By: Thomas Gala-Garza
After a Summer working with the Newnan Academic Advising Center, I've watched many a first-year student struggle to find and register for the best classes for them. One tool I consistently recommend to any University of Michigan student is Atlas, the University-wide database of courses and instructors that comes with a service called “Schedule Builder” in which you can view your classes blocked out, just to sweeten the deal. While I have been using Atlas to look for classes since my first term here, my Summer job gave me the chance to analyze its features more closely. Here are some advanced features of Atlas you might not know that you can keep handy for future terms.
1. Analyze popular courses for your major
Whether you already have declared your major or are still exploring, Atlas lets you get detailed information about any major, especially common course pathways. Just type any major's name into the top search bar to go to its page, then scroll to the “Most Commonly Taken Courses” section.
This page can give you a really good sense of classes taken by other people in your major. While you definitely have the freedom to forge your own path, it’s useful to have guidelines of when to complete certain requirements or courses.
2. Block out time in your schedule
Atlas Schedule Builder doesn't only list the times of courses. There’s a little “Time Break” button above the calendar that’s easy to miss. It lets you create blocks of time that aren’t associated with courses, but still show up on Atlas’ calendar view.
This feature is perfect if you have any ongoing, weekly commitments, like club meetings, work shifts, or practices. Making note of them in Atlas lets you easily make sure your classes don't overlap with them. In fact, Atlas will go out of its way to avoid showing classes in those time blocks as long as you include them!
3. Predict if a course will stick around for next semester
Atlas also provides the immensely helpful Course Profile feature, allowing you to get detailed stats on any course, even if it's not offered during the term for which you are searching. Just use the top search bar to find an exact course by name and number.
Scroll down enough on the detailed course view and you can see the “Student Enrollment” area, giving you a good idea of recent years and terms the course was offered. This can help you plan for the future, making sure you don’t miss out on a course while it’s available.
In this case, it seems pretty likely the course will stick around for both terms this year. If you notice a pattern of it appearing in certain terms (like only Fall or Winter), it might alert you to take more caution with your planning.
4. Save interesting courses for later
Speaking of planning, on the same page, you can easily save an interesting course for later down the line. Just click the “Save to My Dashboard” button on the top of any detailed course page.
The “My Dashboard” button on the top-right of every page is where you can see every course you’ve saved at once, and even sort them into folders. This is perfect for organizing major requirements, or sorting courses by department.
5. See every course taught by an instructor
Looking up an instructor by name gives you even more info - definitely more than Rate My Professor would have.
Type any instructor's name in the search bar and scroll to the “Courses Taught” section. Not only does it show which courses they’ve taught, but how recently they did so, which can let you know if they might offer it again in the future.
Taking multiple courses from the same instructor is a great way to build rapport with them!
Bonus: Reach out to your current instructors
Chances are whoever's teaching your favorite course is familiar with courses taught by their colleagues. Instructors teaching introductory classes, for example, would be likely to help direct you to that department's more advanced courses. The better an instructor knows you, the more personalized recommendations they can give - that's just one reason to go to office hours early and often!
Most importantly, please remember not to get too stressed over this process - regardless of where you are in your academic journey, you still have time to take all of the courses you’re interested in. Good luck picking your classes!