To Take or Not To Take: Advice for Course Selection

One of the most incredible things that you, as a student, can do for yourself is to step out of your comfort zone in terms of course planning. Most of us have heard advice similar to this – “step out of your comfort zone!” – a thousand times by this point in our academic careers, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.

Allow me to offer you a scenario from my own experience.

In the spring of 2018, I graduated from my alma mater and planned to start at SJSU iSchool as a fully-enrolled graduate student the following Fall. Much to my dismay, there was a miscommunication and my alma mater fell through on transferring my transcripts before the cut-off date. I was a wreck trying to figure out what to do! I couldn’t enroll in classes because I wasn’t a student; and I feared I would fall behind on my schedule as I wouldn’t be able to finish my core courses that first semester.

I contacted the associate director of the program and learned that there were open elective courses that I could take that semester that could count towards my degree when I did enroll the following Spring. While that wasn’t my first choice, I made the situation work.

One of the courses was one that I had scheduled for semesters later (in the great plan that fell through), so I enrolled in that. In addition, though, I took a course on incunabula. Had I ever heard of incunabula prior to that course? No. Had I looked up the definition? Of course. Did I enroll immediately after? Definitely.

It wasn’t part of my plan. My plan had been perfectly crafted by the hands of a student fresh out of undergrad and shaped by the aspirations of an optimistic new grad student. My plan had outlined exactly what courses I should take for my intended branch of librarianship. The issue was that my plan didn’t allow for whimsy or topical courses that weren’t offered every semester. For instance, that course on incunabula.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with planning! In fact, one of my last posts for Hack Library School outlines the benefits of planning as an online graduate student. This was one of those instances, though, when planning too far ahead had been a major downfall for me as a student.

There’s nothing wrong with planning, but there’s also nothing wrong with choosing topical courses purely based on interest! In many cases, what interests you will align with your outlined trajectory anyway, but there will certainly be the occasions when there will be the option to choose what you want to learn about versus what you think you should want to learn about. In those instances, weigh the pros and cons of each, but don’t allow yourself to fall into the routine of only choosing the courses that you think that you should!

It’s alright to push yourself out of your comfort zone and beyond the familiarity of planning every detail months in advance. Maybe this will mean switching around your schedule last minute to take that course that was added later than the others; maybe it will mean enrolling for a course that doesn’t directly relate to your pathway.

If I could go back to Fall 2019 (after I had finished all of my core courses and began to take electives), I would tell myself repeatedly to stop searching through the recommended courses as the end-all to course selection. The elective on incunabula has been the most interesting of all of my courses throughout my LIS graduate journey thus far; and part of the reason is because it was a topic-specific course. The rest of my course list is filled with generalized courses that will certainly help me in my future career, but they weren’t as enjoyable as the one that I chose because it interested me.

If you are just starting in your LIS graduate journey, I encourage you to thoroughly sort through the list of available courses! Along with your generalized courses, be sure to select topical courses that intrigue you.

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