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What Courses Should I Take?

One of your most important tasks as a student is finding and registering for the courses you need each quarter. The University offers over 6500 undergraduate courses — and you might take as few as 36 of them by the time you graduate. How can you make the best choices for your needs and interests?

Effectively choosing courses each quarter is the result of a deliberate and ongoing planning process. There are no set schedules or patterns of classes that can be pulled out of a drawer and applied, from start to finish, to your education. You have to build it for yourself —and you have to keep at it. What seems appealing today may not make as much sense next quarter. This is especially true for the first year or two, when you are discovering so many new ideas.

As your experience at UW deepens, your course planning will evolve along with it. This process of constant building is one of the great privileges of a UW experience. You are, to a large extent, building your own education. Here are some specific things to consider and to prompt your thinking as you gain experience building a course schedule.

  • Is this your first year at the UW? Consider a Freshman Interest Group in Autumn quarter and/or a Freshman Seminar in Autumn, Winter, and Spring.
  • First-year students should prioritize English Composition courses.
  • First and second-year students should prioritize Additional Writing courses.
  • Even if you plan to major in a department that doesn’t require it, starting or continuing a Foreign Language may be a good idea.
  • Balance your load: don’t take more than two courses from any one Area of Knowledge. Balance interpretive, creative analysis with quantitative problem solving.
  • Try to take at least one small class with only 20–30 students.
  • Ask your friends for suggestions of courses and instructors they enjoyed.
  • Continue a sequence that you have started (calculus, French, etc.).
  • What did you learn this quarter, or this year, that you’d like to pursue a little further next quarter?
  • If you have a major identified, investigate the requirements and start working on prerequisites and required sequences. This is especially crucial in the majors with long sequences, like science, engineering, and language majors.
  • If you are interested in several majors, take introductory courses in each of them.
  • If you have a declared major, run a degree audit (DARS) and consult a departmental adviser to find out more about the requirements and opportunities for your major.
  • If you are interested in health care, law, or another professional program that requires a number of specific courses for application (including dentistry and veterinary medicine), you may spend as many credits on this preparation as you do on your major. These credits, at least the ones that don't count toward your major or your general education requirements, will be electives.
  • If your native language is not English, you may be interested in taking Academic English Program (AEP) courses.
  • Consider investigating experiential opportunities outside the classroom. Many of these activities (including research and internships) are credit-bearing.

There is a lot to consider, especially in combination with your search for a major. Don’t worry: you don’t have to do this work alone! Academic advisers are your primary collaborators at the University in establishing and maintaining an effective academic plan. We invite  you to keep your adviser informed about your goals and intentions so we can make sure that your planning work proceeds as smoothly as possible.

Typical course loads

A typical class load for each quarter is 15 credits. If you complete 15 credits each quarter, and complete three quarters each year (autumn, winter, and spring), in four years you will have 180 credits, the number usually required for graduation.

15 credits/quarter x 3 quarters/year x 4 years = 180 credits

Many UW courses are 5 credits, so many UW students take three 5-credit courses each quarter. A typical course schedule usually looks something like this:

HIST 1115 credits
FRENCH 101   5 credits
MATH 1205 credits
=  15 credits total

Twelve credits per quarter is the minimum to be considered a full-time student for financial aid. International students and student athletes are required to enroll in at least 12 credits each quarter, and there may be other reasons you want or need to be a full-time student. However, the UW does not require that students attend full-time.

Recommended course loads

Full-time students typically enroll in 12-18 credits per quarter. Within the upper limits (see below), how many credits you take each quarter is up to you. If you don't have a part-time job and have very few other commitments, you might take 17 or 18 credits each quarter. If you are working, commuting, or have family responsibilities or other demands on your time, you should consider enrolling in fewer credits each quarter.

After a few quarters you'll develop a sense of what credit level works for you. For your first few quarters we strongly recommend that you keep your credit total on the low side. Most students are making many adjustments in their first few quarters in study habits and living arrangements. Taking too many credits in your first few quarters may limit the time you have to take advantage of campus resources — both academic and social. There's plenty of time to register for higher credit loads later in your time at the university if you decide this is the right decision for you.

Credit limits

Undergraduates are limited to 19 credits during Period 1 and 2 registration. This allows all students a chance to develop a basic class schedule. Additional credits may be added starting the first day of the quarter (i.e., Period 3), when the limit becomes 30 credits per quarter.

Note that additional tuition is charged for each credit over 18.

