Excel Bar Graphs

These days, everyone and their mother has “Microsoft Excel” listed as one of their skills on LinkedIn. So you probably already know that Excel is a powerful tool for data analysis, manipulation, and visualization. Working in Marketing Analytics, I literally use Excel every single day. (In fact, you might have noticed that I’ve been AWOL on the blog recently — I’ve been so busy with work that all I can even think about is Excel.) Some people are “Excel Wizards”, using tons of shortcuts and fancy formulae. If that’s you, more power to you! But in the end, it’s the output that matters: how will you communicate your work to an audience of colleagues or clients? Often you’ll present your findings in a series of charts or graphs. And when I see a professional slide deck full of ugly, unpolished, or even default-style Excel bar graphs (or any graphs), it drives me up the wall.

I want to help you. Continue reading

Course Selection Tips for First-Timers

For all of you high-schoolers out there, summer is rapidly approaching! Many of you will have already accepted offers to colleges or universities for this coming September. Congratulations! But there is still work to be done before you can head off to school in the fall. Yes, I am referring to the dreaded “course selection”. As I helped my sister work through the process of choosing her classes this past week, in preparation for her first-ever course selection appointment, I realized that a lot of the information available to incoming freshmen is either super vague or too complicated.

Know Your Appointment Time.

You should have been assigned an enrollment time. Make sure you are available to be at a computer with good Internet at that time. It’s also important to know how early or late your appointment is, relative to the rest of your school. If your appointment is late, you may find that some of your courses or class times are already full. Keep in mind that you may need backups!

Get a Piece of Paper.

You don’t want to have the extra stress of memorizing your class schedule and course names, so write it down! This is the chart I’ve used:
Course Selection — Planning Chart

I’ve got ten slots here for courses, so that means five for Fall and five for Winter. If you’re planning on completing your degree in more than four years, just add columns and delete rows.

Use Full Course Codes.

In my experience, Canadian universities use course codes that usually consist of four letters for the department, and three or four numbers to specify the course. For example, my first-year physics class was titled “PHYS 104”. If the course code has a letter following it, such as BIOL 101A and BIOL 101B, that usually means there are two sections of the course, often offered by two different professors or at two different times. Keep track of the course codes for each course. That’s the only way you’ll be able to search for and find them when you go to sign up.

The first digit of the number in a course code usually refers to the year of study the school expects you to be in when you take that course. However, if you have the pre-requisites fulfilled, it often doesn’t matter what year you’re in if you want to take a higher-level course. (More on pre-requisites later.)

Find Your Program Requirements.

You will find your program’s requirements to graduate in your faculty’s “Academic Calendar”. For example, here’s the program I completed:

 Course Selection — Program Requirements for Queen's Physics

My university used “units” to quantify courses. 3.0 units meant one semester-long course. If you take 5 classes per semester, and two semesters a year, that equals 120 units over four years, which is a full degree. My plan had 72 units (or 24 semester-long classes) specified, meaning I had 16 semester-long classes left to pick for myself.

Fill in your chart with all of the required courses in each year. Record full-year courses twice: once for each semester. How many slots do you still have open for more courses?

Pay Attention to Pre-Requisites.

One of the first things I recommend doing when considering your university career is to look for any third- or fourth-year courses that really interest you, whether they’re in your program or not. Look at the pre-requisites for those classes, and see if they fit into your plan. But do those pre-requisites have pre-requisites of their own? Work backwards to figure out what you need to do to take those courses.

If you’re not sure what courses will interest you in the coming years, that’s okay! Focus on your program’s requirements first.

Be Well-Rounded: Check Your Breadth Requirements.

Many universities have breadth requirements, which are categories of courses in which you have to take a specified number of classes to make you more well-rounded. They might require you to take one course for a full year in each of science, arts, and humanities, for example. Choose whatever interests you in those categories, or whatever will help you prepare for your future career!

Tutorial or Not Tutorial? That is the Question.

Some courses have mandatory tutorials/discussions/seminars to go along with a lecture. Each lecture may have multiple tutorials taught by the same or different Professors or Teaching Assistants (TAs). The rule of thumb I’ve discovered is that if a course has tutorials available in the course selector, they’re probably mandatory. Also, if a lecture takes up less than three hours a week, it probably has a tutorial as well. That way you’re still getting 3 hours per week of instruction. You can always check in the course description — it will tell you whether a course has a mandatory tutorial component.

Some classes may also have laboratory components. Those usually work the same way.

If the course code for the lecture has a section (e.g. BIOL 101A or BIOL 101B), make sure you sign up for a lab or tutorial in the same section (A or B).

Course Selection for Electives!

Electives are the fun part! Electives are courses taken in any department, especially those that don’t fall under the umbrella of your program. You can take extra courses in your department if you want to, though, as long as your fulfill any breadth requirements you may have.

If you’re in a specialized program, such as engineering or commerce, your schedule may be filled up with required courses in the first year or two. That’s okay — you may still have space for electives in third or fourth year.

If you’re in a more general program, you may only have a couple of required courses in first year. That means first year is the perfect time to take some electives! Just make sure you prioritize the electives that satisfy your breadth requirements.

Be Prepared.


When your course selection appointment arrives, you will be able to submit your schedule for the semester or the year (depending on your school). But the online portal will allow you to pre-build a schedule before your appointment. Make sure you do that!

In addition, if your electives are super popular and your appointment is relatively late, do some searching to find backup electives that will fit your schedule, so that you can swap them out at a moment’s notice.

That’s all I have for you today, future frosh! Good luck with your course selection, and comment if you have any questions!

For those of you who have gone through this process before, what course selection tips do you have for the Class of 2020?