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How Do I Research a Course?

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You can research a course before it even starts!  Follow the tips below to find out how.

How to Research a Course

  1. Look up the course in ExploreCourses and read the course description. Be sure to click on the blue "Schedule for [course]" link to see if there is any important information in the notes. Here you can often find important information such as whether a class is limited enrollment, or perhaps a link to the syllabus.
  2. A recent syllabus can be tremendously useful.  Check out the Syllabus Archive to see if you can find a previous version of the course syllabus.  If you're not sure how to read a syllabus, be sure to check out our What is a syllabus? guide.
  3. The required books will be available in the Stanford Bookstore a couple of weeks early, and browsing them can give you a sense of the level of the course, how much it interests you, and also whether there may be prerequisites that aren’t spelled out in the course description.
  4. Informational sites such as Carta can also be very useful, though should always be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, don’t just blindly follow the quantitative information they include about the course. Try to put that information in context: What kind of students typically take the course? What are their reasons for taking it? Read through student comments and try to assess what the course was like, how it was taught, and how it may fit with your own learning style. Your goal is not just to see what other students thought of the course, but try to assess how YOU will experience it. A conversation with an advisor can be helpful in learning how to interpret information on these sites.
  5. Continue to research the course during Week One. Ask the instructor about the course. Briefly explain who you are and why you are taking the course, and ask the professor if it sounds suitable, or if there is background knowledge that you may not have. Introduce yourself to other students in the class to see how advanced they are.
  6. If a page directs you to talk to an academic advisor, they may be referring to people in a specific department.  But if that is unclear, or you are ever in doubt, consult your Undergraduate Advising Director.

See Also

Return to the Advising Student Handbook