The credit limits don't include Early Fall Start, Academic English Program (AEP) courses, Online Learning, or UW Professional and Continuing Education courses. For example, even though Early Fall Start courses are recorded with your autumn quarter courses, you may enroll in a 5-credit Early Fall Start course and up to 19 regular credits in autumn quarter.

Additional things to consider

Time of day

Before you register, check the times of each of your classes in the time schedule to make sure that they don’t conflict. What times of day you are most productive? Would you prefer morning, afternoon, or evening classes? If there are several sections, choose the one that appeals to you time-wise. Also, do you want your classes one after the other, or do you want breaks in-between?

Work commitments

Keep in mind that being employed should affect how many credits you carry. Studies show that students working fewer than 15 hours per week do better academically than those who work more hours.

Number of credits

Do you have a manageable number of credits? A typical load is 15, but consider the workload of each class and determine what is right for you based on your other commitments. Remember: on average, one credit = three hours of work per week

Using the Time Schedule

The Time Schedule is the listing of current UW course offerings. It is available only online; there is no printed version. The Time Schedule for a particular quarter is available about a month before Registration Period 1 (current student registration) begins.

Courses in the Time Schedule are listed alphabetically by college (Arts and Sciences, Business, etc.) and then alphabetically within each college by department. If a course isn't listed, it isn't being offered this quarter. Check the Course Descriptions for listings of all classes offered regardless of quarter.

The colored title bar lists the abbreviation for the department (e.g., in the below sample, PHIL = Philosophy); the course number (e.g., 120); the title (e.g., INTRO TO LOGIC), which is linked to the course description, including prerequisites; requirements this course fulfills (e.g., PHIL 120 counts for Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning and either Individuals and Societies or Natural World; and whether the course has a prerequisite and/or has cancellation in effect (not seen in this sample).

Some UW courses are offered as combinations of lectures and quiz sections, which are small discussion groups, usually led by a TA (Teaching Assistant). In the sample below, PHIL 120 is a lecture class meeting MWF 10:30-11:20, with quiz section meetings at various times and locations on TTh. You choose only one of the quiz sections. To register for PHIL 120, you'd need the SLN for the lecture (e.g., 16698), and an SLN for one of the associated quiz sections (e.g., 16699, 16700, or 16701).

Some courses have more than one lecture offered. Lectures are always indicated by a single letter (e.g., in the sample above, "A"). Further lectures would proceed with B, C, etc.

Each lecture has its own quiz sections. Just as the quiz sections that go with lecture A are called AA, AB, AC, etc., the quiz sections that go with lecture B are called BA, BB, BC, etc. In choosing a lecture/quiz combination, you must choose a quiz section that begins with the same letter as the lecture. That is, you cannot have lecture A and quiz section BC.

Enrollment Summary

The Enrollment Summary for each department is available near the top of that department's page in the Time Schedule. It lists the current number of seats available in all courses offered by a single department. For example, if you want to take an anthropology course but want more up-to-date information than the open/closed shading in the Time Schedule (which is updated only once a day, around midnight), you can click on "Enrollment Summary" and see the number of seats available right now in each anthropology course.

NOTE: The enrollment summaries for the larger departments (such as mathematics and English) may take several seconds to appear. It takes the computer a little time to prepare a summary because, unlike the open/closed shading in the Time Schedule itself, this report is real-time data.

Open/Closed courses

The sections of each course that are closed (full) are shaded out. This shading is updated only once each day, at midnight, so it might not be correct at the moment you are reading the Time Schedule. But it does give you an overall idea of how things are going. In the sample above, sections AA and AC of are shaded out as closed.

For the Current Section Status of a course, click on the schedule line number. This takes you to more detailed information about the course and the "real-time" enrollment status. PHIL 120 AA was closed when the Time Schedule was updated at midnight, but it may be that when you click on the SLN you will see that the course is now open. Similarly, a course that looks open may in fact now be closed, and you will see that if you click on the SLN.

Another way to check for open and closed classes is the Enrollment Summary. To get to the Enrollment Summary, click on the Enrollment Summary link in the top right corner of each department's Time Schedule listing. The Enrollment Summary is a list of the courses offered by the department with the current (real-time) enrollment status of each section of each course.   

Registration restrictions

UW courses often have restrictions on who can register for the course, and when. The restrictions are all listed in the Time Schedule. Some are visible in the regular listings, and some are visible only if you click on the Schedule Line Number (SLN) and look at the detailed information. If there are any restrictions, there will be a "Restr" note in the first column, to the left of the SLN. For explanations, see Registration Restrictions.

Courses that require an entry code (add code) have a ">" just to the left of the SLN.

