Choosing Your First Semester Classes

Welcome incoming freshmen! Good to see that you’ve chosen UC Berkeley as the school of your choice, and good to see you’re interested in Haas.

A very common question I’ve received from students lately is how to choose your first semester schedule at Cal, and it’s amazing I haven’t written about it before; so here goes!

In a nutshell, I suggest you take these classes your first semester:

  • Math
  • R&C or fun / breadth / pre-req
  • fun / breadth / pre-req
  • fun / breadth / pre-req

Class 1: Math

Which class should I take? Take this your first semester to at least start it or get it out of the way. Take 1A / 1B if you are more technical / math-inclined (you have other interesting majors that require it, you’re interested in more in-depth economic analysis, you just like math, or are unsure of your other interests so you open as many doors as possible). Take 16A / 16B if you don’t fall in any of those camps.

Should I skip it? Be mindful of the fact that Berkeley can be more challenging than high school or community college. That being said, I was okay skipping to 16B, but regretted not taking 1A / 1B because I became interested in CS later. As for 1B, if you’re absolutely confident in your calculus, skip to 1B (or 53 / 54, which are next on that track if you need it) with caution.

When should I sign up? I suggest Phasing 1 math only if there is a choice of multiple professors, and you find that you like one over the other. If you don’t care either way, feel free to Phase 2.

Class 2: R&C

Which class should I take? You can find a list of R&C (and breadth) courses on the L&S Search or at BerkeleyTime, both of which represent the information differently. Each R&C class (even those in the same department) have different topics, so I suggest checking each departmental website and determining which are interesting to you.

Should I skip it? If this is a requirement you have to complete, I suggest getting over it as fast as possible. If you can pass out of it, you should.

When should I sign up? These classes are typically more popular, so sign up as soon as possible (especially student-suggested ones like Ling R1B, Scandinavian, German, etc). Even if you aren’t sure of your AP / IB grade, Phase 1 this anyway and drop it if you find you don’t need that particular course.

Classes 2-4: Fun Classes / Breadth Requirements / Pre-req For Another Interesting Major That’s Not Business or Economics

Which classes should I take? I’ve been lumping these for people. If you got out of R&C, I suggest taking three of these; and if you didn’t, I suggest two. When I say pre-req, I don’t suggest taking more than 2 important pre-reqs at the same time. For instance, if you’re interested in Econ, CS, and MCB, don’t take Econ 1, CS 61A, and Chem 1A / 1AL all in your first semester; since each of these can be a lot of work all on their own. Pre-reqs that would be good together would be classes like one Math, a social science (psych, poli sci, etc.), or something like that; with one rigorous pre-req like Chem 1A / 1AL. (Note that if you’re MCB, you have to take Chem 1A / 1AL your first semester. If you’re CS, you can afford to wait to take it another time.)

For your other classes, look at seminars, decals, and breadths! Seminars allow you work closely with a professor in a small class setting, typically rated highly by students. We also have DeCals (Democratic Education at Cal), which are student-taught courses that are typically fun and light-hearted. We have courses ranging from web design, to coffee and tea, to Pokemon strategy, to quantum consciousness.

Should I skip it? Depends. Feel free to use all the transfer credit (only from community college unfortunately) you like for breadth. For pre-reqs, it depends on the requirement. For instance, I highly suggest not passing out of Econ, simply because that’s the class that shapes Econ / Haas. If you’re in any medical related field (thinking of MCB, IB, MB, NutriSci, GPB, etc), you’re in for a world of trouble if you skip Chem 1A / 1AL or Bio 1B, since they set you up with the foundation for the rest of the majors. But if you’re Public Health, you can use something to get out of a social science requirement, because it’s not as shaping. If you’re EECS, feel free to skip Chem 1A, because it’s not as crucial in your years doing software or hardware. If you’re interested in Chinese, you will be forced to take a placement test, so you may have to skip the lower levels.

When should I sign up? Each class is different, but I suggest checking out Preparing for Second Semester Classes (ironically written before I wrote about First Semester classes) for tips on what to Phase 1 and how to get the classes you want!

Why aren’t UGBA 10, Econ 1 and Stats not one of the classes you suggest?

You should get into the swing of things before embarking on classes as important as the first two. More information on UGBA 10 vs. Econ 1. As for Stats, it’s typically difficult for students without a strong background in statistics (AP, etc), and most people save it for second semester sophomore year. Remember that you don’t have to get all the pre-reqs done at once! You have four whole semesters to complete them, so you have plenty of time. Here’s a sample Haas pre-requisite schedule, and my own schedule too. Remember to use NinjaCourses or ScheduleBuilder to see what your final schedule is in the end!

Keep your options open.

You might be only thinking of Economics or Business now, but let the other classes you take at Berkeley shape your thinking for the rest of your years here. I never thought I’d be interested in Cognitive Science if I didn’t take Linguistics R1B, and I never thought I’d like CS until I randomly took 61A over the summer. Even though I’m not actively pursuing either path, I’m glad I chose to take them when I did.

Have fun at CalSo if you choose to go! Hopefully this helps you figure out what classes to take and when to sign up.

Some edits for clarity.

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