Reflections on Course Selection

by Matthew Clagett

As we come to the end of the semester, and as I sign up for classes during my final Spring semester, I reflect on my choices of course selection at my time in Haas. I considered my choices for which semesters I took my core classes, the professors that I learned from, and how the class times shaped my routines.

Many other highly ranked business schools have four-year programs, allowing students to take core classes very early on, and specialize in their later years. At Haas, it is a bit different, as we only have two years and have to be more deliberate about the classes we take and the order that we take them in. On the other hand, our single Business Administration major provides us with flexibility to choose which direction that we want to take our focus.

We have many choices for classes to take, to fulfill our graduation requirements of 30 core business units, 8 upper division business units, and 12 upper division non-business units. I try not to go into specifics about courses as to not promote a single academic path, but feel free to reach out if you are interested in specifics about my own choices.

Course Selection

Core Classes

This past summer when I was enrolling for this semester’s classes, there was a “Special Topics” course being offered on a topic that I developed an interest in over the summer. Unfortunately, it required completion of a core class that I had decided to put off taking until later. This upcoming semester, the course is again being offered, but the time overlaps with other required courses.

If I were to go back, I would take core courses in my first semester that are the trunks of the trees of broad business topics, allowing me the ability to branch out later on. Many upper division elective courses have core class prerequisites, including 103, 104, and 106. I would have explored more of the tree trunks before determining which branches have my favorite fruit.

Instead, part of my course selection for my first year factored in whether classes would look good on my resume and teach applicable skills for the internships that I was trying to attain. However over the year, as my interests changed, so did the classes I was interested in taking. Taking more core courses during my first semester would have allowed me to more deeply explore my interests in my senior year.

That being said, I still believe that taking classes applicable in an upcoming internship is a good idea. This makes the concepts easier to learn by making them more relevant and give you the opportunity to use and improve what you learned over the semester. Looking back, I would have waited until the Spring semester to take those classes, once I actually knew what I would be spending my summer doing. Lesson learned: take classes that will help you succeed at a job, not to succeed at getting a job.

Upper Division Business Electives

If you are searching for a book on Amazon, you may notice the category “Business/Personal Development.” This is the great thing about business, many topics in business overlap very well into your personal life. I have personally enjoyed taking upper division courses at Haas that especially exemplify this – that cover topics in leadership, negotiations, and strategic thinking. The difficult part when choosing classes was weighing the personal and professional values that each class brings.

Having done the transfer student PreCore classes the summer before transferring to Berkeley, I already had six units out of the eight required units. The other units were covered by the study abroad program that I did this summer, so fulfilling the requirement was not too difficult. The hard part was weighing the different personal and professional values that taking the class would bring in the future after college.

Upper Division, Non-Business Units

Undergraduate Haas students are required to take 12 upper-division, non-business units. Deciding what to choose for these units can be difficult for those of us who are not doubling majors and especially transfer students, who have not had exposure to many of the other majors and offerings at Berkeley.

I wanted to take classes that I know will compliment my major, and I decided to take courses in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research (IEOR). IEOR is full of classes related to entrepreneurship, data science, and emerging technologies, and is often a mix of business and computer science minded students.  The program even offers a certificate in Entrepreneurship and Technology with only 8 units, taking classes like Challenge Lab or Technology Firm Leadership. The true value from these classes has been the exposure to Silicon Valley’s startup and venture capital ecosystem, which Berkeley does better than any other school.

Professors

Everybody knows about RateMyProfessor, the website that reviews the quality characteristics of professors and the courses that they teach. Many people use this website, available course times, and advice from peers when they are selecting which professor to take the course with. I have found that although student opinions are great, everybody has a different set of criteria for how a teacher is evaluated, as some of my favorite teachers were ones that I was warned about.

To determine whether you will like a particular teacher’s class, I have it found it very beneficial to do a little research for myself to understand who the professor is, and where their perspective and teaching style comes from.

Here are some great resources that I have found that help out:

  •         Past class syllabihttps://haas.berkeley.edu/Undergrad/courses/Syllabi/
  •         Find the professor’s Haas faculty bio, and ready their publications. Reading their research really helps you understand who they are as a professional. LinkedIn is also a great tool.
  •         Email the Professor and perhaps schedule a coffee chat to get to know them a little more – the faculty at Haas is here for us, yet people rarely fully utilize their knowledge and experience.

Anchoring a frame of context and credibility around the professor makes the subject more engaging, and helped me decide if this it was really the person that I wanted to learn from. Despite some background knowledge, I am always surprised by the amazing experiences that professors have when they decide to nonchalantly mention their awesomeness in class. We are truly fortunate to have such a great undergraduate faculty.

Times to Take Classes

8 a.m. Classes – The obvious thing to address first, is the dreaded 8 a.m. classes. To be honest, I think that people only find them difficult because they continue to tell themselves it is. This semester, I endured an 8am class, and it takes me an hour to get to school. Get over the “just woke up syndrome” that is often experienced by waking up earlier. Your natural body energy cycles will ensure you are primed by 8AM. In fact, because classes are curved, you have the grade advantage if you are alive and competing with a bunch of zombies.

Days off – If you are careful with class selection, and lucky with timing, it is possible to have a schedule with no Friday discussion sections, or better yet, classes that are just on Mon/Wed or Tue/Thu. For example, the core classes for UGBA105, UGBA106, and UGBA100 do not have Friday discussions, and taking those together could score you a free day each week. Oh, what I would do with an extra free day a week… probably find an internship or some way to fill up my time.

Gaps in the days – Personally, I like to have large gaps in my days at school, having classes spread between the mornings and late afternoons. On days when I am feeling great, this gives me plenty of time to get focused and knock out a few hours of studying between classes, which is especially great for last minute exam cramming. On days when I am not feeling great, this allows enough time for a nap. I have found that I can do either just as effectively with an hour and a half gap between classes.

Final thoughts/disclaimer

My opinions expressed here are limited to my own experiences. If you are a student deciding on classes, we have some great academic and career advisers that are available just for Haas students. I would recommend to always consult them if you are still undecided.

Projecting into my future after graduation, I am still using these considerations for my course selection. Which skills and in what fields should I spend my time learning, in what order makes sense to order them in relative to my short term and long term goals? Who are my teachers and mentors that I should seek out in learning how to reach my long term goals?

At Haas, you’re given the responsibility and control of your education path. So, what will your path be?

 

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