Information for New Students
This page covers some of the basic information every UW student needs to know about academic life: registering for classes, grades, advising, and finances. There's also info about programs just for new students — First-year Interest Groups (FIGs) and Collegium Seminars. Elsewhere in this section you can find a checklist for new students to help you keep track of all the important tasks and deadlines associated with your first quarter at the University.
MyUW is your personal gateway to the UW web resources you will use the most (myuw.washington.edu). Through this site you can get course information, email your instructors, locate classrooms on a map, find and purchase textbooks and access course websites. Links to almost all of the resources in this section can be found on MyUW. A mobile-friendly version of the site is available at myuw.washington.edu/mobile.
Using the Time Schedule
The Time Schedule is the listing of course offerings each quarter. UW's Time Schedule 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
How many courses should I take?
If you want to attend full-time, you should sign up for a schedule of courses that totals 12-17 credits. If you are on financial aid, or are an international student, or a student athlete, you must register for at least 12 credits.
What's a credit?
You earn credit by completing courses. In general, one credit represents one hour in class per week. Many UW courses are 5 credits, and meet 5 hours per week. Most UW bachelor degrees require 180 credits. If you take 15 credits per quarter and attend three quarters per year, in four years you will have 180 credits.
What does a normal course schedule look like?
For new students, a normal courseload is usually three courses: two 5-credit courses, plus a third course that is anything from 2 credits to 5 credits. Examples of a few typical freshman schedules:
|Schedule One||Schedule Two||Schedule Three|
MATH 120 (5)
MATH 124 (5)
POL S 202 (5)
So 15 credits would be 15 hours of class each week. If I'm a full-time student, shouldn't I have 40 hours of class each week?
No, because college courses require much more study time than high school courses. In general, courses require two hours of homework for every hour of class. So, a 15-credit load should end up taking about 45 hours of time per week (15 hours of class time plus 30 hours of homework).
If classes last an hour, how much time do I have to get to the next class?
Actually the University "hour" is 50 minutes, and you have 10 minutes to get to the next class if you're taking courses one right after another. Some classes meet for longer than 50 minutes, though - especially labs. And some classes meet for two long sessions each week instead of five hour-long sessions. You'll need to read the Time Schedule carefully.
It is smart to note the location of the classes, though, to make sure you don't have to go from one end of campus to the other in 10 minutes; in the Time Schedule, just click on the building name and a campus map will pop up.
How often do I register?
Each quarter you attend the UW. There are three quarters in the academic year (autumn, winter, and spring), plus summer quarter if you wish to attend then as well. Courses you register for last only one quarter (normally 10 weeks plus finals). You register for the next quarter about halfway through the current quarter; so, if you are starting school in autumn, you'll register for winter quarter about halfway through autumn. Your registration date each quarter will appear in MyUW.
Can I take any courses listed in the Course Descriptions?
No. Course Descriptions lists all of the courses that are ever offered at the UW. Only a subset of these are offered each quarter. Many course descriptions note the quarters a particular course is offered (A=autumn, W=winter, Sp=Spring, S=summer).
Okay, then can I take any courses listed in the Time Schedule?
Still no! You'll see in the Time Schedule that some classes have class standing restrictions (e.g., "juniors and seniors only"), major restrictions (e.g., "PSYCH majors only"), placement test requirements, or prior course requirements (i.e., "prerequisites").
Also, in general, first-year students take only courses numbered in the 100s and 200s. Courses numbered in the 300s and 400s are usually taken by sophomores, juniors, and seniors. This is not always true, though; ask an adviser if you want a second opinion about your course choices.
How do I decide which courses to take?
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 have interest in several majors, take introductory courses to try them out. If you're not sure of your major, explore your interests by taking a course or two in possible majors of interest. If you're thinking at all about a science major, consider taking a math or introductory science course.
Also, work on general education requirements, like English composition, Writing courses, foreign language, and the Areas of Knowledge.
One nice way to do all of the above and start off with a great connection to the UW is to sign up for a Freshmen Interest Group (FIG).
There are also other resources for choosing classes on our Registering for Classes page, including Suggested Areas of Knowledge Courses, New Courses, and Special Offerings.
Will I need to take any placement tests?
Math: Unless you took the statewide placement test in high school, scored high enough on the Advancement Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) test, or have college credit for math, you will need to take a math placement test if you plan to take most math courses.
