One of the most common questions I get asked when I was an Academic Advisor is, ‘How many courses should I take in my first term?’

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as easy as giving one number that fits all students in all situations. The truth is recommending how many courses you should take is very a different from how many courses you must take. Some programs like Engineering will likely put the hammer down and make you take five to six courses per term or quarter. If you’re in Sciences, be prepared to take your basic science courses in biology, chemistry, physics and/or math in your first term, which can be quite challenging in your first term.  However, if you’re pursuing an Arts programs, you’re more likely to have the freedom to pick and choose courses and also take a lighter course load. Lucky you!  At the same time, if you have scholarships, bursaries, loans, international study permits/visas that you have to worry about then you’ll have to meet minimum course load requirements in order to qualify.  So, talk to your advisor!

The best advice I can give you on how many courses you should take per term is that no matter how many courses you choose, you should plan your courses with the recommended study formula for undergraduate students, which goes:


So, no matter how many courses you pick, be prepared to spend double or triple the amount of time per week studying!  With this in mind, you should choose your course load carefully.  If you have work, volunteer or family commitments that will take up precious study time then consider taking fewer courses in your first year.  After all, taking more time to finish your degree is still better than failing out of your first year.

If you work, which most students do these days, be aware of your working hours and adjust accordingly.  The University of Michigan-Flint has a great article on course load planning for working students.  Below is their recommendation on how many credit hours/classes you should enroll in if you’re planning to work while going to school.


Employment Obligations: Course Load if Working

Working Hours    Credit Load

40 hrs per week  =  3-5 credit hours
30 hrs per week  =  3-9 credit hours
20 hrs per week  =  6-12 credit hours
Less than 20 hrs =  12-18 credit hours