Whether you have experience devising a university class timetable or not, you can probably imagine that it can be an important process - it determines what times of the week you’ll be free for other things, of all!

In this article, I’m hoping to outline some considerations you might like to ponder before or when putting together your preferences for the next teaching period. If you have any suggestions for other students, feel free to post them in the comments of this article!


How important is your timetable?

Speaking anecdotally, I feel like I’ve broadly come across two types of people when it comes to uni class timetables. The first type - let’s say Person A - is super meticulous about their timetable, trying to optimise it to the very last inch to account for every single minute of the day.

The other type - let’s say Person B - is a lot more laidback about the whole thing, and takes what they get with little regard for the logistical implications for the semester or trimester ahead.

Personally, I’m more Person A; I plan out everything as much as I can (often unsuccessfully), and try to think really carefully about what my timetable will actually mean. 

"... I plan out everything as much as I can..."

My philosophy is that, because I tend to prioritise studies, my timetable will actually influence what I can commit to in other areas of my life, such as work, and is therefore very important. When reading this article, keep it in mind that it’s written by a Person A type of person, and not everybody will have the same priorities or timetable strategies.


All about contact hours

Something to consider with university classes is that not all classes are ‘equal’. What do I mean by that? Well, there are different types of university classes - lectures, tutorials, labs, seminars, workshops, and more - and each has different characteristics.

Increasingly, some classes are online, and some classes actually don’t have compulsory attendance. Each of these factors impacts what we can call your ‘total contact hours’.

A contact hour is basically any time you’re expected to be on campus. To me - and definitions might change here a bit from person to person - that means that online classes and other study-related activities (things like doing readings before classes) don’t count toward contact hours.

So the question is - how many contact hours is too many?


A lot on a few, or few on a lot?

The answer to the question above, of course, is that there’s no correct answer. But for me, managing contact hours has always been a really significant concern. Too many classes on one day can be tiring and overwhelming, but limiting the number of days on campus has other benefits. For example, you might minimise time spent commuting, or open up more free days to commit to work or other aspects of your life.

"Too many classes on one day can be tiring and overwhelming, but limiting the number of days on campus has other benefits."

My general philosophy is that minimising days on campus is best, but I’ve also been lucky to have only really studied degrees that have relatively few contact hours, so you might not have that luxury. Regardless, here are some things to potentially consider when looking at your contact hours per day.


What it looks like on paper is not what it feels like in person

Cramming everything into two days might feel awesome when you’re putting together your timetable, but after 10 weeks of 8am starts and 6pm finishes, you might be feeling quite differently.

I remember falling into this trap in the first semester of my undergraduate degree (and then also the first semester of my postgraduate degree - it’s easy to forget 👀). I’m generally a morning person, so thought 8am classes would work quite well, but what I didn’t consider were things like the logistics of travel, the impact of an early start on my later classes, and a lack of preparation time if things needed to get done before that class.

Sometimes, timetables look super neat on paper, and that’s great, but it’s worth spending a few minutes to think super practically about what you’re signing yourself up for.


Going back-to-back-to-back is efficient, but at what cost?

On a similar note, it’s pretty tempting to get classes back-to-back as much as possible, to the point that your timetable looks something like this:

  • Class 1: 8am-10am
  • Class 2: 10am-12pm
  • Class 3: 12pm-2pm
  • Class 4: 2pm-4pm

Super neat, yes, but at what cost? There’s no time for lunch - there’s no time even to go to the toilet between classes, particularly given classes sometimes run overtime.


Travel adds up

Particularly if you live far away, getting to and from uni can be pretty draining. Even if you’d prefer to have nice gaps between your classes, perhaps it’s worth taking the L of back-to-back-to-back classes to avoid brutal commutes on more days of the week. It’s all a balancing act, and depends very much on your individual circumstances.

"It's all a balancing act, and depends very much on your individual circumstances."


The actual logistics

Different universities have different timetable systems, so it’s best to check with your individual institution. What I’m used to involves an initial round of preferences, then timetables being announced, then a bit of a free-for-all.

For me, the preferences stage is open for several weeks, meaning you can be quite considered when submitting your preferences. I recommend mapping out different iterations on a calendar to see what your timetable would look like under certain circumstances. The annoying thing is that it can be a bit of a domino situation when it comes to classes; if you don’t get your first preference for one subject, that might impact your preferences for your other subjects. You just need to do your best to balance your different subjects, and cross your fingers that it all works out!


Closing thoughts

The reality is that you probably have more going on in your life than uni tutorials and assignments. My view is that that makes your uni timetable even more important - the last thing you want when trying to attend to other things in your life is an annoying Friday 6pm class, or a clash of uni and other commitments.

My general and closing advice is to invest a little bit of time into working out the best and most efficient class timetable for you, even if it seems annoying or time-consuming at the time - I absolutely think it’s worth it! 🤝