A Quick Guide to Choosing Classes

Hello Hackers! My name is Chloe and I’m a new writer at Hack Library School. I have two bachelor’s degrees in English and Theater with a focus in creative writing. I really wanted to be an academic advisor until working at the public library quickly changed my mind. Now I’m enrolled in the University of Iowa’s Library and Information Science program, where I want to take all the classes.

During orientation last August, our professors gave each incoming students a sheet of paper with all the classes that they offered in my program, for both fall and spring semesters. My eyes got huge, my mouth started to water, and I immediately started writing little exclamations or stars next to classes I was excited about. By the end of the day, my entire paper was completely illegible with pencil marks. Being too enthusiastic about choosing classes is not a unique problem. In fact, I know a lot of people who get so excited that they set an alarm for when registration opens, so that they can sign up immediately. If you’re thinking ahead to next year like I am, here’s a handy guide to help you choose the classes that you truly want to take.

If you just got accepted to a graduate program, congratulations to you! That is no easy feat. Whether you’re coming straight from undergrad or right out of the workplace, I highly recommend that you only take the minimum amount of credits for your first term. Especially if you plan on having a job during school. Now look, I’m not your mom and I can’t tell you exactly what to do. In fact, you may be like me and think, “but Chloe, every semester in undergrad, I took WAY more classes than the minimum requirement!” In that case, email your advisor, a department secretary, or an alum and ask them what they think. If your program allows, you could also sign up for an extra class or two and “shop around” during the first week of classes, keeping in mind that you will have to drop one or two classes. I believe that I could hypothetically handle one more class, but when my professors assign big projects all due on the same day, I absolutely love only taking a few. It also allows me to give all more attention to my classes, which helps my mental health. All in all, I think it’s really smart to give yourself enough room to adjust to being a student (and parent, or worker, or person, or whatever) during school.

When I first got accepted to University of Iowa, I made a list of goals that I wanted to accomplish as I went through school. This has been the single most helpful thing I’ve done for myself in school thus far. These goals should be straight from the heart. Don’t think about requirements. Don’t think about the professors. Don’t think about your track. This activity has been incredibly helpful in keeping focused on my true priorities. To give you a sense of what I’m talking about, here are a few of my goals that I jotted down before I chose my first classes of graduate school:

  • Try coding
  • Learn how to write a grant
  • Find out about critical theory in librarianship
  • Take a class about outreach services

Inevitably, some of these goals have changed in the past year, new goals have been added and some have been subtracted. As I learned more about my program, I learned that a lot of my goals that I thought I could learn in library school weren’t exactly appropriate in my specific program. For instance, I decided that either volunteering or doing a practicum would be better suited for me than taking a class about outreach services. I tried coding and loved it, so I’m taking more classes on digital environments. It’s a good exercise at any point in your program, to remind yourself of your core values and why you choice librarianship in the first place. Don’t have a class that covers one of your goals? Try an independent study or take a class from a different department!

Pay attention to how your classes relate to each other. This could mean in terms of a specialization or just in how the material in classes may inform each other. At University of Iowa, we have 3 “tiers” of classes that we can choose from. Tier I classes are required first year foundational classes. Tier II classes are a little more specialized than foundational classes. Tier III classes are more independent classes in which you apply what you’ve learned in Tier I and Tier II. It’s our version of course numbers (for example, Cataloguing 101 is an introductory course, then comes 201, and lastly is 301). As a first generation college student, I really wish I would’ve known this picking my classes for my first year! I ended up taking a Tier III class my first semester of graduate school and though it was super useful, I felt like I lacked the agency to talk about library issues.

Take a class that interests you but may be out of your comfort zone. This is something I personally haven’t done yet, but if you can swing it and it won’t mess up your credits, I really recommend taking a class outside of your department. Check out Samantha’s article about taking language courses. Or perhaps take a peek at Annie’s post about taking a class inside a special collections. It’s really important to me to find balance in personal and professional interests, and this is a great way to get out there, meet new people, and create some stellar interdisciplinary ideas.

And finally, be flexible. Things change, and not everything goes as planned. I understand that some programs don’t give a lot of freedom in choosing classes and not everyone here is going to school for a master’s degree, but identifying goals and thinking about how your classes relate to each other are valuable in any context. Remember the bottom line: it’s all what you make of it.

What classes are you excited about next term?

Chloe Waryan is a MLIS candidate at University of Iowa. She entered into the library field by way of urban public libraries, as a patron, a volunteer, and eventually an employee. Chloe’s professional interests include #critlib, digital preservation, and outreach.

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