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First Semester Course Selection Advice and Tips

Welcome to Macalester!  We’re excited you’ll be joining us in Fall 2024. We understand that selecting courses for your first semester in college can feel overwhelming, especially when you won’t meet your faculty advisor in person until Orientation.  That is why we provide detailed information on this website to address all the different questions you may have.  However, we also recognize that people process information in different ways.  If you want a quick summary of the steps you need to follow, you may find these First Semester Registration Steps a good place to begin.  The FAQs below also provide helpful guidance and links to other resources.

Registration Overview

You are required to submit your Fall 2024 Course Selection form by June 18, 2024.

Academic Programs and Advising will assign you to a First-Year Course (FYC) in light of your intended major(s), the other courses you want to take, and additional information you provide to us (i.e. anticipated AP scores or college courses completed elsewhere).  FYCs are required of all incoming first-years in their first semester and they play an important role in our curriculum. The professor of the FYC serves as your initial academic advisor, a model we think works well as you’ll have regular contact with this person and your questions about courses, requirements, etc. can easily be addressed as they arise. Nearly every department offers FYCs and they meet a variety of requirements. Because the FYC is tied to advising, housing and other aspects of orientation, once that assignment is made in late July it cannot be changed. 

We will register you for the non-FYC portion of your Fall 2024 schedule based on the preferences you list on the Fall 2024 Course Selection form.  This process takes the month of August.  You will receive your schedule when you attend Orientation and you will have the opportunity to make any necessary adjustments to non-FYC courses when you meet with your FYC professor for advising.

Courseload and Credits

Most students take four 4-credit courses per semester, which keeps them on-track to graduate in four years. You may register for up to 18 credits per semester, which allows you to add 1 or 2 credit courses (i.e. physical education, dance) to your four 4-credit courses. You may also register for performance courses (i.e. ensembles, lessons) on top of your 18 credit schedule. Credits for performance courses are posted after two consecutive semesters of the same performance type are complete; they do not count in the 18 credit total.  Registration for lessons and ensembles takes place during the first week of classes through the Music department office.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The following FAQs provide general guidance about course selection and requirements. If you have additional questions feel free to email [email protected].

Should my First-Year Course (FYC) 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 the courses you find most exciting are those in departments where you might major but you should not feel constrained by that future decision.  Every year students discover through their FYC 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.

When will I be notified about my FYC assignment? In late July 2024 you will receive an email message with your FYC assignment.

Can I change my FYC? Once you are placed in an FYC, changes cannot be accommodated. That is why we want you to be comfortable with any of the FYCs on your list.

How do I register for the non-FYC portion of my Fall 2024 schedule? The college will complete the non-FYC portion of your Fall 2024 schedule based on the course preferences you submit.  You will also have the opportunity to make changes to your schedule during orientation when you meet with your FYC professor for advising.  In addition, there is a drop/add period at the beginning of each semester during which you can change your schedule.  Changes during drop/add requires permission of the instructor of the course you want to add.  The only course that cannot be changed is your FYC.

I have no idea what I want to major in. How should I choose my courses?  The beauty of a liberal arts degree is 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 I should consult as I construct my desired course list?  While most departments and programs 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 guidance here is a good idea. Otherwise, taking courses from various departments 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 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 you make progress on degree requirements while you explore the curriculum.

Are there certain courses I must take in my first semester? You must take an FYC. This course is designed to facilitate your transition to college by including instruction in writing and information fluency, and by having the instructor serve as your academic advisor.  You must also take a course designated argumentative writing (WA) or writing as craft (WC).  Most students will meet this requirement through their FYC.

How do I get registered for private music/instrument lessons?  Students are encouraged to audition for any of our ensembles—African Music Ensemble, Asian Music Ensemble, Macalester Concert Choir, Macalester Chorale, Macalester Orchestra, Wind Symphony, Mac Jazz Band, Jazz and Popular Music Combos, Pipe Band, Early Music Ensemble, Chamber Music Ensembles—at the beginning of each semester. Private lessons are available for an extra fee to all Macalester students. Registration for lessons and ensembles takes place during the first week of classes through the Music department office.  Students considering the major or minor in music need to take MUSI 113 (Musicianship), preferably early on.