Additional information

There are built-in links to additional information about courses in the Time Schedule. Each course title is linked to the Course Description of the course, where you will find any prerequisites listed. The building abbreviations link to campus maps. If the instructor has prepared an Instructor Class Description, with more detailed information about the course, there will be a link from the instructor's name.

If you click on the SLN, in the Current Section Status there is a link to the textbooks required for the course.

MyPlan

MyPlan is a web application that streamlines the process of planning classes and collaborating with your academic adviser. MyPlan includes a multifunction course-finding tool that allows you to search the UW course catalog and time schedule for classes that meet a number of different criteria including interest keywords, department, Area of Knowledge, number of credits, course level, when the course is scheduled to be offered, and whether or not you’ve already included it in your plan.

Classes can be added to any quarter of a four or five year plan or bookmarked for future reference. MyPlan keeps all your course ideas in one place. MyPlan also includes a degree auditing system to tell you what classes are needed for any course of study at the University and which of those classes you’ve completed so you don’t have to keep track of it by hand. MyPlan also includes a Messaging function that enables you to have a conversation with your academic adviser about your plan and discuss your best strategy.

Note: in an upcoming version of MyPlan you will be able to use it to register for classes, but for now, you will need to access the registration system through MyUW.

Schedule Finder

Originally designed to help you find a set of classes without conflicting times, Schedule Finder has, unfortunately, not aged gracefully. It no longer recognizes all the different restrictions that can be placed on classes and so can present you with a schedule for which you cannot actually register. Many students, however, still swear by Schedule Finder and have never run into a problem using it. If you decide to use Schedule Finder, double check any class arrangement it shows you with the time schedule itself before clicking the “Register” button.

Select the right quarter, then enter the department abbreviations and course numbers of the courses you want.

If you’re already registered for one or more courses and you want to keep the sections you’re already in, you can “lock” those sections by entering the department, course number, and section letters, and the Schedule Finder will fit your other courses around your current course(s).

If you like, you can enter an earliest start time and a latest end time. It’s also a good idea to check the box marked “Check to exclude course sections requiring Entry Codes.” The computer will then ignore sections that are open but have restrictions, such as sections reserved for FIGs. Submit your request, and the Schedule Finder will come back with a list of possible combinations. If you like, you can click on “Display Visual Schedule” to see what each schedule looks like on a weekly calendar. Schedule Finder lists only the first ten options, so if you want to see more you may have to adjust the information you’re giving it. If you like one of the combinations, you can register for it by clicking the “Register for this Schedule” button located above each combination. If you receive a registration error when using Schedule Finder, be sure to double check the pre-requisites and/or registration restrictions for each course in your potential schedule.

You can get to the Schedule Finder from the Registration page in MyUW. It goes live one week before Period 1 registration begins.

General Education Requirement Course Search

This tool allows you to search for all open courses that meet selected General Education Requirements. For example, if you want to take an Individuals and Societies (I&S) course, but don’t know exactly which one, you can search for all open I&S courses between selected times and find out all your options.

First, select the right quarter. Then, choose the requirement you’d like to search for from the drop-down menu. You can enter an earliest starting time, latest ending time, a credit range (e.g., 3-5 credits), a course range (e.g., 100-level, 200-level, etc.), and can choose to exclude courses requiring Entry Codes, prerequisites, and courses with registration restrictions (this is often a good idea). You can also indicate the minimum number of credits you want each class to be worth.

When you click the button “Find Open Courses,” the computer will return a list of currently open courses that fit your criteria. A couple of things to note:

  • The list starts at the beginning of the day (or the time you selected) and goes through to the end of the day (or the time you selected).
  • Most courses with prerequisites will say “Check prerequisites” in the Notes column.
  • The SLN, Title, and Notes columns are hyperlinked; click on them to find out more about the class.
  • Only the lecture section is listed. Most courses also require you to sign up for a quiz section, and you’ll need to look in the Time Schedule to find one that works for you.
  • This document is often many pages long; don’t forget to click on “More” at the bottom.
  • Each search you request is performed in "real time." If you do another search 10 minutes later, you may come up with a course that just opened because another student just dropped it.

You can get to the General Education Requirement Course Search from the Registration page in MyUW. 

Suggested courses

These courses are primarily 100- and 200-level introductory courses that the advisers in our office recommend considering in order to satisfy a VLPA, I&S, or NW requirement, or other General Education requirements. These courses are often new and unique in some way, or they may provide a good intro to a major, or are just good for challenging your ideas of VLPA/I&S/NW. 

