Semester Schedule Planning

Overview

There are many considerations to make when planning for a successful semester! Remember that a great schedule for one student will not work for another. Each student has their own priorities, commitments outside of the classroom, learning styles, and more. Build a semester schedule that works for you. Check out the information below, but if you still need help, meet with an L&S College Adviser or an Undergraduate Major Adviser (UMA) for support.

The Degree Requirements page can help you understand which requirements you will need to satisfy and any unit restrictions to be aware of. 

Building a Balanced Schedule

One of the keys to academic success is taking a balanced course load that allows you to work toward or explore your intended major while you fulfill your degree requirements. At UC Berkeley, balance means enrolling in a variety of courses and taking a manageable unit load that works for you. For example, it is not recommended to enroll in more than two STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) courses in a semester, or more than two writing-intensive courses.

Watch our brief video about finding balance in your schedule:

UCB L&S "Balanced Meal" approach to your schedule

Play this video to learn more about the "balanced meal" approach to building your semester schedule. 

Overcommitting: Am I Taking on Too Much?

As you plan your course schedule for the semester, consider other responsibilities and factors that will demand your time, energy, and focus. A common cause of academic difficulty is the tendency to overcommit and misunderstand how much time it takes to:

    • Keep up in challenging, time-consuming courses
    • Re-learn (or learn for the first time) foundational knowledge for STEM courses
    • Work
    • Participate in clubs, volunteer work, research, etc.
    • Search for a job post-graduation or apply to graduate school
    • Fulfill your family obligations
    • Take care of your health
    • Commute

Common questions and concerns

Unit loads: Minimum and Maximum

L&S students take a wide range of unit loads, depending on what works for them. The College of Letters and Science requires/allows for:

  • a minimum of 13 units in Fall/Spring semesters
  • a maximum of 20.5 units Fall/Spring semesters and UC Berkeley Summer Sssion

For more information about seeking approval to take fewer than 13 units (Reduced Course Load) or enrolling in more than 20.5 units, please visit our page on Semester Unit Minimums and Maximums.

Taking all courses for P/NP in a semester

Taking all of your courses for a P/NP grade option will result in academic probation. This is because you don't earn any grade points for Pass and No Pass grades, so you will have a 0.0 GPA at the end of the semester. 

Unit loads: Staying on track to graduate

If you start at UC Berkeley as a first year student with no transfer or AP/IB exam units, a unit load of 15 units each semester (not including summers) would place you on track to graduate in four years. 

This does not mean all students have to take 15 units each semester to be on track. The factors you should consider when planning how many units to take include: how many units you started with, whether you plan on taking summer school, and length of time you want to take to graduate. 

Scheduling tips while exploring majors

It is common to explore majors and take courses from a variety of disciplines and departments during your first two years to help you determine your major. If you are concerned about continuing to make progress on degree requirements while exploring, consider the following strategies:

  • Use breadth requirements to explore areas of academic interest

  • If you have narrowed your choices down to two or three majors, look for overlapping prerequisite requirements across those majors. 

Remember that taking lower division requirements/prerequisites is just one way to learn about an area of study. You can do more research to assess whether a major is a good fit for you by meeting with undergraduate major advisers, talking to peer advisers in the major, reviewing upper division requirements, and getting permission to observe upper division courses in the major.

Scheduling tips for planning major prerequisites

Many major departments have suggested plans of study to help you plan when to take major prerequisites and how to space them across multiple semesters. Typically found on the Academic Guide or on the department website, these suggested plans can be a helpful starting point to determine which courses you should plan to take. 

It is important to remember that these are suggested plans. If you have not followed the plan exactly as it is suggested, this does not necessarily mean that you are behind or will be ineligible to pursue the major. If you have doubts, discuss this with an L&S College Adviser or an undergraduate major adviser.

Shop & Drop Strategy: Uncertainy about your schedule

The “Shop and Drop” strategy is when you purposefully add an extra course to your schedule just in case you decide to drop a different course or don’t get off a waitlist. 

