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 would like to talk your plan through, meet with an L&S College Adviser or an Undergraduate Major Adviser.

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. 

Suggested Steps to Plan Your Schedule

1. Identify your goals

Your goals for your semester schedule may change over time.

Earlier in your time at Cal, you may be exploring majors or minors, trying to satisfy Reading and Composition, or wanting to keep things light so you can maintain a particular GPA while you adjust to the teaching style. 

Later, you may be targeting specific requirements to complete your degree or trying to plan around an opportunity or commitment outside the classroom. 

Identifying what you wish to accomplish can help focus your schedule. If you need support in examining your goals, see our Appointments and Advice section for helpful resources.  

2. Determine your ideal unit load

Unit Min and max

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 Unit Minimum and Maximum.

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. 

What will work for me?

If you are a continuing student, first reflect on how your unit loads have gone so far. Are you most comfortable lowering, raising, or maintaining something you have already tried? 

Then, take into account what kind of courses you are planning compared to what you have already experienced. If you will be taking a particularly challenging class, moving into upper division courses for the first time, or trying something outside of your comfort zone, this will already make your schedule more challenging, so keeping your unit load the same or reducing it may be a good way to keep everything manageable. 

If you are particularly concerned about GPA, it may be best to increase your challenge level slowly over the course of your semesters. 

incoming students

If you do not have experience with a semester load in a Fall/Spring semester because you are new to Cal, we recommend starting with a 13-14 unit load to start. This is particularly true for transfer students who will be jumping into upper division major coursework in their first semester. 

Review the New Student Guide to learn about important deadlines and resources for your first semester. 

3. Find courses 

First, assess your degree progress to get a full understanding of which requirements you have to fulfill to earn your degree. If you have an intended or declared major, also review your progress toward that major. Our Degree Requirements page can help you understand remaining requirements and the options you can use to fulfill them. 

Next, determine if there are time constraints on your remaining requirements. Students who begin as freshmen must complete Reading and Composition by the end of their fourth semester and many majors have timelines by which you need to declare. 

If you are exploring major options, prioritize exploration. See our "Scheduling tips while exploring majors" FAQ below. If you have one or a few majors in mind, see our "Scheduling tips for planning major prerequisites" FAQ below. 

Now, you can use tools to find courses that work for your goals: 

  • use the Class Schedule to identify courses offered in your next semester. Filters on the left hand side of the page and departments at the top can help you narrow your search. Filters include all general education requirements and other helpful options
  • see the Academic Guide or a major/minor's website to find courses that count toward a major or minor

Remember, you may not get a seat in all of the courses you find. Seniors get earlier phase times than freshmen, so depending where you are in your time at Cal. We always recommend having backup options and strategizing by phase. 

4. Priortize: Strategize by Phase

You will enroll in classes in "phases": Phase 1, Phase 2, and the Adjustment Period. Each phase has an increasingly higher unit allowance. See our Enrollment (Add or Drop a Course) page for more information about unit limits for each Phase. You can find your phase times on CalCentral. 

Phase 1

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 or minor
  • courses that tend to fill quickly (check with the department offering the course to determine which courses fill quickly)
  • a requirement that you must complete by the end of the following semester
  • a course you are particularly excited about

Before each phase, research backup course options in case you are unable to add a course or join the waitlist.

You will also want to make sure your course does not have enrollment restrictions, such as reserved seats or prerequisites, that may prevent you from enrolling in a particular phase or at all (see our Enrollment (Add or Drop a Course) page for more information). 

Shop and drop

Feeling unsure about which direction to go with your schedule or worried about whether you will enjoy a particular class? See the FAQ below, "Shop & Drop Strategy: Uncertainty about your schedule" to learn how to use your Phase 2 or Adjustment period to help you find the best final schedule options. 

Semester Planning FAQ

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.

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

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. 

Shop & Drop Strategy: Uncertainty 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.

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.

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.