What about a language or math course?  To graduate, Macalester requires proficiency in a language other than English through the fourth semester.  Accordingly, it is a good idea in your first semester to take a course in a second language, especially if you are going to continue with a language you studied in high school.  As with language, math skills deteriorate over time.  If you are going to continue on with math, it is also a good first semester choice, although our Quantitative Thinking requirement includes courses from a variety of subjects, not just those in Math, Stats and Computer Science.

Does Macalester have an English Composition requirement?  Macalester’s Writing requirement expects three writing-designated courses by the time of graduation.  Virtually every department offers writing-designated courses.  All students must take one course designated as argumentative writing (WA) or writing as craft (WC) in their first semester. For most students, the FYC serves that purpose.

Are there other things I should keep in mind when selecting courses?

  • Level of the course.  100 and 200-level courses are appropriate for incoming first years.  Be sure to check if prior knowledge of a topic is required or suggested or if there are prerequisites. The exception to this rule is students with college credit or placement scores that require them to take a 300-level course (typically in a language).
  • Balance. Taking courses from different disciplines with different methods of learning is wise. Not only will this expose you to Macalester’s liberal arts curriculum, but it may also help you avoid taking three reading/writing heavy courses or three lab intensive courses in the same semester. Variety and balance often go hand in hand.
  • Course sequencing. Some disciplines are sequentially organized and it is important to take the appropriate level course early in your college career. Language courses are a good example. If you will be continuing in a language you studied in high school to meet Mac’s second language requirement, taking that course in the first semester is a wise move. The Sciences and Mathematics are also examples of subjects where course sequencing is critical.
  • Prior college credit or placement. College credit is awarded to students who have received an appropriate score on the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Exams and for courses taken at a college or university prior to entering Macalester, including “college in the high school” programs (i.e. PSEO). Students who anticipate receiving college credit should not select a course that is equivalent to the course for which credit will be awarded. Similarly, students who are taking courses that have placement exams should take the test prior to selecting courses (Chemistry, Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Spanish have such tests ) so that the course selected is appropriate. Schedule adjustments may also be necessary after consultation with the department chair or faculty member teaching the course.
  • Graduation Requirements. The college has a set of requirements all students must meet regardless of major. These graduation requirements comprise approximately 1/3 of the credits for graduation. While students need not be overly concerned with these requirements in the first semester, they can help to guide students who are uncertain about what to take.  In their first semester students must take a First-Year Course and they must take a course designated WA (argumentative writing) or WC (writing as craft).  Students who complete an FYC with a WA or WC designation will satisfy both of these requirements with that single course.

How likely is it I will get the courses I want?  Most students (close to 90%) will get their first or second FYC choice.  You also have a good chance of getting the other courses on your list, although not necessarily at the times you wanted, when there are multiple sections of the same course, or in the order you ranked them.

When do I meet my advisor? Your academic advisor is the professor of your FYC. You will meet that person during the initial FYC meeting on Tuesday, August 27, 2024. You will also have a 30 minute advising appointment with your advisor on either Tuesday August 27 or Wednesday August 28.

Who should I contact if I have questions before I arrive on campus?

Question topicContact
General questions about courses, degree requirements, and the registration processAcademic Programs and Advising: 651-696-6036; [email protected] or Registrar’s Office: 651-696-6200; [email protected]
First-Year CoursesAcademic Programs and Advising: 651-696-6036; [email protected]
Language PlacementAcademic Programs and Advising: 651-696-6036; [email protected]
Course selection with regard to a majorAcademic Programs and Advising: 651-696-6036; [email protected]. Contact for academic department that houses the major.
AP/IB scoresRegistrar’s Office: 651-696-6200; [email protected]
Transfer CreditsRegistrar’s Office: 651-696-6200; [email protected]
Interpreting the class scheduleRegistrar’s Office: 651-696-6200; [email protected]