Foreign Language: You only need to take a foreign language placement test if it's the language you took in high school; otherwise, in most cases, you can just sign up for the beginning class.
English composition: The UW does not offer any general placement tests for English composition. All of the beginning English composition courses are at the same level, you just write about different topics.
For more information read through our Placement Tests website.
I've heard that all the good courses are closed. How can I get the courses I want?
Well, sometimes you can't. In your first quarter at the UW you are registering after all the continuing students, and some courses will be closed. Also, the later you register the fewer options you'll have. If you're a freshman entering in autumn quarter, however, we offer loads of space in the courses freshmen typically take: math, chemistry, English composition, and a variety of introductory courses in subjects such as history, politics, and psychology. There are several good online resources at our Tools for Finding Open Courses website.
Do I have to pay tuition when I sign up for classes?
Tuition isn't due until after the quarter starts, so you can set up your schedule and know exactly how much you owe by checking MyUW before paying. Tuition is the same for 10 to 18 credits, but other fees may apply, and there is an extra charge for credits beyond 18. Check the Tuition Rates website for details.
There will be a link on your Registration screen in MyUW that reads “Display Textbooks.” This will generate a list of the required and optional textbooks for your courses at that point in time. If you want to, you can then click on the icon for University Book Store to use the Price Comparison Tool to select new, used, rental, or digital books, or shop other online retailers conveniently.You can also determine which textbooks are required and optional by visiting University Book Store in person. Textbooks are organized on the shelves by academic department and are labeled by course and section exactly as on your class schedule. When shopping for textbooks, be sure to bring your class schedule with you as sometimes different sections of the same course will use different books.Internet kiosks are available in the Textbook Departments so you can look up your class schedule at your convenience. You can also search for your textbooks online at ubookstore.com.It is best to go to classes first and read the course syllabus before buying books listed as “not required,” “optional,” or “do not buy in advance.”If you buy your books somewhere other than the U Bookstore, check carefully to make sure you are buying the correct edition. While older editions may be less expensive, they may be missing important material, or otherwise by unsuitable for the course.
Will I get grades at the UW, just like in high school?
Yes, you'll get grades, but the type may be different from what you're used to. For example, you may have received A, B, C grades in high school. UW uses numerical grades, starting with 4.0 as the top grade and 0.0 the lowest. We also have pass-fail options. Everything is described at our website on the Grading System.
Is there a set standard for assigning grades at the UW?
No. Each instructor determines what standards to use in a particular class. Some instructors may give a 4.0 grade to all students they think have done excellent work in the class, even if that's a substantial percent of the entire class. Other instructors grade on a bell curve, which means that more students end up with a grade in the middle, while a smaller percent receive either a very high or very low grade. The course syllabus, an outline of what's assigned and expected for the quarter, should be distributed the first week, and will include information on grading standards in the course.
How important are grades?
It depends on how you intend to use them. If you plan to attend graduate or professional school, you'll need high grades (among other things) to get into better schools. Chances are, though, your future won't hinge on your getting a 3.83 rather than a 3.62 GPA.
What's a GPA?
Grade Point Average. If you take three 5-credit courses and get a 3.6 in one, a 2.8 in one, and a 3.2 in the third, your GPA for that quarter will be 3.20. Grades are weighted by the number of credits in the course, so that a 2-credit course affects your GPA less than a 5-credit course. See Computation of GPA and our GPA Calculator for more information.
How often are grades given?
Grades that appear on your UW record are given at the end of each quarter. Within the quarter, each instructor may assign grades for papers, midterm exams, class participation, etc. The syllabus should show how various grades will be used to assign the final grade for the quarter. In one course, you may have a single final exam that determines your entire grade for the quarter, while in another course you could have weekly assignments or "quizzes" which, along with a midterm and a final exam, will add up to 100% of the final grade.
How will I find out what my grades are?
Your grades will appear in MyUW about a week after your final examinations.
Will I be dropped from the UW if my grades are too low?
As long as you maintain at least a 2.00 GPA, you won't be in danger of being dropped. Even if you don't do well your first quarter, you'll have two more quarters to improve before you're dropped from school. For further information about what happens if your GPA does fall below 2.00, see Low Scholarship and the Help! section of this website.
