First Year Course Selection: Getting Started

First Year Course Selection: Getting Started

by justinel

You're finally on your way to college!  And there's a lot on your mind, from what to pack to what courses you'll take this fall?

One of the great things about living in a residential college is that there are lots of people who are going to help you answer the questions you have, not just over the summer and during orientation, but throughout your time at Princeton.  Some of your friends may be registering for their fall courses over the summer; at Princeton you won't enroll in your classes until after you have the chance to talk with your faculty adviser and peer academic advisers during Orientation. 

We do, however, encourage you to start thinking about the kinds of things you'd like to study in your first year.

First, A.B. vs. B.S.E.: Princeton offers two undergraduate degrees: the A.B. comprises a variety of liberal arts majors pursued by about 80% of undergraduates and the B.S.E. includes several engineering majors taken by the other 20%. Each degree has its own requirements. Most entering students know which degree they want to pursue and you were asked to confirm you selection of either the A.B. or B.S.E. degree program online in June, but if you are still uncertain about your choice, be assured that changes are possible. If you are an A.B. candidate who might be interested in the B.S.E. program, contact one of us when you arrive on campus. In the meantime, familiarize yourself with the B.S.E. first-year requirements and choose fall term courses accordingly. B.S.E. students who wish to change to A.B. should contact us as well. 

As you browse Course Offerings, and try to make sense of the Freshmen Seminar offerings (good luck in the application process), here are a few words of advice:

Consider what you enjoy

You won’t choose your major until the end of sophomore year, but you can start to test the waters now by taking courses that you really enjoy. If you do think you know your likely major, don’t try to take all the courses at once. Take one (or two, in some science departments) of the prerequisites and perhaps some additional courses, but keep your mind open and explore other areas, too, while you have the chance. Many students intent on majoring in one field take a course in another and discover an entirely new interest. Events in the residential colleges will introduce you to the wealth of programs and resources available through Princeton’s many academic departments and programs

Consider trying something new

Some students feel compelled to take exactly the same program they had in high school – math, language, English, science. Why limit yourself that way? Princeton offers an amazing array of courses, organized by departments and programs that may be totally unlike anything you've studied before.  Your first year is a great time to try a new discipline, and even if you want to continue some of the areas that you studied in high school, you should begin to explore other areas as well.  You may find the perfect fit in an unexpected place!

Take something small

A small class will not only ensure that you get to know a professor, but also that you have the chance to work closely with peers. If you're assigned a fall term Writing Seminar, you'll be guaranteed to have a class with no more than 12 students.  However, if you're in a spring Writing Seminar, you may need to look around to find a small class.  The Freshman Seminar program is a wonderful option: we encourage all students to take a Freshman Seminar either one or both terms--after all, it's an opportunity that you'll have only this year.

Think (but just a little bit) about requirements

All first years will take a Writing Seminar in either the fall or spring term (sorry, you can’t choose which semester). And many first years will need to fulfill the foreign language requirement. Remember to take the on-line placement test, since that may influence how many semesters of language study you need to complete.  If you're starting a new language, or entering at the 100-level of a language you've already begun, don't be tempted to put it off!  101 courses are only taught in the fall, and you don't want to end up a year behind. If you're starting a new language, do so right away: 101 language courses are offered only in the fall, and if you don’t start the language now you’ll still be taking required language courses in your junior year. If you will be starting a language from the 105 or 107/108 level, do that right away as well, before you forget much of what you learned in high school. 

Otherwise, don’t worry too much now about the  distribution requirements, though, and don’t use them as the primary basis for planning your first semester of study. You have plenty of time to complete them, and they fulfill themselves before you realize it!  We encourage you to save a couple of distribution courses to take during your junior and senior year, when you'll enjoy the variety they provide. 

Keep in mind the demands of your classes

AB students take 4 courses in the first semester; BSE students take 4 or 5.  While this might seem like an unthinkably small number of classes, if you choose your curriculum well, you will be adequately challenged!  Every student coming to Princeton has to adjust their approach to learning, and you want to make sure you give yourself the time and space to do so, and to really enjoy your classes, and get the most you can from each of them.  As you're thinking about the balance of classes, consider the type of learning and kind of work. Math courses have homework and quizzes, history courses require a heavy reading load, art courses emphasize the study of visual images. Some courses have weekly assignments, others require a big paper or project at the end. Mix things up. 

Engineering students ...

... have more constrained choices for the fall term, due to their physics, math, and chemistry requirements. The usual fall schedule of a first-year B.S.E. student includes physics, chemistry, and math. Most B.S.E.s take PHY 103 unless they place out of the physics requirement. The math course will be determined by the placement recommended by the math department. Some of you will have to take a writing seminar in the fall; others will have a choice for the fourth course, and will likely take an elective in the humanities or social sciences. Don’t take a course with problem sets and quizzes, because you’re going to be doing quite enough of those anyway. A course with reading, writing, and non-quantitative ideas is preferable. 

If you're considering pre-med...

Be sure to attend the Health Professions Advising meeting during orientation.  Depending on how strongly you feel about leaving options open, and on what AP credits you may have, you may want to get started on your pre-med coursework in your first year.  There are many paths through the pre-health curriculum, so see which seems best for you.

As always, don't hesitate to contact us with any questions! We're always happy to talk with you about your options.