Take 18 credits, if you dare

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By Darren Johnson
Campus News

When I was in college, I had a roommate who was put on academic probation mid-year after pulling a lousy GPA. So he figured he’d do himself a favor by signing up for “fluff” courses like Basket Weaving for the Spring, thinking he’d get great grades and out of probation. It didn’t work — turns out, making baskets is kind of hard for a slacker. I never saw him again.

But — and, as a former college administrator, I don’t say this lightly — if you are a college student in New York State and your parents aren’t rich, you might want to fill out your schedule to the full 18 credits for the upcoming semester. There surely are some courses like Tennis, Zumba, Music or Art Appreciation — even Basket Weaving — that, while not a sure-thing, may be pretty hard to fail if you give your best effort.

Colleges in New York State charge the same whether you take 12 credits or 18 credits each semester, though there may be some added fees and book costs for taking more credits. Still, the added fees and book costs are a tiny fraction of what 6 extra credits would cost if taken separately.

I’m not saying to get off your major track by taking impertinent courses — I’m just suggesting to fill out your schedule with more enrichment courses to ensure your success.

New York State’s new Excelsior Scholarship and related programs insist a student average 30 credits a year and make “satisfactory academic progress,” so if you only take 12 credits Fall and Spring, you will need to take 6 during the Summer to keep your scholarship. And that’s hoping you get at least a C or better in those courses — easier said than done, as every student seems to encounter the occasional impossible-to-please instructor.

(The Scholarship provides free tuition to SUNY students and up to $6000 for many private college students whose parents earn less than $100,000 a year; the income threshold will rise to $125,000 in two years, so even if you don’t qualify now, you may in future years.)

If you take 18 credits each semester, you will have wiggle room. You can drop or fail a course and still get 15 credits — and be on pace to keep your scholarship.

Also, if you take tough instructors as Pass/Fail, you can better maintain a high GPA (check Rate My Professors as to a professor’s toughness rating — the site is sometimes right). Ask your academic advisor about Pass/Fail grading options.

Six credits during the summer will cost about $2000 at a community college — if you average 15 credits Spring and Fall, you won’t need to spend that money to keep your scholarship.

While most colleges require you take a couple of 1-credit physical education courses over your four years, you may take more. Perhaps fill out your schedule with some Weightlifting and Karate — and also get in better shape.

If you are very strong in a particular area — say Creative Writing — take every little course in that discipline to help your GPA and help you stay on pace to get 30 credits (some schools let you take the same section of Creative Writing twice). Likewise, if you have a certain professor who “gets you,” maybe take some of his/her courses as electives.

Now, some students at community colleges are steered into remedial English and Math courses, and while these courses usually offer no credits, they do take work and time. It may be hard to take 18 credits if you have a remedial course on your schedule.

While learning to write is very important for your future college success, some have argued that remedial math may be a “dream-killer” for non-STEM majors. If you are a non-STEM major who plans to eventually transfer to a four-year college, you may want to forgo community college remedial math and instead wait until you’re at the four-year college. They may have some easier math options for non-STEM majors.

In any case, if you are registering for Fall, you may want to insist on taking the full 18-credits. If you’ve already registered, log into your student portal and maybe add a course or two.

Don’t be like my old college roommate and take your schedule lightly — more may be better!