Selecting Undergrad Courses

As an upper year Science student (now alumni!), I often got asked about which courses were good to take. A clever way to get by university is to balance the required courses to satisfy your degree with courses that have an easy course load.

Here, I put together some points on what I think is important when the time comes to choose courses. Keep in mind that I did complete my undergrad at the University of Waterloo, so the information here may make more sense to a UW student! At the end of this post, I listed some of my favourite UW courses that I have enjoyed taking and think you may like as well.

Planning Ahead

I find it handy to plan out all my courses for my undergrad beforehand. I first check my degree requirements and put down all the required courses that I have to take. For my third and fourth year courses, I did not have specific required courses. I just need to take X amount of courses, say in 300 level Biology. You can plan out your time table and see when courses are offered by checking your university’s schedule of classes. UW students can use the Schedule of Classes to figure that out.

If you would like to see how I planned my courses or what courses I took, you can access the spreadsheet of my undergrad courses here.

Start a spreadsheet listing all degree required courses

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Start a second spreadsheet organizing when you will take those courses

Pre-Enrolment for UW Students

Believe it or not, enrolling into courses can be a tough battle. I know friends at UofT and Ryerson who had to wake up at the crack of dawn to “fight for a seat” in a course. If you are a UW student or are attending a school that uses pre-enrolment for course selections, take advantage of the pre-enrolment period and make sure you pre-enrol into the courses you wish to take for that term!

Pre-enrolment lets the university know how many students are interested in taking that course. Students who do it on time usually get enrolled into the course, unless there is a time conflict with another course. If you do not pre-enrol and it just so happens that the course is a popular one amongst other students, you will have a very hard time trying to get in during the open enrolment period.

Electives

Choose your electives wisely. You may want to choose courses that will satisfy your minor (should you choose to get one). You may also want to choose courses with an easier course load so you can boost your GPA for professional schools. Definitely ask upper year students in your program what course they would recommend you to take.

I decided to complete a biology minor, which required me to have 5.0 units of biology courses, 2.5 at the 300/400 level. With any extra electives I had, I chose courses that were reputable for having an easy course load…aka a bird course.

Bird Courses

A bird course is a course where you can put in a minimal amount of effort (like merely paying attention in class) and still be able to achieve a good mark. These are usually courses that test your recall ability, with multiple choice exams on easy-to-understand content…that is, if you go to lectures.

A bird course is NOT a course where you can skip classes and show up on the day of the exam and expect to pull a 90% as a final mark. Soooo many students go into a “bird course” with that mentality and end up doing worse than their most challenging course. Bird courses are suppose to boost your GPA, not kill it. So, go to class, take notes, and the exam should not be a challenging experience.

Check Your Professor Out

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One of the major deciding factors on whether I want to take a certain course is the professor’s rating on RateMyProfessors.com. You can read reviews from students who have taken specific courses from each individual professor.

I think that having an amazing professor can really impact a student’s performance in the course. I had a few classes where I was not particularly interested in the material or that the course content was relatively difficult but because the professor put in that extra effort to make lectures enjoyable, it made me very motivated to go to class and study hard.

Avoid Choosing Interesting But Difficult Courses

I have a friend who repeatedly took courses that sounded interesting (like computational neuroscience) but the course itself was really hard to get a good mark in. Professional schools, it seems, only look at the applicants’ marks, not what interesting courses they took. It would be a good idea to ditch these courses for something with an easier course load.


Sandy’s Favourite UWaterloo Upper Year Courses

  • BIOL301 Anatomy – Vivian Dayeh
  • BIOL302 Histology – Catherine Studholme
  • BIOL359 Evolution – Jonathan Witt
  • BIOL373 Human Physiology 2 – Heidi Engelhardt
  • PSYCH232 Psychology of Evil – Chris Burris
  • PSYCH253 Social Psychology – Hilary Bergsieker
  • PSYCH261 Physiological Psychology – Grayden Solman
  • PSYCH307 Human Neuropsychology – James Danckert
  • PSYCH354 Interpersonal Relationships – Joanne Wood
  • PSYCH392 Research in Human Cognitive Neuroscience – Mike Dixon

Electives/GPA Boosters

  • CLAS104 Classical Mythology – Ronald Kroeker
  • REC280 Introduction to Tourism – Tom Griffin
  • SCI206 Science of How Things Work – Stefan Idziak

*PSYCH courses are amazing when you can get 4% bonus by participating in research studies in the Psychology Department.
**Feel free to contact me for more information on specific courses that I took
***Check out my other post, “5 Realistic Advice for Students Entering University

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