can also find an FB group of students taking up that course, and just message one of them. There should definitely be a student in that course willing to answer your questions about it, and if you send them a friendly message introducing yourself, they should be happy to respond.

And last but not the least:

5. Think about which courses will be valuable four years from now

This last step is what I think a lot of people seem to miss. Although it’s not as actionable as the first four steps, this is arguably the most important step.

A lot of students (and parents) need to realize that just because a course is popular or highly valued now, doesn’t mean that it will still be years from now when you graduate. On the flipside, some courses that aren’t as popular now may be what is popular and highly valued in the future.

For example, if you are skilled in drawing or in making designs of buildings, taking up a course in Architecture may be what most people will recommend to you.

However, four years from now, would it be architects in demand, or would it be “virtual reality” architects in demand? With the virtual reality industry already taking off, it might make more sense to take up a course with a focus on computer science or digital design, so that you’d have the skills to design virtual buildings in the future. This is why I personally think more people should take up courses like IT Entrepreneurship, Computer Science, and Digital Design — as it will be these courses that will be more valuable in the future.

After all these steps, you can gather all your thoughts and start ranking your courses by order of preference. Most schools have you submit rankings of your course preferences, so just rank them based on which courses you think will be the most interesting to you and most valuable to you for your career.

Final Notes

As I said, picking a college course can be one of the most daunting decisions you’ll ever make in your life as a student. But by doing these five actionable steps, you should feel a lot more confident and happy about your decision.

However, once you’ve picked and chosen a course, don’t get worried about whether you’ve made the right choice or not. There will still be time in college to shift to another course should you realize it might not be for you.

And besides, your course doesn’t define who you are or what you will become. You’ll always have time outside of school to pursue other interests and learn things you want to outside of your course. Picking the right course for you will definitely help you enjoy college more, but picking one you end up hating isn’t the end of the world either. What’s more important is you stay self-aware, ambitious, and hungry towards reaching your goals.

Connect Deeper

Brian Tan is a 19-year-old UI/UX designer and front-end web developer from the Philippines. He’s also the co-founder and CEO of HangTime— a web app built to help students create and share class schedules with each other. Get in touch with him at brian.tan@obf.ateneo.edu.

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