Consider the typical undergrad degree by the numbers:
Download blank Graduation Plan grid below!
That is the bare bones of what it takes to earn the diploma. When you look at it that way, it seems pretty simple.
Why, then, do the following "bad" things happen to some students?
1. spending 4 years in college and realizing you still need 15 more upper level credits
2. discovering in your senior year that you still have to take three semesters of a foreign language
3. trying to double major but realizing after several years that you would need several extra semesters to pack everything in
4. struggling, struggling in MATH 150 or PHYS 121 or LATN 101 and realizing later you did not even need to take the course and it has dragged down your GPA
5. taking WAY too many credits in the final semesters to make up for time and credits wasted earlier
In order to avoid be caught in these situations. YOU NEED A PLAN!
What are the "good" things that happen to students with a plan?
1. sleeping better at night, knowing that they are on course to a goal
2. a more coherent, logical, sequenced set of courses
3. a basis for choosing courses each semester with an advisor
4. completing a degree sooner, spending less time and money
5. having room in your schedule for those electives you really want to take to round out your college education
HOW TO BUILD A WORKING PLAN NOW
START WITH THE BIG DECISIONS: YOUR GOALS
Other than completing a degree, what are your main goals in college? Do you want to get all the technical education necessary for a career in Information Systems? Do you want to capitalize on your natural gift for writing by majoring in English? Is it your passion to become a veterinarian? You could major in Biology with an emphasis on the animal (as opposed to plant!) coursework.
If you don’t have this kind of big goal defined by about 50 credits into college, you need to intensify your research on majors and careers. Even if you wind up changing goals, it is important to have goals to work toward as soon as you can. If you are on the fence between areas that are closely related, such as Physics and Math, your near-term plan can be to take courses that would be valuable for both.
GETTING YOUR PLAN DOWN ON “PAPER”: FIVE EASY STEPS
Step 1. Review your degree audit on line and make a list of all gaps in general education courses, university requirements, and courses needed for your major, minor, and certificate programs, You can find your degree audit by logging on to your myUMBC account and clicking on the topic "Advising and Student Support".
Step 2. Create a grid or spreadsheet with spaces for courses, credits, and notes that shows your completed, in progress, and planned courses for each term. See the end of this message for a blank grid you can download to use or adapt.
Step 3. Begin filling in the blanks with courses you KNOW you need to take for your major. Take into account whether these courses are offered every semester, only in fall, only in spring, etc. when you slot them into your plan. Also take into account prerequisites and course sequences.
Step 4. Fill in courses for minors and certificates, and finally general education courses. It is fine to put “upper level AH course” or “Writing Intensive course” as a placeholder if you have not settled on the specific course yet. At least you have the category covered. Also include any electives you would like to fit in.
Step 5. Enter the total credits for each semester and make sure it is a reasonable number.A 15-18 credit schedule is good for most full-time students with jobs and extracurriculars of 15 hours/week or less. If you have a substantial work commitment, long commute, or big family obligations, then scale back the credits.
HOW TO GET USEFUL INPUT FROM YOUR ADVISOR
Make an appointment to meet with your academic advisor to review your long-term plan.
INSIDER TIP: Make this appointment when the campus is quieter--early in the semester, on a Friday, during a snowstorm.
You may want to e-mail your plan to your advisor in advance, just in case he or she has a minute to print it out and look it over before your appointment.
When you come to your appointment, be ready with a list of “issues” that may have arisen, such as:
• Courses you may want or need to repeat
• Plans to take certain courses at another institution
• Any “substitutions” you may want to propose in the major/minor requirements
• Any excess credits permission you may need to complete your degree on time
THE PLAN CAN BE ADJUSTED
And yes, you need a plan even if you know that you may switch concentrations within your major, you may drop your second major down to a minor, and you may want to add a certificate. The process of building the plan will help you assess the feasibility of changes! It is even more important to have a solid written plan if your academic career is in flux. And if you want to see how your courses might fit into a different major altogether, take a look at the “What If” degree audit on line.
Although your college education is a work in progress right up until your final credits are posted, it should be unfolding based on a blueprint you designed. You need to shape your education to fit your needs. A frequently updated written plan is a powerful tool for making sure you are meeting all the university’s demands and achieving your personal goals as well.
Additional resources to help you build your plan:
UMBC 2013-14 Undergraduate Catalog on line here.
Navigating the First Year, 2013-14 New Student Advising and Registration Guide on line here.
Websites of your major, minor departments. See listing here.
Peer Advisors in the Office for Academic and Pre-Professional Advising (firstname.lastname@example.org)
EXTRA CREDIT DISCUSSION QUESTION:
Do you have a written plan to complete your degree at UMBC? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
Download blank Graduation Plan grid below!