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Mad Scientist’s Apprentice: Killer Class Loads

Gone fishing

Plan for time off, even just a weekend day a month if that’s all you can spare.

So here’s the thing about college classes. A credit hour, roughly, translates to one hour butt in the chair lecture or lab time. Then, rule of thumb is for every hour in the classroom, you’ll spend three on homework. It’s not a hard and fast rule. But as the years go by, you’ll learn that some classes don’t require much outside the classroom, and others you struggle with until they eat every waking moment you can spare them. So that’s the ratio of 1:3.

If you want to be a ‘full-time’ student, then you have to take at least twelve credit hours during the semester. This translates to 12+36=48 hours of in and out of class time spent on school. We’re not talking commute time here, if you’re a non-traditional student living off campus like I am (dorms… no, that wouldn’t be possible at my age *shudder*). Just straight school time. It’s the equivalent of a full-time job, which is why a lot of young students insist they couldn’t work full time and go to school. I know people who do. I’ve worked part-time or running my own businesses since I began school. It’s not that I’m working less than I would with a regular job, just that my time for ‘work’ is a lot more flexible. It has some definite drawbacks, in that I must decide what’s highest priority at that moment – studying for an exam, or the paying work. I juggle the best I can, though, because…

I’m driven. I said in my introductory post that I have a time limit and I must meet it. I’m trying to cram dual Bachelor’s of Science degrees into five years. In pursuit of that, I’ve been taking classes year round, and during the semester the shortest class load I ever carried was my first semester with a mere 14 CH. Last year? I pulled a semester with 20 and one with 18. That’s 20+60= 80 hours a week of school, just to run our little formula again. Plus I was working. And I do have a family. Let’s just say that it wasn’t my wisest decision – I wound up with a C in a class and my professor dressing me down very nicely but firmly for having shot myself in the foot through overworking.

I will have to retake that class (Organic Chemistry, if you’re curious). If I were taking a BA or a liberal arts degree of some sort, it wouldn’t matter. A C is a respectable passing grade, and you still get your piece of paper at the end, which is all most employers care about. Science, on the other hand… in order to get into a competitive internship, or grad school (which I don’t plan on, but you might) then you need to have the highest grades you can muster. As and Bs all the way or you aren’t good enough for them. This coming summer I will immerse myself into a grueling 12 weeks of classes, and I will come out of it with a better grade, and a better chance at success down the road.

My point is that getting through fast is good, piling your plate too high is a risk of spilling and making a mess that takes more time to clean up than making two trips would have. It’s important to plan for problems, and to plan for down-time. Although I will be taking Winter Term classes, for instance, they are both online, allowing me a greater flexibility and the ability to get out and see family, relax, and recharge. I took this summer off, as I was nearing burnout after last year’s killer class load. With a wedding and family trips planned, I knew I couldn’t pile school on top and get the rest I badly needed body and soul.

This semester? I’m only carrying 17 CH, and I plan for about that in Spring. It’s not a light load, but it isn’t the killer that 20 was. Everyone’s different, again. I also have this thing where quitting is not an option, so I’ve never either dropped or failed a class. But dropping is a valid option if you get a week or two into a semester and realize that you’ll ‘die’ if you keep this up. Don’t be afraid to adjust the load and move a little more carefully. Balance heavy math classes with ‘fluffy’ liberal arts requirements (I will note that for me, a 6 page paper is about two hours work, half research and half writing. But I’m not normal in that area. You might be blazingly fast in math. Know yourself, and you’ll manage your classes better), try to plan ahead as far as you can. If you’re splitting campuses as I am, see if you can get all the classes on one campus at a time (I live in fear of having a semester with classes on all three campuses, with 45 minutes drive between all of them).

You can do it, just don’t try to bite it all off at once.

About Cedar Sanderson

Writer, mother, reader, gardener, cook… artist.

One comment on “Mad Scientist’s Apprentice: Killer Class Loads

  1. I was 43 when I finished my last degree, and was doing the full-time grad school, full-time work, plus home life. At one point my final year, I was giving my daughter a bath, and I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had done that. Other people pick up more of the load. A friend, who went back to school for her master’s degree at age 42 gave me these two pieces of advice:
    1. Home-baked cookies are important.
    2. The ones at Sears are great.

    Liked by 1 person

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