Example: A student has planned a 14 unit schedule that includes Chem 3A/AL and Math 1B. But the student is worried that this course combination may end up being too heavy for them. Using the “Shop and Drop” strategy, the student adds a breadth course to their schedule for a total of 18 units. They do not intend to take 18 units, but instead will attend all of these courses for the first week and choose which course they wish to drop by the add/drop deadline. 

Tip: If using this strategy, consider the different courses or course combinations you may ultimately wish to drop from your schedule and make sure you have a plan for how you will keep 13 units to meet the unit minimum. 

Caution: Keep in mind that it can be challenging to assess the true work load of a course or course combination by the add/drop deadline. As you make choices about which courses to keep or drop from your schedule, keep in mind that if you are already feeling the pressure or challenge of a course or course combination, this pressure or challenge will most likely increase as you approach midterms and finals.

How many units can I enroll in during Phase 1, Phase 2, and the Adjustment period?

You will enroll in classes in two "phases". In Phase 1, you can enroll in up to 13.5 units. During Phase 2, you can enroll in up to 17.5 units. (When you enroll for your very first semester, Phase 1 and Phase 2 are combined so you can enroll in up to 17.5 units.)

The unit limits during each phase include waitlisted units. During the adjustment period at the beginning of each term, students can enroll up to the maximum unit limit, which is 20.5 units. For more information about enrollment phases visit the Office of the Registrar’s website: https://registrar.berkeley.edu/registration/enrollment

Each phase has end dates, so be sure to check out the Student Enrollment Calendar on the Office of the Registrar’s website.

Strategy for Phase 1 enrollment period

Plan to add your top priority courses during Phase 1 to ensure the best possible chance at enrolling. Top priority courses may be prerequisites for a major you want, courses that tend to fill quickly, or a requirement that you must complete by the end of the following semester. If you are unsure whether a course will fill up quickly, you can check with the department offering the course or an L&S College Adviser. 

Prior to your enrollment appointment, research several alternate courses and course schedules in advance of your enrollment appointments. If you are unable to add a course or join the waitlist, you will be better prepared to add a different course to your schedule. 

Be mindful of enrollment restrictions for courses you want to take. Enrollment restrictions can be found in the course description on classes.berkeley.edu. Check to see whether the course has prerequisites and whether you have fulfilled them. Check to see whether enrollment will be restricted to certain groups, such as students declared in the major, or if special approval is needed in order to enroll. 

Enrollment Questions/Problems

For Enrollment questions, such as: 

  • Prerequisites, reserved seats, special approval
  • Waitlists
  • Swaps and section switches
  • Time Conflicts

See the Enrollment (Add or Drop a Course) page. 

Note: L&S College Advising has no authority to make decisions regarding the above topics.

Waitlists

Basic information and strategies for waitlists can be found on the SIS Enrollment FAQ page. 

Please be mindful that a department may still add students to classes from a waitlist until the Friday after the add/drop deadline. This means if you stop monitoring your schedule after the add/drop deadline, you may not be aware you have been enrolled into a course. It is therefore important to either drop yourself from the waitlist before the add/drop deadline or monitor your waitlist position until the Friday following the add/drop deadline has passed.

For questions about how a particular waitlist is organized (e.g.: whether there is an intention to add more seats, whether they are prioritizing majors or seniors, etc), you should contact the department that hosts the course

While L&S Advising can offer general strategies for waitlists (mostly covered in the above SIS Enrollment FAQ page), L&S Advising has no authority over waitlists nor information on how any particular waitlist is managed. The department which offers the course has this information, and occasionally they will post it on their own website. 

Course Suggestions for 1-2 units

If you are looking for just one or two units to round out your schedule and ensure that you are enrolled in a full time courseload of 13 units, below are some suggestions.

Not seeing something you like? Go to classes.berkeley.edu and filter for 1 or 2 unit courses to find even more options.