Would you try to build a house without a blueprint? Would you solve a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture on the box? Do our Retrievers march onto the soccer field, rugby pitch, or baseball diamond without a game plan? Similarly, you know that UMBC has specific requirements you must meet in order to claim a degree and a diploma. And, you know what your goal is—to enter law school, get a job as a Math teacher, or whatever. So you need a plan (blueprint) that meets both the UMBC requirements and your life goals.
It only makes sense to line up your courses completed and in progress against the requirements/goals and then scope out what your remaining semesters need to look like. Even though this makes so much sense, it is a rare student who arrives for an advising appointment with that blueprint in hand. And, guess what? Those students graduate sooner! And they have a more coherent vision of their future, which is even more important.
START WITH THE BIG DECISIONS
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? Or do you want to major in something else but add a Minor in Writing? Is it your passion to become a veterinarian? You could major in Biology with an emphasis on the animal (as opposed to plant!) coursework. And you will need to make sure you take all the prerequisite courses for entrants into veterinary school.
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 reasonably 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.
Once you have declared your major, minor, and certificate programs, you can build those into your blueprint and then track your progress using degree audit.
GETTING YOUR BLUEPRINT DOWN ON “PAPER”
Step 1. Start by reviewing your degree audit on line and making note of all gaps in general education courses, university requirements, and all courses needed for your major, minor, certificate programs, etc. 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 planned courses for each semester, and Winter and Summer sessions if relevant. See the very end of this message for a sample 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. Then 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.
As you build your future schedules, remember not to load up with too many super difficult courses, too many courses with heavy reading, too many science courses in any one semester. Strive for a balanced list.
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.
HINT: 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
Although your advisor may give you excellent suggestions to refine your blueprint, it is ultimately up to you to be sure that it is complete and realistic.
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 these 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 after commencement when your final credits are posted, it should be unfolding based on a blueprint you designed. College is not mandatory and not free; attending college is a choice you have made to increase your life prospects. You need to shape your education to fit your needs. A frequently updated written plan or blueprint 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 blueprint:
UMBC 2012 Undergraduate Catalog on line here:
Navigating the First Year, 2012 New Student Advising and Registration Guide on line here:
Website of your major, minor departments. See listing here:
Peer Advisors in the Office for Academic and Pre-Professional Advising (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Download Graduation Plan grid below!
EXTRA CREDIT DISCUSSION QUESTION:
Do you have a written plan to complete your degree at UMBC? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.