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How to Pick Classes and Professors

Considerations when choosing a course:

– Are the classes you picked interesting and rewarding? Do the course descriptions turn you on? (For BU’s online catalog:

– Or did you pick them because they have easy professors? Or convenient timeslots? Or both, you lazy sloth? (Is your idea of education really sleeping in until 12 for an easy class that doesn’t take attendance—which means you can skip and actually sleep until 3? I see what you did there.)

– Do the classes have enjoyable readings and lecture topics? Are they even relevant to the course title? (Sometimes I’m not sure what my prof was smoking.) You can usually find info about this through old syllabi (either from a friend or from the online syllabi archive). For BU’s:

– Are you still “undecided” about your major but taking many classes in one department next semester? Are you absolutely positive you’ll be heading in that direction in the future, that your gamble is worth it, and that next semester won’t be as boring as watching a knitting race?

– Do you have AP credits for some courses? If so, when you register for some lower-level related classes, it could cancel your AP credits in a related subject. Check your course guide or ask your advisor to be sure.

– Can you fit a fun and social physical education class into your schedule? Do it. It’s only one or two more hours of class per week and it’s definitely worth it—especially if you meet someone hot. (What’s hotter than a hot person getting physical in class? C’mon now.)

(For BU: Your tuition comes with up to 18 credits per semester. Your usual 4-class courseload will add up to 16, which means you can take up to 4 more half-credit classes or 2 more 1-credit classes. Just a small sample of BU’s offerings: soccer, golf, skating, ballroom dance, hip hop, tap, ballet, swimming, scuba diving, sailing, tai chi, yoga, weight lifting, aerobics, kickboxing, CPR… you get the point. For a full list: To register for one, enter PDP into the course finder. But they don’t have curling. Sorry, Canada.)

– Can you fit a regular 2-credit academic class into your schedule? They’re usually easy on you, and the relatively light work to get an A or A- can boost your GPA. No, they’re not slacker courses though. You’ll still need to work a little. (For BU: Search CFA and SED. They always offer lots of cool 2-credit classes.)

– Are you allowed to overload and take an extra 4-credit class? Freshmen may not be allowed to. Also check if you can take 20 credits without paying more. Sometimes you need a certain GPA to overload for free before senior year.

– How many electives can you take before you graduate? Do you have time to take something completely random that you’ve always been curious about? Such as why bonobo chimps are constantly having sex? (I learned that in Cultural Anthropology. It was the defining moment in my college years.)

– Have you talked to your advisor about everything you weren’t sure of? Do you even know who your advisor is?

Considerations when choosing professors:

– First and most importantly: are they hot? Do they have lots of chili peppers on (For BU: Remember, we have the second hottest prof in the country. Obviously she teaches French. Brag to all your hometown friends. No, I’m really not kidding. Look her up on the RateMyProfessors homepage.)

– Second, do they have good academic ratings on The general gist is USUALLY dependable enough, but don’t trust individual ratings unless they seem fair and objective. Is there positive word-of-mouth about the prof too? Have your friends taken him? Can you use a Facebook Courses application to find the prof’s current students and send a message to them to ask about specifics? Previous students will be more helpful than you’d think. And no, this is not creepy or awkward unless you think it is.

– Have you searched for your prof’s description on her department website (something like Does she share your academic and research interests? Did she attend a grad school you want to attend?—she may be a good source of networking. Is her thesis interesting to you? (Knowing all this will also earn you tons of brownie points next semester.)

– Would she write a killer recommendation for you? Does she seem uber cool and fascinating? And again, is your professor hot?

– Is he famous? Has he won numerous awards? Does he publish an article every other day and even in his sleep? Is he the world’s leading expert on something other than cheese? Will you be able to brag that you took a class with him? Just take him.

(Just a disclaimer: All my favorite professors were “no-names” who had the time to keep exchanging emails and even Facebook wall posts with me even years after class ended. While I learned lots in “famous” professor classes and was inspired to read a LOT of the professor’s work, I was never mentored and given individual attention in these classes the way I was in classes taught by Professor Nobodys. Keep a nice balance between these two types of professors.)

