How to Choose (& Succeed in) Your Courses

Dana Alsaialy
Dana Alsaialy
21 February 2023

Choosing courses is what I was most excited about when applying to university — seeing that I could study anything from technology to politics to love what pushed me to apply in the first place. Compulsory courses, also known as required or mandatory, build expertise in our chosen major. Electives, also optional subjects, allow us to explore new ideas or specialize in a particular disciplinary direction. Choosing and succeeding in coursework, whether compulsory or elective, comes with strategy, not purely intellectual capacity. This blog will be dedicated to providing advice on how to do that! Although I am a second-year Bachelor’s Social Sciences student at Charles University, I have tried to make this blog as applicable across majors and years of study as possible — take what helps, leave what does not.

Choosing Compulsory Courses

1. Create your course plan according to prerequisites: When selecting compulsory courses, always check which are “prerequisites” to required courses and plan accordingly. In my case, in the first year, if I had not taken “Research Methods” in the winter semester, I would not have been able to take “Seminar in Quantitative/Qualitative Methods” in the summer semester; the first was the prerequisite to the second. If I had not paid attention and postponed taking ”Research Methods” to the second year, more challenging second-year courses would mount up, making this first-year course harder to complete. Or it could have postponed my graduation by a semester. If you are already enrolled in a program, make a study plan according to prerequisites and their respective required subjects in their recommended order to save yourself unnecessary stress in the long run.


2. Spread difficult subjects apart: Let us say you are a business major with fewer technical compared to creative skills. You must take Management, Marketing, Finance, and Accounting within one year (two semesters), and all four subjects are offered in both semesters. The best way to approach this situation is by taking two mandatory subjects per semester, but which two should you pick? Since we stated that, hypothetically, you have fewer technical skills, Finance and Accounting might pose as more complex subjects than Management and Marketing, which require fewer numbers, calculations, etc. Since you cannot simply avoid Finance and Accounting as they are mandatory, your best bet is to select one “simple” subject, a subject you are more interested in, with one “difficult” subject, or one you perhaps dread. This could be Management with Finance, Marketing with Accounting, Management with Accounting, or Marketing with Accounting; that part is up to you! Put simply, spread out your challenging or “boring” subjects across semesters, so university life does not become pure torture. And who knows, maybe you might enjoy them as you will be less packed than if you had avoided these subjects and made them a “future you” problem.

Choosing Elective Courses
1. Go outside your comfort zone:
Instead of always going for the easiest to complete or requiring the least effort, recognize that the time you spend selecting viable electives is for you to reflect on what you want to specialize in or which skills you are interested in gaining. There is obviously nothing wrong with an “easy A” course, but in the long term, those intriguing (perhaps challenging) courses stick the most with you academically and practically. For instance, I took “Sociological Scrutiny Beyond the Canon,” although the professor sent us an email before the first day warning us that it was demanding; long story short, I now feel knowledgeable and equipped to discuss topics surrounding Feminism,
Racism and Colonialism when I came in with surface-level knowledge. That same semester, I took two Master’s level health-related courses because medicine is a field I am considering pursuing and since it would look impressive for a Bachelor’s student to have completed Master’s level coursework. Moral of the story: Do not settle with what is a straightforward course that might not benefit you at all. Try to branch out.

2. Do your research (asking peers, first-day impressions, course statistics): Since elective subjects are your choice, it is always good to ask before committing to your choices, especially if you have doubts. If you have a group chat or know a few people, ideally years above you, send a message asking, “Hey, did anyone take [Insert Course Title Here]?”. If you get a yes, the course description from a student’s standpoint might help you decide, warn you entirely against it, or encourage you forward. If you get no’s, go test it out by yourself. However, pay attention to red flags early; if the professor does not seem lenient, the course plan does not suit your preferences, or you just get a weird “gut feeling,” get out as soon as possible. Some universities, like mine, even allow access to success rates. You can view how many people enrolled versus how many people completed the course along with the average grade; if others drop it and receive low grades, it is your best bet to avoid the course entirely.


1. Follow the course schedule:
Do not procrastinate. Finish your assignments, do your readings, or revise your lecture material throughout the semester on time; make sure to do things on time. Not only does this save you time by the end of the semester because you would have already revised material or taken notes on topics to write a final paper about, for instance, but you will see improvements in your class engagement and participation.

2. Create an organized semester plan: As the picture shows, try to organize ahead for the next year or two. If you lay out your study period, ideally with colour-coding and specifying how many credits you would have completed, you get a better grip and idea of what should be done next. For instance, I planned my three-year program so that by the end of year two, I finished 90% of my coursework, leaving year three entirely for thesis writing and a state exam. I did this so I could travel and have the time and energy to select the best Master’s program way before I graduate with my Bachelor’s.

3. Get to know your peers and professor: I must admit, I am guilty of not socializing much in class and sticking to the two friends I know. Luckily, you do not need to be super social in person — emails go a long way! Send your professors inquiries if an assignment is unclear or you’d like feedback on your paper; it does not show incompetence. It shows interest. Also, at the end of the semester, do not forget to thank them (if you enjoyed their course). Regarding peers, stay in touch with some people not only for hangouts but to ask them how they did a particular assignment or just so if a group project comes up, it’ll save you awkward introductions.

That’s it from me for now! I genuinely hope some of these tips help orient some of you with choosing and succeeding in your courses. Good luck out there!