Let students decide how many courses they can and cannot handle

Personalized course planning is more effective than recommending course limits for new students

Should there be class caps for new students? Screenshot: Gabrielle McLaren

By: Grace Lo, SFU Student

When I entered SFU, I attended a course planning session with an academic advisor. Upon seeing the five courses in my course cart, she suggested I drop at least one of them. I’m still not sure if I had a desire to push myself out of my comfort zone or if I was acting out of spite, but I nodded yes to everything the advisor said, went home, and proceeded to enroll in all five courses when my registration date came around. 

It wasn’t easy, but I managed to finish the term with my sanity intact. Ever since, I have taken five courses almost every term.

While this suggestion is not official SFU policy, incoming freshmen are often recommended to take three courses — maybe four at most if they want to challenge themselves — to make sure they start their academic career on the right foot. I know many of my peers choose not to take more than three courses a term for their academic and mental well-being. 

I also know a number of young undergrads who experienced academic burnout after they overloaded their class schedule. Their experiences present a very compelling argument for maximum course caps, particularly for new students. But students are all different, both in preferred learning styles and personal circumstances. 

While there’s an argument to be made about how my “head down, eyes forward” learning style isn’t the most well-rounded student lifestyle to adopt, I work best when I don’t have too much free time to be distracted. I often prefer a heavier course load to facilitate that. Moreover, I don’t have the luxury of time or financial freedom to spend an extra year or two beyond the classic four-year undergrad program. 

Rather than placing class caps on incoming students, I think informed course planning is far more valuable to student success. After our first disagreement over an appropriate academic workload, the academic advisor became more familiar with my learning habits, academic goals, and life outside of school. She’s now one of my go-to people for personalized academic advising. 

When it comes to course planning, students shouldn’t have to follow a blanket statement or assumption about what’s best for them. Instead, they should have the opportunity to work with their academic advisors to create plans that suit their needs and help them succeed they way they work best.