It Is Okay To Take Less (Math) Courses

Hello. In this article I will present my own argument for taking less courses in university. This mostly applies to universities in Ontario, Canada and in the United States. I am not sure about universities elsewhere.

Table Of Contents

Context / Introduction

It is well known that calculus, math and statistics courses drive fear in many students. These courses demand a lot of your time, brain power and energy. Other demanding and technical courses which require lots of time include engineering type courses, computer science courses, science courses with lab components and so on. (My Science bias sorry.)

The regular full time course load from what I have experienced and heard of in Ontario, Canada is 5 courses. There are cases where people take six or seven courses in a semester.

Taking five courses in the fall semester and five in the winter semester for a university school calendar year is common (in Canada). There are programs with variations which include co-operative workforce placements and non-traditional school/work term schedules. The spring/summer semester of four months is sometimes used for a school semester or can be used as a vacation break or for summer work.

A large handful university degree programs in Ontario (and in many places in Canada and in the US) require 40 courses to be passed (and/or have a certain average reached
for a group(s) of courses.)

A Case Against Doing Too Much

In an effort to try to graduate faster or “impress people”, some students try to push themselves by taking more courses than normal. However, the risk is that taking more courses take up a lot more of your time due to classes, increased homework amounts and such. Doing too much puts yourself at risk for burning out and having a bad social life. Burnout is a serious issue which negatively affects one’s morale and desire to learn/work.

Another (overlooked) issue is when one selects hard or time-demanding courses. A hard or time-demanding course can be a big time-suck as there may be a lot of homework and topics to memorize/understand. How can one know whether a course is hard? There is no universal answer for correctly predicting the difficulty of a course. It depends on the type of course (science vs arts vs business, etc.), the professor, the course itself, the university and so on.

Personal finance issues are another factor.


If I were to redo my undergraduate student career, I would have taken less than 5 courses per semester and done some part time work.

My theory is that employers look primarily at the degree and not so much on the number of courses or courses you have taken. Some places look at grades. A 92 in Calculus I in a full time workload is still the same as a 92 in Calculus I in part time studies of 3 courses. An undergraduate degree is still an undergraduate degree regardless of the course load, number of courses and whether or not summer courses were taken.

In addition, a lighter workload reduces student pressure and gives the student more time to understand material more thoroughly. A better understanding of material increases confidence on assignments, exams which would likely result in good grades. A reduced workload also makes room for part time work if the option is exercised.

Taking less courses also provides some “insurance” in the event of a course being suddenly difficult late into the semester.

One alternative is to take a lighter course load in both fall and winter semester but also take a summer semester too.

Be very aware of really difficult courses in any department. In mathematics, Real Analysis is a well known hard course due to theorem – proof style of teaching and the numerous abstract concepts. One hard course can be the equivalent of two or three regular courses.

If taking less courses (or taking easier courses) is not an option. Better time management, exercise, meditation or yoga may be necessary to assist in doing more with less time.

You can still get into graduate school with a reduced course load. I know I did. However, I cannot say the same for medical school, law school and such.

My Story

As a former mathematics major and later a statistics student, I have had some pretty intense course loads with a few courses that were really intense.

Some notable tough courses that I have taken include:

Real Analysis, Measure & Integration (Measure Theory), Set Theory, Introduction to Stochastic Calculus, Monte Carlo Methods.

You may ask me what the heck are those courses? Those courses were mostly in pure/theoretical mathematics and in probability theory. The topics in those courses were more technical, theoretical, abstract and required a lot of time to understand the topics and do the assignments.

Hard courses take a lot of your time and energy in order to get a decent grade in them. Also, heavy schedules put lots of pressure on you and on your courses. One hard course consumes your time, energy, mind and may expose you to burnout. However, if one perserveres through such a course it can feel satisfactory. (You may not be the same again.)

I do recall where one term I took four courses but they were all math and stats courses. The freedom of not having a fifth course was very noticeable. I used this free time to do undergraduate teaching assistantship work and volunteered for a charity dance production.

There was my last term of my undergraduate degree where I had four courses. One Intro German II course, an okay math course and two math/probability type courses where it was for both fourth year and graduate/Masters students. Four courses sounds okay but those two year 4/graduate courses were insanely demanding and time consuming. Burnout was creeping in and I mentally crashed on a final exam. That’s the risk for a hard course load in order to learn something you like and think it is useful. (It turns out Monte Carlo Methods is useful in the Quantitative Finance field but I don’t use it…)

Concluding Thoughts

The lesson in the post is that there is no rush in completing university. It is okay to slow down and take time to understand material (if you are the learner type). There is a risk for doing too much. Find balance.

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