October 16, 2016

College Advice

1. Take classes with the course chair

Taking classes with the course chair for courses with many sections such as Linear Algebra guarantees you a proficient teacher. They will most likely provide extra perks such as review sessions and review sheets. You are also guaranteed that the instructor will cover everything on the tests so you won’t have to worry about your professor omitting something.

I took Calculus I with the course chair during my freshman year. On the first day of class, he shared with the class a special link that included all the practice exams and their solutions since the creation of the course. Additionally, he told us that the link was exclusive to our class and insisted that we didn’t share the login info with other sections of the course. I suppose that it may be related to keeping his position as the course chair but I that’s speculation.

Even if the course chair’s section is full, you can always e-mail them or talk to them in person to reserve a seat. Remember to be polite as they aren’t required by any means to fulfill your request.

2. Always sit in the front

Sitting at the front of the class makes you less afraid to shout out answers and ask questions.

The instructor is more likely to call on you and answer your question. The instructor will notice you more and if you provide a continuous stream of answers and engaging questions, then you are sure to obtain a special seat in the eyes of the instructor. e.g. they will be more likely to help you out when you need help for exams or when asking about research opportunities.

It will be easier for you you to pay attention because there is nothing in front of you.

3. Don’t pick General Education courses for the easy A

First, think about what you can learn from it. Then, think about what the department’s reputation at your university is, the background of the instructor teaching it. Then finally consider the course’s perceived difficulty.

Fulfilling your general education requirements by taking the easiest classes at your university wastes both your money (or your parents!) and your time. Don’t select courses only because you heard they are easy! Although, you may benefit the most if you can find a course that benefits you in the long-run or plainly interests you AND it’s easy, then that’s fine. Don’t rank the difficulty of the class over everything else. What I mean about benefiting you in the long-run are courses such as taking Game Theory as a Computer Science major. Though it may seem irrelevant, it is applicable in AI, business, mathematics, psychology, and other fields. Not only did Game Theory interest me, but it may actually benefit me in the long-run!

Additionally, you should do research about the instructor and department of the general education classes you want to take. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is world-renowned for their work in Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially in Reinforcement Learning, a subdomain of AI. but what UMass Amherst truly excels at is its Linguistics department in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. PhDs.org ranks UMass between rank 4 and 8 in the United States and so fulfilling a general education requirement by taking a linguistics intro course is sure to be interesting and taught extremely well. Where else can you learn from the smartest professors in their field?

Take a look at phds.org for the departments that your university excels at. Undergraduates seldom discuss the quality of graduate departments, but if you talk to graduate students or professors they will know for sure.

Don’t forget to take your interests into account. UMass Amherst ranks 1st/2nd out of 32 programs for Food Science, 1st–7th out of 41 programs for Kinesiology, and 3rd–11th out of 83 programs for Polymer Science and Engineering. But, if you’re not interested in food science, kinesiology, or polymer science, then don’t take it! You will never know what great professors you will meet and things you will learn from fulfilling a general education requirement.

I’ve taken full advantage of this tip since I’ve transferred to the University of Michigan. I’m now taking Philosophy classes here as UMich ranks top three in the world for their doctoral philosophy program.

© Wesley Tian 2019

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