Choosing Your Class Schedule

In general on August 6, 2009 at 10:00 am


At most colleges and universities, international students must take at least 12 units to have full-time student status and to keep a current student visa. Often, I see international students going far beyond these required 12 units — taking 17 or even 20 units at a time. Sometimes, it’s less expensive to take more units at once — or it might seem like a good way to transfer more quickly or finish school in record time. Whenever I see students with such heavy course loads, I worry.

When I started graduate school, I’ll never forget how the program director introduced us to the school. We were at orientation, and we were all gathered around this huge conference table. I was excited to be there. I had so much to learn about writing, and I was ready to fling my whole self into the program, the work, and my writing ambitions. It was December, and on the other side of the window, the sky was already dark.

“I have one very important piece of advice for you,” our leader said. “I don’t want you to do too much. Pace yourself. Take care of yourself. It’s cold and flu season.”

I’d heard lots of advice from teachers, but I had never heard a teacher say this before. I was so touched that my new teacher would care about my stress levels — that she would worry about my health. I also remembered what she said about pacing yourself, and I remember it each time I see a student taking 17 units. Just as my teacher once worried about me, I now worry about you.

Usually, a heavy class load is okay at the beginning of the semester. Due dates are far in the future, and the schedule seems manageable. About halfway through the semester, though, the volume of work starts to pile higher. This is when students start neglecting sleep to get the work done. They have a hard time making it to that 8am class. They get sick.

I know about this, because I’ve done it myself — too often, I’m afraid. I worked my way through college as a lifeguard, and part of the job was to start work at 4am every day. Even with this schedule, I often stayed up until midnight finishing my schoolwork. I did the same thing when I entered the world of work, staying long hours and coming in early every morning. It took me a long time to learn that, while it’s great to be a hard worker, it’s not productive to neglect your health in favor of work. Each time I worked myself too hard, I would get sick, and each time, it would take me longer to recover.

It’s better, I think, to take a smaller workload and give yourself plenty of time to study, sleep, and have at least a little fun. Also, students with a lighter load can take part in extracurricular activities and take the time to do excellent work in classes — two things that both employers and universities value. As you’re planning your classes for this fall, please think about ways to make sure you tackle a manageable workload. Prepare for cold and flu season by taking care in your scheduling now. You’ll feel so much better in December if you do.


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