One of the coolest college experiences is letting yourself take an unusual, off-the-wall class just for the heck of it. From scuba diving to botany, college offers an array of interesting subjects to allow you to stretch your boundaries and have fun. But, guess what’s not fun? Having to pay for a class out-of-pocket because it’s not covered by financial aid. Taking too many electives, skipping class, or sliding below full-time status can all cause issues with your state and federal financial aid, and could leave you with a huge, unexpected bill. To avoid these pitfalls, you want to make every class you take count for your degree. Read below for six ways to make your classes count towards those 120 hours, and make sure they stay covered by financial aid.
Check your electives
For a class to be covered by federal or state financial aid, it must either be a required part of your degree program or count towards your 120 hours as an elective. Most degree programs have a certain number of elective hours built in to allow students to take a few classes just for fun, but the specific number of allowed electives varies by major. Also, if you’ve changed your major or minor, you may have already filled up most or all of your elective hours. Not sure how many elective hours you have? Meet with your adviser or check your transcripts on Pipeline to determine how many hours you’ve completed, how many you still need, and how many will be filled in the future by your remaining required classes.
Make sure you’re considered “full-time”
Another pitfall of taking too many electives is that they may affect your full-time status. If you only need two elective classes to meet your 120-hour requirement, but you enroll in four, the extra electives won’t be counted towards your status as a full-time student. Only courses that are required for your major or minor (or for reaching the 120-hour mark) will count towards your enrolled hours. Complicated, right? Which brings us to our next piece of advice …
Consult your adviser
And not just one adviser, either. When determining how to make your classes count, it’s a good idea to consult with your college adviser as well as your departmental adviser. If you’re not sure who either of those people are, look up your college (Business, Liberal Arts, etc.) and find their advising tab, and email your department chair to ask who the department undergraduate adviser is. Consulting with both advisers gives you a more balanced view of your transcript; your college adviser will help you look at the big picture and fit your hours together, while your departmental adviser can offer more specific advice about which courses to take in your major or minor. It usually takes less than 20 minutes to meet with each one, and it’s a small time investment that you’ll thank yourself for.
Go to class!
It may not seem like a big deal to blow off a few classes every now and then, but if your absence gets out of hand (especially within the first few weeks of classes), your professor may flag you as “Not Attending”. This status will alert your adviser as well as your aid programs, and can negatively impact how much financial aid you get this semester and in the future. Don’t take the risk! If you’re going to miss, keep track of your absences, and be sure not to miss more than once or twice during the first month of the semester.
Change your major before registering
If you’ve been contemplating changing your major, you may want to go ahead and make the switch before you register for classes next semester, especially if your major change is dramatic (say, from chemistry to art). You don’t want to lose financial aid for taking classes that aren’t in your program of study, even if you intend to switch. For example, if you don’t officially declare a major change before enrolling in 15 hours of art studio classes, your financial aid may not cover them because they aren’t part of the Course Program of Study for chemistry.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate
If there’s a class that you really want to take, but you’re not sure if it will count for your major or minor, talk to the department chair as well as your adviser and see if you can substitute. For instance, if your English major requires you to take Professional Writing, but you’d rather take a Business Communications class instead, talk to the English chair and the Business Communications professor to see about getting the communications course to substitute for your Professional Writing requirement. The same goes if you’re changing your major: figure out how many of your old major’s classes are related to your new major, and make the case for having some of them count. Many students are hesitant to negotiate course substitutions, or they simply don’t know that the process exists, but it’s definitely worth a shot. The worst they can say is no.