Advice for College Students #1: Advising

Talk to Your Advisor At Least (AT LEAST) Once a Year, Twice Your Senior Year.

As someone who is both a student and staff member, I get to see both sides of the issues affecting universities and their students these days. As registration for Spring approaches, and the advising period approaches before that, I thought I would hand down some wisdom I have learned from seeing some horror stories unfold.

It is inevitable that every Spring (and Fall) we have a student or two who assume they are going to graduate, who apply to, who get their cap and gown, who make plans to not be a student next semester, who are thanking the Gods they are not going to be racking up more student loans…who are shy credits and/or requirements and are in fact, not going to graduate.

The fact is the number of students each semester who manage to get though an entire major/program exactly as laid out in the sample course plan you get as freshmen can be counted on one hand. Classes will be full, class times will conflict, you will change your major, you suddenly get a wild hair to take another class within the department and assume it will count. And it won’t.

For instance, I can take as many archaeology classes as I want, but since I have already fulfilled that requirement, more of them is not going to help me complete my Anthropology degree. Get into grad school? Maybe. But not graduate with a BA (which is kinda required before going to grad school).

And while Universities and colleges may have degree evaluation programs on their student-websites, the truth is they are never 100% accurate. You need to have someone who knows the major better than you do look over your transcript on a regular basis to make sure you are on track and will graduate when you think you will.

If the classes you are missing at the end of your senior year are within the major, the Department may work with you (if it’s possible and if you are a good student), shuffle some classes around, take some course substitutions, to get you out the door. But there is only so much they can do. Degrees must have validity to be worth something on the job market, so while they may slightly bend, they are not going to break any rules for you and risk devaluing the degree for the other students in their program.

If those credits and requirements fall within the university/college’s core/foundation education, you are screwed. You will be spending time and money to come to back University for one semester to take that one stupid class you missed. Imagine what it feels like to be told, a month before graduation, “Sorry, you are short two credits of Art. You’re not graduating.”

And don’t be mad at the college or department if this happens. This is not high school. You are not being nursed through the system. College is about being proactive. You entered a major knowing you had to fulfill its requirements. If you did not keep track of what you were supposed to take, if you did not meet with your advisor to stay on track, the fuck up is yours.

Always check in with your advisor, preferably once a semester, at least once a year. For me, I sit down with them in the Spring to lay out the following academic year, and in the Fall I shoot them an e-mail. “I’m going to take this, thus and that in the Spring. Is that o.k.?” or “I couldn’t get into that class, what else can I take that will help me graduate?”

And it’s not just for the long-term benefit. They keep you from taking the wrong classes and wasting your time. For instance, the requirements for the major say, “The student needs to take four semesters of a foriegn language.” So you take French I, II, III…and then get bored and take Russian because, hey, that’s a fourth semester of a foriegn language, right?

“*A* foriegn language.” Singular. You should have stuck it out with French IV. You just wasted three/four credits time and tuition on a class that is not going to help you to graduate. If you want to take Russian for your own edification, swell. Make the most of the educational opportunities available to you. But understand you may well have just put off graduating by a whole semester.

Advisors also know which classes apply to what requirements better than you do, what they can take as a substitution (within the major) if a class is full and you are getting close to graduating. If you are a good student, they will go to bat for you. (Again, within reason.)

So when you approach graduation, sit down with them the last semester of your Junior year, first semester of your Senior year and the semester you are graduating in, just to make sure everything is on track.

They are not registration PIN dispensers, they are here to help you. But they are not going to lasso you in the hall and drag you in their office, you have to go to them. Given current tuition costs that you are paying, your parents are paying or you will be paying back, it’s worth the 30 minutes of time twice a year to do so. That is a wise investment.

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