One of the first things you’ll do at CMU is choose some classes to take for your first semester. If you do your strategic planning right, you’ll set a meeting with your advisor to work out your Authorization of Degree Program (ADP) document, through which you chart out your next two years of coursework. It gets turned in to the English Department and the Graduate Studies Office. The GS Office audits this document when you hand in your graduation forms, just to make sure you did what you said you would and that your courses actually earned you a degree. As you work on the ADP on your own and with your advisor, you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions about classes:
At CMU, 6 credits a semester (or 2 courses) is considered full time, but taking 9 credits is possible. It really depends on what the courses are like, what the reading loads are, how much writing or research you have to do, and how many in-class hours the course requires. For example, I took 11 credits one semester—however, two of those were independent studies and did not meet as often or for as long as a regular, weekly 3-hour seminar course. Another was a 2-hour special topics class that only met 4 Saturdays throughout the semester. Out of those 11 hours, I only had one regular seminar class that met each Tuesday evening for 3 hours. Get a good idea of what your weekly schedule will look like and talk to professors about the workload for their course. That will give you a good idea if you want to take 6, 9, or even 11 credits (although, after that semester, I can’t say I recommend it!).
When you’re deciding which classes to take, you’ll want to follow the guidelines in The Graduate Handbook carefully. The Graduate Handbook has department-specific tips for choosing classes (3-5). The Graduate Bulletin has descriptions of each of the classes, and the particular requirements for your degree,
Talk to other students! Get the inside scoop about which classes they liked, which they didn’t and why. Really focus on the why. Just because a class or teacher wasn’t a good match for one person doesn’t mean it won’t work out for you. Remember, planning has to be in the context of your goals, preferences, and personal style.
This is the key question and the one that may flummox you for a few weeks as you first begin working with your advisor to chart out your ADP. To be blunt, there is at times confusion or uncertainty in the department about whether certain courses will “make” (which means fill the minimum required seats). Having contingency plans in place helps with this. Also, taking the maximum number of courses you feel comfortable with helps too, since taking more classes fills up more seats.
Here's what Matthew Moffett, a Creative Writing student, had to say about contingency plans: and choosing classes:
"For creative writing, the courses tend to follow a pattern where the workshops take place in the fall, then the craft and literature seminars take place in the spring. For the seminars, it alternates every year which one is for fiction and which one is for poetry. For example, this past spring they offered The Craft of Poetry and they would've offered a Seminar in Contemporary Fiction if it hadn't been cancelled, then next spring they'll offer The Craft of Fiction and a Seminar in Contemporary Poetry. As such, the only advice I'd give is to make sure you take at least one creative writing course each semester so they don't get cancelled for the people who need them."
How soon do you need/want to graduate?
Connected to the question of how many is your personal graduation plan. If you’re a full time student, you’re probably hoping to graduate in two years. If you do the math, you’ll quickly realize this will require at least one summer course and at least one semester where you take 9 credits. If you aren’t as worried about graduating within a specific time, then you’ll have more flexibility in terms of when to take certain classes and how many classes to take at once. Considering your personal preferences (and limits) and your life outside of school can help you make this decision. Opening up to your advisor about life outside of school and your identity as a student will enable them to give you more tailored advice.
Top 3 Tips for Choosing Classes from Current Students
Children’s Lit and Comp GA
1. Planning ahead for the full two years may seem hard at first, but the reality is that only a few specifically Children's Lit courses are offered per semester, so if there's something you're dying to take, check with the office to see when they plan on offering the course next.
2. Utilize your electives judiciously. You don't get as many Children's Lit classes in the degree as you probably want, so take the Plan B electives as a way to take more of the children's literature offerings!
3. Use independent study as a potential to fill in the gaps. Many of the Children's Lit courses are very broad (for example, Young Adult Literature (ENG 580) is really comprehensive), so figure out how to narrow in on your interests and find a faculty willing to work with you!
Heidi B. Ashcroft
Language and Lit and Comp GA
1. When it comes to electives (or even seminars), know what professor you are choosing. Get to know the teaching style a little bit, ask peers, do some research on the instructor. I've found that you can take a class that you thought would be awful, but have an awesome professor and it be the best class you've taken; or, you might choose a class for the subject matter, and the professor might not be a good match for you.
2. Going off of number one, you still want to pay attention to the content of the class. If you feel that the instructor won't be a good match for you, consider finding other instructors in the area and doing independent studies.
3. Sign up for classes early. If you don't you might miss out on a really great class whether that be because the class doesn't make the cap or because the class caps out.
1. Meet with your advisor early and often. It may sound like common sense, but this is my number one piece of advice. Whether you are scheduling classes, preparing for the comprehensive exam, or writing your Plan B paper, your advisor can give you advice and answer any questions you might have. It is easy for misinformation to spread, so when in doubt, ask your advisor.
2. Start thinking about your electives early. If you see an elective you like, ask your advisor when it is being taught next. Most electives in the TESOL program are taught less regularly than the core courses, so planning your electives early will really help you get the classes you want.
3. Register for classes as soon as possible. Don’t wait. Seriously. Registering early is important because it will tell both instructors and students whether or not a class has high enough enrollment to run. Alternatively, it can be difficult to get bumped into the class you want to take if it is already full. Avoid both of these issues by planning your schedule ahead of time and signing up for classes as soon as registration opens.
A Note on Independent Studies
Independent studies are an amazing opportunity to work one-on-one with a professor who specializes in the area you are interested in. However, it can be difficult to arrange one. Here’s the thing; professors are not compensated for independent study work. Seriously! They don’t make any extra money for this intense, individualized mentorship. So, if a professor doesn’t agree to do one with you—don’t take it personally. They have limited time to manage all of their responsibilities, and this may be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back. If a professor does agree to do an independent study with you, keep this in mind. They literally are doing this out of the goodness of their heart and their interest in your learning experience here at CMU. Be a top notch student. There won’t be anyone else to fall back on for seminar discussion if you don’t do the reading. Bring your A-game for every meeting and make it an experience that is fulfilling for you both.
Rebecca Conklin is an ENG 101 graduate assistant in the (currently suspended) Composition and Communication concentration. Some call her “The Last “MACC” but she’s hopeful the program will find an upswing in the years to come because it has brought so much awesomeness into her life. She’s planning on continuing her studies with a Ph.D. after CMU, and with any luck it will be at MSU’s Rhetoric, Writing, and American Cultures department
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