Course Evaluation Catalog

You can use the Course Evaluation Catalog to find out the student ratings for the various instructors of a course you are planning to take. The Instructional Assessment System is used to collect and summarize student ratings of instruction, and is used in more than 8,000 courses annually at the UW. The Course Evaluation Catalog is an online summary of this information.

Remember that the numbers are only one indication of course quality and should be interpreted with caution. For example, students who do better in the course may tend to give instructors higher ratings. An "A" student may say difficulty was low and workload about right, while others who did poorly may not.

It's also helpful to consider that any sample group will have its own biases that could distort the numbers. Consider the number of students who participated in the survey and the response rates that appear in the survey. Ratings for a class of 100 with only 3 responses turned in are much less representative of the class as a whole than are ratings for a class of 100 where 94 surveys were returned.

You can access the Course Evaluation Catalog from the Registration page in MyUW by clicking on Student Guide, then scroll down to the Selecting Courses section.

More helpful tools

Instructor Class Descriptions

If an Instructor Class Description has been prepared there will be links to it from the Course Catalog and the Time Schedule. Just click on the instructor’s name. You can also browse the whole catalog at once. Class Descriptions provide information about how to prepare for a course, class assignments, and grading.

Note: these descriptions will be replaced soon with links to the course syllabus in Canvas.

Departmental homepages

If you are interested in a particular subject, visit the department's web site. Many contain information on special class offerings, new classes of interest, or additional background about current classes. 

Sit in on a course

Every quarter, the Office of Admissions lists dozens of courses that are available for prospective students to observe, and there’s no reason you can’t join them! Previewing a course like this can help you make plans for upcoming quarters.

The Course Catalog (Course Descriptions)

The function of searching and browsing course descriptions has largely been absorbed into MyPlan. It is still possible to do a direct search but the results will be limited. You can always access it from the Registration page in MyUW. 

Changing your schedule

Once you've registered, your class schedule is not set in stone. You can make changes for quite some time. What should you think about when considering adding or dropping courses?

  • If you're dropping a course and adding a course, be sure to submit both changes simultaneously. Why? Because if for some reason you can't add the course, the computer won't drop you from your course, either — because no part of the transaction will occur unless all the requests are ok. This can save you if you are trying to get the one space in a popular course. If the space has disappeared, you won't lose the course you wanted it to replace.
  • If dropping a course will take you below 12 credits, consider whether you need to have full-time student status. Typical reasons you may need to be full-time: for financial aid, if you are an international student, and to remain on your parents' insurance.
  • You can't drop only part of a First-year Interest Group (FIG).
  • To drop a whole FIG, just drop the GEN ST 199 course and submit. The whole FIG will be dropped.
  • Courses move very quickly at the UW. Even missing the first few class meetings may put you far behind your classmates. If you plan to add a course after the quarter has begun, consider attending the course even before you're officially registered for it. If that's not feasible, ask your classmates and/or instructor for any material you missed from the first few days.
  • Aside from the issue of falling behind, there are a number of restrictions on dropping and adding after the first week of the quarter (see below).

Alternatives to dropping

Before dropping a course you are having trouble in, consider your options. Talk with the instructor and/or TA about the problems you are having. If there is one, use the UW's study centers and/or writing centers. Take advantage of other campus resources listed in the Help! section of this website. Also, consider the following alternatives:

Satisfactory/Not Satisfactory (S/NS) grading

You can change any course (except a Credit/No Credit course) to S/NS grading through the seventh week of the quarter. S/NS courses can’t be used toward any graduation requirement except general electives, so think carefully!

Incomplete

If you’re unable to complete the work required for a course before the end of the quarter, you can request an “incomplete” from the instructor. If s/he agrees, you will get extra time to finish the work.

Hardship Withdrawal

If it is too late to drop a course (i.e., after the seventh week of the quarter) AND you have experienced a documented hardship (e.g., injury, death in the family), you can petition for a Hardship Withdrawal. The process takes several weeks, and, if approved, will result in “HW” being entered instead of a grade. You may request a Hardship Withdrawal for one or more courses, and can even submit retroactive requests for courses taken in previous quarters.

Withdrawal from all courses

If none of the above options work in your situation, you can withdraw from ALL your courses right up through the last day of instruction. You won’t receive credit for any courses taken in the quarter, and “W”s will be entered instead of grades. No explanation or documentation is required. If it’s before the end of the seventh week of the quarter, just drop all your courses. After that you have to do it in person at 225 Schmitz Hall. There is no charge for withdrawing if you do it in person at Schmitz Hall.