Is there any way to avoid the constant pressure of grades?
There are two ways.
- The first is internal. Instead of worrying incessantly about what grade you might get in a specific class, concentrate on learning the material and getting help if you need it. Also, in your first few quarters at the UW you should make a real effort to discover what academic area interests you the most, instead of concentrating on what you think you need to do to get a job after college — or what your parents think you need to do. In the long run, you'll be much more successful in college, and after college, if you discover what you're interested in and take classes related to that interest.
- The second is external, tied to the UW grading system. You can take a few courses on what we call the "Satisfactory/Not Satisfactory" (S/NS) grading option, and they will not be calculated into your GPA. Be sure to see an adviser before deciding on this option. You can't take any courses you want to count toward requirements this way, and only a limited number of S/NS credits may count toward a degree. Also, some graduate and professional schools don't look favorably on S/NS grades.
What kind of help can I get with my homework?
UW offers many kinds of academic assistance, including writing centers, study centers, and study-skills workshops. For more, check out the Help! section of this website.
Once I'm in a class, am I stuck with it no matter how hard it is or how far behind I get?
No. You can "drop" a class, but this should never be done lightly for several reasons. First, there may be other options (e.g., talk to the professor and/or TA; change to S/NS grading; ask for an Incomplete; petition for a hardship withdrawal, etc.). Second, you are restricted to one annual drop per year beginning week of of the quarter. Third, there may be financial penalties if you go below full-time status. Fourth, although a drop or two will not affect your chances for graduate or professional school, if you make a habit of dropping classes you might have to explain it later. Before exercising this option, be sure to see an adviser and/or read over the Course Drop Policy.
What happens if I can't finish the quarter for whatever reason?
You can withdraw for the quarter (unless the quarter is already over, which is too late). Dropping out for the quarter is not the same as dropping an individual class, and has different implications, so always discuss this option with an adviser. The adviser can help you plan how to withdraw from school with the fewest complications (such as failing grades) and also show you how to get back in as soon as you're ready to return. If you are withdrawing because of a hardship, you should consider petitioning for a hardship withdrawal.
How much does it cost to go to the UW?
There's no definitive answer to this question. Variables include: whether you're a Washington state resident; how many credits you take each quarter; what courses you take (books and supplies are more costly for some courses than others); where you live while attending school; and your lifestyle. We'll discuss some of these factors below.
What is tuition?
Tuition is the basic amount the UW collects from you every quarter to help defray the costs of keeping the university going. Tuition itself varies, depending on whether you qualify for in-state rates (are a Washington state resident) and how many credits you take. Check the Tuition Rates website for the most up-to-date information.
How do I know if I qualify for in-state rates?
If you've just been admitted, check MyUW to see if you are classified as a "resident" and thus eligible for in-state (lower) tuition rates. If you've lived in Washington state most of your life and/or your parents are Washington state residents and you are a dependent, you will most likely qualify for in-state rates.
If MyUW shows you as a non-resident, and you think you should qualify as a resident, look at the Washington State Residency website for more information.
Why does it cost so much more for non-residents?
Washington residents, and their parents, pay taxes that go toward supporting the costs of running the UW (salaries, operating expenses, building maintenance, etc.). Non-residents pay the actual, estimated cost to the University of supporting you as a student. Residents pay a lower rate because they pay taxes toward supporting the UW's operation.
Beyond tuition, are there any hidden fees?
Well, they aren't exactly "hidden," but you may not be aware of other expenses associated with attending classes. For example, you will need books and supplies. To get an idea how much books will cost, go to the Time Schedule and select a past quarter. Find any course and click on the SLN, the hyperlinked five-digit number next to each class section. This takes you to detailed information about the course. Click on "Display Textbooks." The required textbooks will be listed, with their prices. Check several courses to get an idea of what the cost of textbooks will be; you'll probably be surprised by how expensive college textbooks are. If you have courses in mind for your first quarter, you can go to that quarter's Time Schedule and check them out. Autumn quarter textbooks, however, sometimes aren't listed until late in the summer.
The cost of supplies you'll need for courses will vary. Supplies for an art class could be relatively expensive. For other classes you'll just need a spiral notebook for note-taking. Science lab classes usually require a fee, which should be listed in the Time Schedule and will be added to your tuition bill.
