Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Surviving Course Selection Period

Student Guide to Surviving Course Selection Period

Course selection at Yale is both thrilling and daunting. It’s exciting to see the incredible range of classes offered at Yale, but it can be overwhelming to decide which courses to register for out of the hundreds offered each semester. This page offers some suggestions for ways of thinking about and approaching course selection that help you to focus on your priorities and goals and that help you get a good start to the semester.

What You Will Learn

  • How to make sure that the courses you visit fit within your goals and interests
  • How to explore different academic fields while staying on track for potential majors
  • How to keep up with work during course selection period
  • How to connect with professors, teaching fellows, and classmates

Tips for Picking classes

Classes that I need to take

It’s good practice to start your class search with the classes that you’ll have to take for you major or potential major(s). Most of the stress from course selection period is wading through the vast number of classes that Yale has to offer. However, once you lock down the classes that you need to take for the semester, you’ll likely find that your options are more limited than anticipated. This will make deciding among classes considerably easier.

I’ve decided on my major

  • It helps to draw a roadmap with all your major requirements to get an idea of which classes you’re going to take in which year and in which semester. As you go through Yale, this list will no doubt have to be updated to adjust to new classes and new preferences. However, it’s nonetheless a useful tool in preventing overlooked requirements from sneaking up on you later down the line
  • STEM Majors: Many required STEM classes build on prerequisites and some prerequisite classes are only available once per academic year. It’s good practice to note down which semester each of your required classes are offered and plan ahead.

I’m still deciding on my major

  • Take a look at the information pages for the majors you’re looking into and note down each of their prerequisites and introductory classes. If any of the classes you’ve written down overlap between majors, it’s a good idea to prioritize those because it allows you to make progress in multiple majors at a time.
  • Occasionally, a major information page will have suggestions for when each class should be taken. Use this as a guideline and take classes by the suggested deadlines to make sure you’re on track for each major you’re seriously considering.


Classes that I want to take

Although meeting requirements for your major of the Yale College general requirements is important, thinking first about what you enjoy doing can help you make better choices among the many classes you could take to fulfill those requirements

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Which classes did I enjoy last year, and why?
  • What kinds of assignments and class-related activities do I enjoy?
  • What new things do I want to learn this semester?
  • To what extent do the courses I’m currently visiting match my goals for the semester?

Let the answers to these questions guide you as work finding the right classes for you.

Things to Keep in Mind

Distributional Requirements

  • As you pick your classes, always keep distributional requirements at the back of your mind. It’s a good policy to make sure that at least two classes per semester are fulfilling more requirements.
  • First Years: It’s a good idea to start working on language requirements in your first semester. They tend to be particularly demanding on your time and class flexibility, which makes them increasingly difficult to put into your schedule once you’ve decided on a major and have to take mandatory classes later down the line

A well-balanced set of courses

  • Be realistic about how much work you can handle. Vary the workload levels of your class mix each semester. For example, when taking four classes, you could try to have one above-average workload, two average workload and one below-average workload.
  • Check whether each of your classes has a final exam, paper or project. It helps to diversify this to avoid having too many papers due at once or too many finals to study for at the same time.


Common Course Selection Challenges

This section will cover some common mindsets/challenges that may distract you from your goals and leave you unsatisfied with your course choices.

Distribution requirements and Major Prerequisites

Common Mindset:

  • Get distribution requirements and prerequisites “out of the way”


  • If you’re not taking courses that motivate you, it’s easy to procrastinate and fall behind on work
  • Required courses can be enjoyable too, if you can find a purpose beyond “it fulfills a requirement”


  • Use the goals you’ve set this semester to guide your course selection
  • Visit course topics that pique your interest, even if they are out of your comfort zone
  • Choose classes based on the format (seminar vs. lecture), the type of work assigned (problem sets, essays or projects), class ethos, and your own level of engagement
  • Do what works for you, not what’s ‘popular’

“I’m visiting 20 classes”

It may sometimes seem like a contest to see who can visit the most classes, but it’s actually very unproductive.

Common Mindset:

  • Many classes you want to take and have trouble making up your mind
  • Really curious about many classes
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • Wanting to take classes with friends


  • Too hard to keep track of all the classes and assignments
  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • Little time to pay enough attention to the important classes and think deeply about whether you really want to stay in them
  • Straying away from your initial goals and interests/Being influenced by others’ goals and interests


  • Limit yourself to registering for and visiting a total of 8 courses at a time (four/five likely courses and three/four back-up courses)
  • Think actively about whether the courses you’re visiting are right for you. Once you decide not to take a course, drop it and consider the backup(s). Once you decide to take a course, drop the backup(s)
  • Keep the focus on what you want, not what’s popular
  • View smaller classes where you don’t know anyone as opportunities to meet new people interested in similar topics and to work more closely with professors


Keeping up with work during course selection period


  • Prioritize your course list; start work for your most likely courses first
  • Read your course syllabi
    • When are the first essays/quizzes/exams? They are often closer than you think
    • Make a note of midterms and paper due dates in your calendar. It’ll help by making sure important dates and deadlines don’t sneak up on you later on in the semester
    • Get a detailed idea of the course content. You may find that you have a completely different impression of a course once you’ve actually read the syllabus compared to after just looking at its title
  • Visit fewer courses so that you have more time during the day to begin to do your readings/problem sets/etc.
  • Begin to structure your schedule
    • Use time between classes to start readings for your high priority classes
    • Allow yourself only to look at Yale Course Search for new classes designated times of the day (the hour after dinner, for example)
  • Establish a daily routine
    • Wake up and go to sleep at the same times every day
    • Make time for exercise
    • Make time for friends, but begin to set limits so you don’t fall behind on your academic work


Resources for Advice

  • FROCOS & upper-level students
  • College Dean
  • Major DUS (Director of Undergraduate Studies)
  • Faculty and Teaching Fellows in courses you are visiting
  • College Advisor
  • Academic Strategies Mentors