Seniors give their take on the best classes at Cal

Second semester is well underway, which means it’s time for the annual class selection frenzy. To make things even more difficult, almost three quarters of students will have spent less than a full year on campus.

Students have tough decisions to make regarding class selections. After all, there’s only seven open class spaces and dozens of options for what to take. Students have to factor in their schedules’ difficulty, weight, and of course, fun.

As two seniors with our class-picking careers behind us, each of us has compiled a list of our top class recommendations. No matter what grade you’re in or what niche you prefer, this list covers it all. Without further ado, our top recommendations:


AP U.S. History

For all the juniors out there, I can’t recommend taking APUSH enough, mostly because you can’t get a bad teacher. Troy Bristol is notoriously fun, makes succeeding in the class pretty easy, and keeps as many recliners and couches in his room as he does desks. Scott Hodges (my APUSH teacher last year) has the best attitude and energy. He teaches his lessons with a lot of passion, and prepares students very well for the AP exam. 

The course load is relatively hefty, but it’s definitely one of the easier AP courses. With decent time management skills and an overall enjoyment of history, students will get way more than a GPA boost or a college recommendation letter out of this class. 

Principles of Biomedical Science (PBS)

While many take an additional year of science after biology and chemistry, it’s safe to say the average student doesn’t want to struggle through physics. Luckily, Cal has plenty of alternative science courses, of which I would say PBS is the best.

The class, taught by Joanna Condon, explores different biological systems and their disorders, and also has a secondary focus on career and professional skills. Even though it’s part of the biomedical pathway, students don’t need to take every class in the track if they decide to take PBS. Luckily, students still get the GPA boost because it’s an honors course. 

The workload really isn’t that different from a normal science class, and anyone who puts in effort will succeed. Condon is a phenomenal teacher. I’ve never met a student that didn’t gush about her. She is incredibly supportive of her students and even kept tea in her classroom to use (pre-COVID, that is). Highlights of her class include dissecting a heart on Valentine’s Day, listening to the Bee Gees during labs, and yelling about how ridiculously unhealthy the medical patients in the class case study are.


On the math side of things, statistics is a dream for anyone who seriously can’t take another year of unit circles and parabolas. It attracts mostly seniors looking to avoid Calculus during their last year of high school, but I took it during junior year after Pre-Calc hit me like a truck. Let me tell you, this class is the perfect advanced math escape tunnel.

Bob Allen and Ghazala Niazi split the statistics classes, and while Allen’s is considered the “easier” and more relaxed class, Niazi has a great reputation for being a nice, helpful, dedicated teacher. The class isn’t exactly an “easy” A, but depending on how comfortable you are with reading graphs and applying basic-ish equations, it’s straightforward enough.

If you’re a serious student that just so happens to gag at the thought of taking Calculus (sorry Ms. Saiki), have no fear. The best thing statistics has to offer is that despite its easier material more relaxed reputation, it still looks good for colleges, especially for programs like business, political science, communications, and economics. Students learn a lot of useful concepts and material, so this class is by no means a waste of a period.


For students who have never taken a language class before and are not sure how well they’ll respond to its curriculum, Spanish is your best bet. Not only is it a useful language in the future (if you take it that far), there are a lot people who really enjoy the Spanish classes. French is definitely the more challenging language at Cal, as people tend to find Spanish easier to pick up and the grading to be a little more generous. 

As a veteran of Spanish 1-4, I’ve discovered that I love learning languages. Even if it’s not the subject for everyone, the curriculum is very manageable. Just remember to always use SpanishDict instead of Google Translate. 

I think I speak for all of the Class of 2021 when I say that unless you plan on doing something more with your language education, Spanish is the least painful way to earn your language credit.

Philosophy/Psychology of Happiness

This combination elective class spends one semester on philosophy and one semester on psychology in relation to the concept of happiness. People generally take the class as a way to experience both psychology and philosophy instead of having to choose one over the other, and the class has received rave reviews all around.

The atmosphere, even online, is relaxed and positive. Tyler Gulyas, who teaches philosophy, is a great, upbeat guy who loves having conversations and connecting with students. Christina Teslich, the psychology teacher, is also full of life and cares about her students in addition to the class content. Teslich’s class is more group focused whereas Gulyas’ is more individualistic, but both teaching styles work well with the curriculum. 

For students looking for an easy grade and an interesting class to fill their schedule, Philosophy/Psych of Happiness is for you. Anyone can sign up, but it’s recommended for incoming juniors or seniors that want to take a meaningful class. 


Marine Biology

Students looking for a laid-back class that covers anatomy and how our environment constantly changes, I’d definitely recommend signing up for marine biology. For those students who have struggled with science classes in the past or want a light workload, this course is highly beneficial, especially if you’re thinking about going into the field in the future.

My teacher, Jacob Martin, is laid back and makes sure he carefully goes over his lessons while making sure students receive plenty of time on assignments. Be prepared to do plenty of labs and small quizzes, depending on which of two teachers you have. Doug Mason teaches the other marine biology class and has a great reputation as well.

I’ve found that Martin allows extensions on work if he sees that the class is behind schedule. Martin isn’t at all harsh nor does he rush his lessons so you’ll find that the class is perfectly paced and the class is always well informed.


Yoga is a great option for students looking for a relaxing class period that still offers the chance to exercise. Yoga is a slow-paced class that teaches mindfulness and practices light exercises, but nothing like what you’d expect out of a normal PE class.

During the period, students take morning walks around the track or down the Iron Horse Trail (which can mean coffee runs to Starbucks). It’s also a great class to socialize and make friends because of the casual, friendly atmosphere. 

For students who are not a PE person (no shame there), yoga is a great way to fill that additional PE credit. It’s a relaxing portion of the day, and it feels great to have a place to unwind from the typical stressful classes at school.

Digital Photography

Digital photography teaches students how to use cameras and the basics of photo composition. The class is taught by Jennifer Bible, who goes over aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Over the course of the class, students will learn about how differences in sizing and lighting relate to composition.

Bible is easy going, and as long as you get your work done she allows you to chill the rest of class. She’s very helpful, especially when it comes to learning how to Photoshop images. 

For students interested in photography I would recommend signing up for the course. There are quite a few projects every semester, so be prepared for a significant workload for an elective class, but the assignments are fun for those interested in the material. 

Staff Pick: 


Would we even be a proper school newspaper if we didn’t advertise ourselves? On a serious note, Newspaper (ROP Journalism Productions) is a great class for anyone with an interest in reporting, photography, graphic design, podcasts, and social media who wants to hone in on their skills in a professional setting. 

The class, taught by adviser Brian Barr, welcomes all levels of writers for a variety of positions, with the chance to try new skills. Students choose what they write about for each monthly issue, published both online and in a physical paper (once we’re back on campus). The workload is manageable, and the class itself is a fun, social group of students from all different grades and groups around Cal. 

Students who want an upbeat, enjoyable, low-stress elective (that looks great on a college application), should definitely join The Californian. After all, we’re not award winning for nothing!

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