Dropping and adding through the first week (days 1-7) of the quarter

From the time you are first eligible to register through the first week of the quarter you can make as many changes as you want to your schedule. During this time, there are no penalties or fees for making changes. Also, the changes do not appear on your transcript.

Dropping and adding after the first week of the quarter

After the first week of the quarter it is still possible to make changes to your registration, but any change should be carefully considered. Restrictions are discussed below:

Weeks 2 and 3 (days 8-21): Late Add Period

All courses added during this time require an entry code. Faculty are usually reluctant to allow a student to add a course after the first week of the quarter. A $20 fee is charged, covering all registration transactions made on a single day.

Week 2 (days 8-14): Unrestricted Drop Period

Courses dropped during this week do not appear on your transcript, but are subject to the $20 change-of-registration fee and possible tuition forfeiture.

Weeks 3 - 7 (day 15-end of week 7): Late Course Drop Period

Students may drop one course each academic year (Autumn through Summer quarters) after the 14th calendar day of the quarter. The course is recorded on your transcript, along with a “W” and a number indicating the week you dropped the course. A $20 change-of-registration fee is charged, and there may be some tuition forfeiture (see below).

Weeks 8 - 10

After week 7 you can’t drop an individual course, but you’re allowed to drop ALL your courses for the quarter through the last day of instruction.

Fees and tuition forfeiture

$20 Change of Registration fee

There is a $20 fee for any change in your class schedule (including changing back and forth to S/NS grading) made after the first week of the quarter. The fee is not $20 per transaction but rather $20 per day, so after the first week of the quarter try to make all your changes on the same day.

Tuition forfeiture

Your tuition is based on the number of credits you are registered for at the end of the first calendar week of the quarter, plus any courses you add after that date. If you drop one or more courses after the first week of the quarter, you may receive a partial tuition refund.

If you stay within the 10-18 credit range, there will be no change in your tuition. If you drop a course and your credit total falls below 10 credits, you will be refunded half the difference in tuition, through the 30th calendar day of the quarter. The other half of the difference is forfeit. If you drop a course after the 30th calendar day of the quarter there is no tuition refund, and all the tuition difference (if any) is forfeit.

For example, if you are registered for 13 credits you will be charged full-time tuition. If you drop a 5-credit course in the second week of the quarter, you will be refunded half of the difference between full-time tuition and the tuition charge for 8 credits. The other half of the difference is forfeit.

The deadline dates for full and partial tuition refunds are in the Academic Calendar.

Hardship and military withdrawals and leave policies

For information about hardship withdrawals, military withdrawals, and the UW's leave policy, see Withdrawal, Quarter Off, and On-Leave Policies.                

Other ways to take classes

Summer Quarter

This is a voluntary optional quarter that you can use to fulfill electives, drill down into a difficult course in your major, or experience something unique like a Summer Language Intensive or field course. Academic advisers or Evening Degree advisers can help you determine if Summer Quarter is right for you.

Professional & Continuing Education

UW Professional & Continuing Education (PCE) offers a wide variety of credit and noncredit courses, many of which are available via online learning, allowing students to study at their own pace during hours that suit their lifestyles. Keep in mind that most online courses have a charge separate from normal tuition, and do not count for residence credit. PCE also offers more than 100 certificate programs and a variety of professional development programs and resources to K-12 educators throughout Washington.

Evening Degree Program

These majors are designed for people who have obligations during the day and want to complete their degree in the evening or via online learning. Participating UW schools and colleges offer majors leading to undergraduate degrees in Communication, English, Social Sciences, and Health Informatics and Health Information Management.

The Experimental College

Founded in 1968, the Experimental College is a widely respected leader in alternative education. These affordable, non-credit courses cover a very wide range of topics from cooking and aerobics to poetry writing and career planning. Courses are offered both on campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

UW-Bothell and UW-Tacoma

As a UW-Seattle student you can register for courses at UW-Bothell or UW-Tacoma on a space-available basis during Period 2 registration. There are limits on the number of cross-campus credits you can count toward your degree, and you can’t complete another campus’s major without applying and transferring to that campus (although you can complete a cross-campus minor). Both Tacoma and Bothell have programs that are not available at the Seattle campus.

Computing classes

Learning & Scholarly Technologies offers free software skills workshops.

Community colleges

Many UW students take courses at local community colleges—particularly in the summer when they are at home. Many community college courses will also fulfill UW requirements. Consult an acaademic adviser, as there are limits on how many transfer credits you can count toward your UW degree, and restrictions on when they can be taken.