Course Selection FAQ


FAQs: The Hows, Whys and What Ifs of Course Selection

Should my First-Year Course be in the department in which I plan to major?  Not necessarily.  The most important consideration in selecting First Year Courses is interest in the material.  It is understandable that the courses that most excite you are also those in the department where you plan to major but you should not feel constrained by that.  Every year students discover through their First-Year Course a field of study they had not been aware of in high school.  So be bold and adventurous in choosing your courses.  Learning about new fields and broadening your horizons is at the heart of a liberal arts education.

I have no idea what I want to major in.  How should I choose my courses?  The beauty of a liberal arts degree is that you are required to take courses in each of our divisions.  Use this first semester to explore different departments that sound interesting.  The most common way for incoming students to decide on a major is by taking courses.  Since there are areas of study available in college that weren’t available in high school, being “undecided” is actually to your benefit.  About one-third of incoming Macalester students are uncertain of a major, and another third change their minds after discovering all the possibilities.  So be bold and adventurous in choosing your courses.  It’s the best way to learn about yourself and our curriculum.

Do you have sample schedules that I should consult as I construct my desired course list?  While most departments provide recommendations for first-years interested in exploring their courses, in only a few cases, mainly the natural sciences, must these recommendations be acted upon in the first semester.  Most majors require between nine and eleven courses, allowing plenty of room for exploration before declaring the major.  If you have some majors in mind, reviewing the departmental description section of this guide is a good idea.  Otherwise, taking courses from various departments that you find interesting is the best way to pick your classes for your first semester. You do want to think about balancing types of courses, so that you don’t have four courses that are heavy reading/writing courses, or four that are all quantitative, or four that have labs.  Because you will need to take courses in all four of our divisions before you graduate, having a diverse course schedule also ensures that you are making progress on degree requirements while you are exploring the curriculum. 

How likely is it that I will get the courses that I want?  Most students (over 90%) will get their first or second First-Year Course choice.  You also have a very good chance of getting the other courses on your list, although not necessarily at the times you wanted, if there are multiple sections of the same course.  We will not put you in a course that is not on your list, so in the rare circumstance that we cannot complete your schedule with your initial selections, we will contact you to discuss other options.  You will also have the opportunity to make changes to your schedule once you are on campus.  The only course that cannot be changed is your First-Year Course.  That is why we want you to be comfortable with any of the First-Year courses on your list. 

How is my schedule determined?  Academic Programs is responsible for making First-Year Course assignments.  The goal is to place as many students in their first and second choices as possible, while also ensuring that the placement is appropriate given major plan and background.  The Registrar’s staff is responsible for completing the schedules after the First-Year Course assignments are made.  The goal is to give each student their preferences, as space allows.  Accordingly, round one involves placing each student in his or her first choice; round two places them in their second choices, etc.  You will not be placed in any course, First-Year or otherwise, that is not on your list.  In the rare circumstance that the Registrar’s Office cannot complete your schedule with your initial selections, the staff will contact you to discuss other options.  Changes also may be necessary once scores become available from Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams or when transcripts are received for college courses completed prior to matriculation.  Because your schedule will be a bit in flux throughout the summer, the schedule you see on 1600 Grand should not be considered final.  You will receive your final schedule from your advisor during orientation and you will have the ability to make changes to it during your advising appointment.  There is also a drop/add period at the beginning of each semester during which you can change your schedule.

Are there certain courses I must take in my first semester?  The only course that must be taken in your first semester is the First Year Course.  This course is designed to facilitate your transition to college by including instruction in writing and information fluency, by having the instructor serve as your academic advisor, and by being limited to fifteen other incoming first-year students.  Beyond the First-Year Course, it is often a good idea to take a course in a second language, especially if you are going to continue with a language you studied in high school, because language skills deteriorate over time.  If you are going to continue on with math, that is often a good first semester choice as well, for similar reasons.

Does Macalester have an English Composition requirement?  No.  Instruction in writing and in information fluency is part of your First-Year Course.  Students who feel that they need extra help with writing may consider taking College Writing, ENGL 101, but most students find the First-Year Course gives them the instruction they need in writing college level papers.  After your first semester, and before your senior year, you will also be required to take one course with a “W” designation.  This course will hone your writing skills, typically at an advanced level, and often in your major.

When do I find out my schedule?  By the end of July you will be notified of your First-Year Course assignment.  You will receive a copy of your complete schedule from your advisor during orientation.

When do I meet my advisor?  Your academic advisor is the instructor of your First-Year Course.  You will meet that person during the initial First-Year Course meeting on Friday August 29.  You will also have a 30 minute advising appointment with your advisor on either Friday August 29 or Saturday August 30. 

Who should I contact if I have questions before I arrive on campus?  Staff members in both the Academic Programs Office and the Registrar’s Office are able to answer general questions about courses, degree requirements, and the registration process.  If you have questions specifically about First-Year Courses, language placement, or how to think about course selection in light of major plans, you should contact Academic Programs.  If your questions have to do with AP/IB scores, transfer credits, or interpreting the class schedule, then you should contact the Registrar’s Office.  Both offices are open between 7:45 and 5:00 Central Standard Time, Monday through Thursday, and between 7:45 and 12:30 CST, Fridays.  If you’re calling during business hours you should connect with a real person who will try to help you.  At other times of the day or night, you may leave a voice mail message at that number, and one of those same real people will call you back the next business day.  Email is also a good way of making contact.

Academic Programs:  651-696-6036;

Registrar’s Office: 651-696-6200;