BYU academic advisors discuss best classes for freshmen

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The entrance to BYU campus is marked by a sign exhibiting BYU’s motto — “The world is our campus.” There are many resources available to freshmen when they are building their first-semester schedules. (Payton Pingree)

Building a schedule from the extensive catalog of classes can be an overwhelming feat for first-year students at BYU. University advisors offered their insights into the best classes for freshmen to take during their first semester. 

Kerry Hammock, the director of the University Advisement Center, encouraged first-year students who have questions about their classes and academic plans to use the UAC as a resource.

The UAC works with open-major students. Advisors are available to meet with students to discuss academic advising, class selection, class problems, major options and career exploration. 

Hammock explained his typical process when it comes to advising a freshman with classes.

“When I advise a student, we have to look at their record and see where they are,” Hammock said. 

Looking at where a student’s interests lie is an integral starting point. Additionally, a first-year writing class is especially helpful for a student’s first semester, according to Hammock, because it introduces them to the library and the basics of writing at BYU. 

Then, Hammock suggested students look at taking American Heritage 100, a civilization 1 or 2 class, possibly a science class and maybe an arts or letters requirement. He added that freshmen can take any religion class — they are not just limited to Book of Mormon for their first semester. Students are advised to stay close to 12 credits to adjust successfully to the rigor of college classes. 

Keith Proctor, the associate director of the UAC, suggested students consider several important factors when building their first class schedule at BYU. 

“What we like to do in those situations is get more information from the student about things they might want to do, because we want to make sure that we kind of bend the course schedule or the experience here at BYU toward helping them grow and develop in meaningful ways,” Proctor said. 

He explained that he talks to students about their potential field of interest or future post-grad goals and reverse-engineers to find the best classes to start with. Another factor that plays into this process is looking at AP or IB credit, concurrent enrollment and transfer credits so students can avoid taking classes they already have credit for. 

While physical and biological science classes are part of BYU’s general education curriculum and are considered freshman-friendly, these classes can get tricky with STEM major requirements. Proctor advised students looking into fields related to science, technology, engineering and math to do research into what early classes their desired major might require. 

If a student knows what major they might want to declare, Proctor said it is a smart idea to look if there are any classes within the major that might overlap with general education class requirements. Many majors offer classes that fulfill GEs, so students can take advantage of this and cut down on their course load. 

Proctor also emphasized the importance of finding balance during a student’s first semester. 

“There are some overly ambitious freshmen that come in and think, well I took like 18 billion AP classes in high school, so I’m going to take like 16-18 credits at BYU,” Proctor said. “It’s a totally different ballgame.” 

He recommended students focus on their strengths and get a sense for the workload at BYU before diving into more credits and difficult classes. 

Among these challenging classes, Proctor explained that MATH 112, STAT 121, CHEM 105 and ECON 110 are “notorious for being really difficult,” and usually steers students away from taking those classes so early-on. He also recommends freshmen take first-year writing one semester and American Heritage 100 during the other semester to split up the heavy reading and conceptual classes. 

Lisa Parkinson is an academic and career advisor for the UAC, and teaches STDEV 109, Effective Study Learning and STDEV 117, Career Exploration. Parkinson discussed how both of these classes would be beneficial for any freshman to take. 

STDEV 109 teaches students how to study by introducing strategies for note-taking and preparing for tests, as well as adjustments students can implement if they might be struggling. 

“It can help be a great foundational class to help you be successful in college,” Parkinson said. “When students can learn different approaches that they can take, it strengthens their ability to study and learn better, and it can help them with all of their classes moving forward.”

STDEV 117 is designed for students who may not know what they want to study, or may have some ideas but do not know what career path to take. The class focuses on the importance of interests, skills and strengths, values and priorities, personality and decision-making when considering a future career. 

“All those different factors could potentially help them look for things in their life to find a better fit, where they might be a little bit more successful and happy moving forward,” Parkinson said.

Parkison added that time management is one of the biggest learning curves freshmen face.  

“Learning to manage and put everything into their schedule that they want to do and using that time wisely, to study in the most effective ways — I feel like that’s a big challenge that our freshmen hit immediately,” she said.

Despite the wave of new challenges that freshmen face during their first semester, there are ample resources to help each student succeed during their time at BYU. 

“We don’t want students to ever feel like they’re floundering,” Parkinson said. “The quicker they can ask for help, the more options they’ll have to bounce back and to recover from whatever setback they may be experiencing.”

The University Advisement Center is available for open-major students. BYU also has advisement centers for each different college if students already have a major picked out.

“It can be really intimidating because BYU is a great place, but it’s also a really competitive place,” Proctor said of the freshman experience. “But for those students that feel alone or isolated, they belong here. They can succeed here. We want them to succeed. We will do back handsprings to help them succeed.”

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