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Please keep in mind that the British English word “module” is not used in America; the equivalents are “course” or “class.” Also, the process of course registration will vary from university to university. Any information you receive from your university will supersede what is mentioned here.
Once you’ve accepted your offer at a US university, one of the first things you should receive from the university is your student username and password. It may be something you choose or something that is assigned to you, but it is vital that you keep the information safe because it gives you access to the university’s electronic portal. This will provide you access to your student account, including your university email inbox, choices/details of your meal plan and your academic record. You will also be able to view the course catalogue, which is the listing of modules offered each semester.
When you arrive at your university, you will most likely have an orientation and meet with an academic advisor, someone who will help you choose your modules and help you throughout your time at university to stay on track to successfully graduate. If you are doing short-term study, it is common to discuss your module choices with your international or department advisor at your UK university before leaving to go abroad.
If you are completing a full undergraduate degree, you will be required to take a certain amount of “general education” modules in addition to the core modules necessary for your major. These usually consist of introductory science, maths, English and social study modules, which students often sign up for in their first year. Don’t be intimidated; most general education modules are introductory, so if you hate maths, you will not be forced to take a Calculus module. This liberal arts philosophy will allow you to explore your academic interests, so take the opportunity to venture outside of your major by selecting those modules that you find interesting. Often universities offer courses you would not expect, such as sports, gardening, theatre, and music – don’t be shy to try new things! Oftentimes, it is the experimentation with “gen ed” classes that lead students to an unexpected minor or change in major.
Some students find that their pre-university classes may satisfy some “gen ed” requirements. Each university will have its own policy, but if you do well enough on you’re A-levels, you may be awarded advanced standing. This is something that you will need to discuss with your US university’s academic advisor.
As you may know, many US students do not declare a major before they enter university, and changing majors in the first two years of university is quite common. Students are able to do this because during their first two years they mostly take “gen ed” courses that are required for every field of study. In addition to your “general education” modules, your major subject will have certain modules that you must take once you have declared your field of study. Most departments have a module sequence you ought to follow (you would naturally take Introductory Chemistry before Advanced Chemistry, for example), but you will still need to choose which modules you want to take each semester. Again, your academic advisor and department coordinator will be great resources when deciding which modules would be best.
After you decide which courses you want to take, you will need to sign in to your university’s online portal to register yourself in that module. Registration usually takes place a few months before the semester begins, so registration for Spring modules is done in the last month of the Fall semester. Registration is organised in order of class standing; athletes usually register first, then seniors, then juniors etc. The order of class standing determines who gets their passwords earlier in order to register online. Typically, the online registry will display the course number, name, days of the week the class meets and how many spaces are available. Unlike in the UK, it is common for the same module to be offered at multiple times per week. For example, if you are interested in taking the English module “American Literature 1800-1900,” you will log into the university portal and may notice that the module is offered EITHER on Monday and Wednesday at 10 am OR Tuesday and Thursday at 3 pm, and you can choose which times you prefer. This flexibility allows you to select modules that best suit your learning style, whether it’s taking all your courses back-to-back in the mornings or spreading your modules out over the day with many breaks.
If a class that you wanted to register for is full, you should keep monitoring the registration website. Students can drop or add classes at any point up to the end of the drop/add period (see below), and spaces become available in real time online. There may also be a date just before the semester begins whereby students who have not paid tuition are automatically un-enrolled from their classes.
If the semester starts and you still haven’t gotten a seat in your class of choice, there are sometimes opportunities to “crash” a class after the semester has started as spaces sometimes do become available. Simply go to the first day of class, taking your transcripts and descriptions of the courses you have completed that you believe satisfy the course pre-requisites and make you eligible to take the class. Show them to the course instructor. Professors may be able to add students on a space-available basis, and according to the order in which you sign up on their crash list. If the professor accepts you into the class she or he will give you an add code to officially enrol in the class online.
Although you will most likely register online before the semester begins (perhaps at your university’s international orientation for your first semester), most US universities also have a drop/add period. It is typically the first few days or weeks of classes where students are allowed, only for that allotted amount of time, to drop out of the modules they had registered for and add any course that still has availability without academic or financial penalty. Be sure to clarify the exact window of time and circumstances of your specific university’s drop/add period.
If you are interested in exploring new subjects but are worried about potential low marks, you may opt to audit a course. When you audit, you can register for a course, fully participate as a full member of the course, but you will not receive a mark and it will not be added to your academic record. Auditing allows students to take advantage of the university’s opportunities for self-enrichment without the fear of perfect performance. While it is rare for full-time students to audit, it may be something to consider.