The technology fee, which goes toward providing high-tech access for all students, is included in the basic tuition rate.
Beyond that, you'll probably run up against some fees. For example, you'll pay $20 to drop a class after the deadline, $9 for an official transcript, a fine if you don't return library books on time, or $75 if you don't pay your tuition by the deadline. Most of these surprise fees can be avoided, though, if you meet deadlines and obligations on time.
Any other surprises?
There are some "optional expenses." If you want student health insurance, for example, that's an extra charge.
If you sign up for more than 18 credits in a quarter, you'll be charged per credit beyond the basic tuition fee.
Is that all?
No, indeed. You'll also have living expenses. You can find estimated living expenses at our Annual Student Budget website, but the figures shown include so many variables that you'd be better off figuring out your own individual situation. Factors you need to consider include where you plan to live (at home, in the residence halls, in an apartment, in a single room in a private home); whether you're responsible just for your own expenses, or for others as well; whether you'll have commuting costs; and how extravagant a lifestyle you maintain. Sit down and draw up an estimate of how much you'll spend just to keep yourself going for the next year. Don't forget car expenses and insurance (if any), and whether you can rely on a bailout in case of emergency.
What if my likely income doesn't match my projected expenses?
You have four options:
- Revise your budget. What, if anything, are you willing to sacrifice, in order to cover your irreducible expenses? Maybe some things you've considered essential can be redirected to the "optional" category. College is expensive, no question about it. Unless you have unlimited resources to draw upon, you can't expect to live the same lifestyle while you're attending college that you would have if you weren't paying for tuition, books, and all the rest. Will you really need a car? Could you spend less on clothes or travel or dining out? This is only for four years, after all, and everyone expects a student to have a somewhat reduced lifestyle.
- Get a job. On-campus jobs in food service, libraries, etc. are plentiful. Although they don't pay especially well, they are right at hand and don't eat up valuable time going to and from work. For information about jobs on campus see our Student Employment Links.
- Go part time. You'll get more out of school if you attend full time and get totally involved in the university experience, but that isn't feasible if you have to work a lot of hours to make ends meet. In general, we strongly recommend that you take only two classes if you are planning on working more than twenty hours per week, and only one class if you plan to work full-time.
- Take time off from school and return after you've improved your financial situation. Once you've attended the UW for at least one quarter you can come and go, if necessary, until you earn a degree. If you have to leave for a while to work or deal with personal problems you'll be allowed to return and resume your studies when you're ready.
One of the most frequent reasons that students get into academic difficulty is that they try to work too many hours while attending college. Under those circumstances, something is bound to suffer — your grades, your ability to stay alert at work, your health. And if your grades suffer too badly, you might damage your record to the point where it's no longer possible to gain admission to the major or postgraduate program that is your goal. Be realistic about what you can accomplish, and don't attempt to cut corners in your academic work. In the long run, it doesn't pay. Remember, too, that advisers are always here to help you work through these decisions.
Will I end up with a huge debt?
Possibly. But in the long run, college pays off. On average, college graduates earn twice as much over a lifetime as their high school peers. Beyond that, your college education will add immeasurably to your enjoyment of life. You'll be better-informed, more interested, and more interesting — as an employee, spouse, parent, and citizen.
Who can I talk to more about finances?
Although academic advisers are always happy to discuss any issue with you, the advisers at Student Fiscal Services specialize in student financial issues.
First-year Interest Groups
First-year Interest Groups (FIGs), which take place only in autumn quarter, are groups of freshmen who sign up for preset clusters of courses. The 20 to 25 new UW students in each FIG have similar academic interests and, since they share the same cluster of courses for their first quarter, have an opportunity to get to know each other. This community provides a supportive and friendly learning environment — a great way to start at the UW. About 70% of entering freshmen enroll in a FIG in their first quarter.
At the FIG website you can search for open FIGs in a number of different ways. You can search for FIGs that include a particular course you want to take, or you can search for FIGs that include a type of course, such as humanities of social sciences. There are also some "theme" FIGs, including residential FIGs, service-learning FIGs, and multicultural FIGs.
All FIGs include GEN ST 199, a 2-credit course with an experienced undergraduate "FIG leader," designed to assist you in your transition to UW life.
