How do you decide which courses to take each semester? The approaches and results can be as varied as students themselves. For Shelley’s Case, the choice is between London and Bahamas. I see course selection as akin to the art of mixing drinks. The process contains the elements of fun and danger at the same time. It’s fun because it sets you up for a new experience, but it’s like playing with danger because you are not quite sure how it will end. Your taste and preferences are important. Do you like it strong or with just a hint of alcohol? You better follow the proportions and add the ingredients in a certain order. Finally, it’s good to know how well you can hold your liquor. Below is my guide to the art of course selection. It’s a framework that some of you may find helpful in thinking about the matter.
The first step in the process is to decide what purposes you want your course selection to serve. Here are some examples:
- Specializing in your particular area of interest. If you want to know everything about trusts and estates, you may want to take as many courses relevant to this area as you can find.
- Getting a better feel for different areas of practice. Perhaps, you are trying to decide which area of law you like best. If that’s your goal, you may take a variety of courses from different areas of law.
- Following your interests at the moment. Maybe, you just want to enjoy every class as much as you can, so you will chose only those subjects that are interesting to you.
- Preparing for the bar exam. Are you worried about the bar exam? And who is not? You may decide to take the subjects that will be tested on the bar exam to get yourself familiar with the issues.
- Developing special skills. Perhaps, you want to develop special skills, such as client counseling or negotiation skills. You may want to enroll in a law clinic for that.
- Taking courses from the best professors. Maybe, you have such a great professor that you are going to take any class he or she teaches.
- Increasing your chances for better grades. Everybody wants better grades although not everybody will agree that they should be the driving force in your course selection. If you are worried about your grades, don’t take four very difficult subjects in one semester. If you know you do better on take-home exams, you may want to choose a class with a take-home test or a seminar with the final paper instead of the exam.
- Making your resume and law school transcript appealing to a particular employer. You may have asked a job interviewer or your mentor: “What classes should I take to prepare myself for this type of work?” Well, you may take their advice and structure your curriculum accordingly.
- Making the best use of your time. If you have kids, or need to work part-time, or have other demands on your time, creating a convenient schedule becomes very important for you. Even if you have some flexibility, you can still prefer to have all classes one after another or just four days a week.
After you have listed all of the goals that are important to you, assign weights to all of them. If I have nine categories, I will rank them from “1” being the least important to “9” being the most important to me.
The final step is to look at your course options and see how many purposes each course is going to serve. For each course, you then add all the weights of the relevant categories. For example, if Corporate Finance satisfies purposes that I weighed as 4, 5 and 9, the score for this course is 4+5+9=18. Each course will have a score, and the ones with the top scores win.
Good luck with this exercise. Then again, sometimes a house merlot is just what you need, so don’t overthink it, your gut may know best.