Some of BU’s most famous: Elie Wiesel (duh), Ray Carney (film scholar; leading expert on John Cassavetes and independent cinema; AMAZINGLY inspirational—I would recommend him!), Leslie Epstein (director of creative writing; his son Theo is the youngest general manager in MLB (Red Sox); his father and uncle wrote the Casablanca screenplay!), Robert Pinsky (former U.S. Poet Laureate), Osamu Shimomura (2008 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry)

– Has she won a teaching award at your university? She may not be famous, but she might be a more competent teacher than the famous ones. She can pinpoint your mistakes, explain concepts effectively, and inspire you. (For BU’s award-winning professors: and

– Have you googled him? (Who else thinks Google and Starbucks should merge and take over the world?)

– Have you searched for her books on Have you read her articles, publications, and previous work? Would you love to spend a whole semester talking to her about her work?

– Have you searched for his resume on

– Last (and this is VERY important for changing bad grades): does your professor like cookies, brownies, and other assorted baked goods? Oh, and can you bake?

Very Random Things For Boston University Course Registration:

– When you register, type in your registration code ahead of time. Don’t wait until your registration time to do that.

– Add all the classes you want to your planner. Even add all your backups. I’ve seen people add only 4 classes. Your planner can fit up to 30.

– When it’s time to register, click “Register for Classes.” Then click “Go” next to “search by planner.” You’ll register a lot faster than all the n00bs who manually type in all their course numbers individually.

– Just worry about registering for all the classes that are filling up real fast. Scramble to take those. Then, a minute later, register for the rest.

Options for Getting into the Full Class You Really Want Without Whining About It:

– Stalk your online registration site (for BU: StudentLink) twice a day every day during winter or summer break. I can almost guarantee someone will drop the class. This has worked EVERY semester for me.

– If the class has a lecture and a discussion, hold onto a discussion section if one is open. They’re usually 0 credits. Now you just need to wait for the lecture to open up. (Some schools have policies against this.)

– Email the professor. Introduce yourself and demonstrate your interest in the class and the prof will probably agree to sign you in. Or even visit the prof’s office hours. Or search for his current class times and find him right after a class.

– If the new semester starts and you still aren’t registered, go to the class as if you’re part of it. Absent students on the first day are usually dropped. You’ll be able to take their spot. (Which also means if you’ll be absent on the first day of class for a course you want to keep, make sure the absence is legit and that your prof knows about it! Otherwise someone could steal your precious class and hot professor! You DID choose classes based on hotness, right?)

– Have an upperclassman or someone with a better registration time hold a spot for you before the class gets full. Have him drop it at a coordinated awkward hour a few days after you register. (Some schools have policies against this.)

– Ask what your advisor can do about it.

– Settle on finding a different professor—one who might be less hot. It’s okay. Personality counts too.

– by Nathan Chow
Boston University Class of 2009

Nathan Chow is a graduate of Boston University's College of Communication. As a leadership and career coach who helps millennials land their dream job, he helps them 1) figure out their strengths and purpose, 2) edit their cover letters and resumes, and 3) negotiate higher pay with confidence. Nathan's mission is to minimize people's stress and anxiety and lead them to happier lives. One client's pay multiplied by 1.5x after two hours with Nathan. Another received $4000 more after 15 minutes working with Nathan. Check out and subscribe to the free newsletter. In his free time, Nathan loves to read, write, dine out, eat ethnic food, run, salsa dance, play soccer, take photos, juggle, joke, laugh, and meet new people---but certainly not all at the same time. Nathan reads and responds to all email.


Pingback from How to Spell College » How to Save Money on Books
Time July 14, 2009 at 4:08 am

[…] book at all. If word-of-mouth and (which isn’t always the best way to choose professors) say you won’t be tested on the reading, you might go this route. Of course this might take […]

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