FIGs consist of two or three courses plus the GEN ST 199, and range from 12 to 17 credits. Some students add another course to the FIG, particularly the 12-credit FIGs, while others choose to make the FIG their entire course schedule. The maximum number of credits you can register for before the first day of the quarter is 19. We strongly recommend that new students take no more than three courses plus the GEN ST 199.
UW Collegium Seminars (General Studies 197) are discussion-based seminars designed to introduce first year students to the excitement of ideas and the richness of academic discovery.
Students in these seminars learn “shoulder-to-shoulder” with UW faculty members, exploring big ideas, engaging in deep inquiry, and developing a sense of community with a small group of students around a shared area of interest. These seminars are an excellent introduction to the intellectual world of the university, and a welcoming environment for students still new to the campus. Grading is credit/no credit.
There are several advantages to enrolling in a Collegium:
- Make connections with faculty, many of whom are respected experts in their fields
- Experience the benefits of a more personal learning environment in your first year
- Explore different fields of study in a low-pressure academic setting
- Meet students with similar academic interests
The current list of seminars is available at the Collegium Seminars website.
Collegium Seminars are intended for first-year students. If space is available at the end of registration, it may be possible for other students to enroll. Also, if you are a first-year student at the UW, but are classified as a sophomore or junior because of your AP or Running Start credits, you can still sign up for a Collegium Seminar. Contact an adviser.
You are allowed to earn up to 3 total credits of General Studies 197. In other words, you can take more than one seminar. For example, you could take a different Collegium Seminar in all three quarters of your freshman year.
Discovery Seminar classes are one-time, special offerings covering an exciting range of topics in the Arts, Humanities, and the Natural and Social Sciences. All count toward the UW's General Education Requirements, and enroll only 25 students. With topics like "Close To The Edge: A Survey Of Important 20th Century Music Outside Of The Mainstream From Abe To Zappa" or "The Biology of Human Consciousness" or "War Games! Greek Athletes, Roman Gladiators, Olympic Games and College Football," these intensive, five-credit, month-long classes are designed to smooth the transition between high school and college as well as give you a jump start on Autumn quarter.
Discovery Seminars are offered from late August to mid-September each year. See the Discovery Seminar website for details.
Can I meet with an adviser before my Advising & Orientation session?
Not usually. During the summer most of our time is spent conducting Advising & Orientation sessions. During your Advising & Orientation session there will be several presentations that cover the basic information you need to prepare for your first quarter. There will also be ample opportunities for you to ask questions. We try to give each person as much individual attention as possible, especially during registration labs, where you can register for your first quarter courses in the company of other students, with advisers on-hand to answer your questions.
Will my advisers during Advising & Orientation be my advisers for all four years?
Maybe, but it usually doesn't work out that way. Most freshmen start out meeting with the general advisers in our office or in the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity. As you start to narrow down your choice of majors, you will want to meet with the advisers for those majors for program planning and, in many cases, preparing your application for admission to the major. Once you declare a major, you will meet primarily with that department's adviser to plan your program of classes, discuss internship and research opportunities, and prepare for graduation.
Even after you declare your major you may return to our office and/or Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity Counseling Services for a variety of services, including preprofessional advising for programs such as medical school, law school, veterinary school, and dental school. We can also help you if you find yourself in academic difficulty, and provide a valuable sounding board to help you shape your entire college experience since our advisers are generalists, and are not connected to any one particular major.
Can I go to professors for advice?
In some of the smaller UW departments professors are the departmental advisers. In most departments, however, the academic adviser is a professional adviser whose full-time job is to help you navigate the University and make the most of the opportunities available to you.
Professors, however, can be the best resource for certain types of advice, and they make wonderful mentors. Many students develop a relationship with one or more professors and discuss their plans for the future with them. Also, admission to graduate and professional schools often requires getting recommendations from professors, so you should get to know at least a few of them individually. Professors are the best people to talk with about undergraduate research opportunities and preparing for graduate school, and they too can help you take advantage of the many opportunities on campus.
How often am I required to meet with an adviser?
The UW doesn't require that you meet regularly with an adviser. Some universities require that you obtain an adviser's approval before registering for classes each quarter, but the UW doesn't. Some students stop by with questions every few weeks; others find themselves able to navigate the University with relatively little assistance. Advisers are always available to provide whatever help you need.
Photo by UW Admissions