Career Planning

Making a Plan to Graduate on Time

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By: Rhiannon Winner, Uloop

Graduating on time seems easy to many students and parents. Both tend to assume that the college has things under control and would steer the student away from any poor decisions that would keep them from graduating on time.

But unfortunately, most colleges have too many students to attend to, and can’t possibly go over every decision your student makes. So make sure that your student has a plan to get in and out on time, and a backup plan if things start to go wrong.

Focus on general requirements before major or minor requirements.

Even if your student enters college certain of what major or minors they want to pursue, encourage them to focus on their general requirements for graduation before their major or minor requirements. It’s perfectly fine if they’re taking one class in their intended major or minor in their first couple of semesters, but they should limit it to just one. There’s always a chance they’ll change their mind, especially if they’re not positive about what they want to study.

By focusing on general requirements, they’ll safely be able to switch their major or minor sometime freshman, sophomore, or maybe even junior year and still graduate on time.

Check your major or minor’s degree audit.

Remind your student that it’s not safe to just assume what classes will count towards their major or minor. Most colleges have online “degree audits” that your student can check at any time. These will list what classes your student needs to take to complete their major and minor.

Suggest that they always consult the “degree audit” before making any class choices, and crosscheck it with the list of general requirements. They might find that there are a few classes that count for both their major or minor and their general requirements. Seek out overlap whenever possible, and your student might not only graduate on time, but possibly even ahead of schedule!

Register for classes as soon as registration opens.

Taking a semester or a year’s worth of classes that don’t do much to help your student fulfill their general requirements or requirements for their major or minor could be considered a waste of money. Your student might not even be able to graduate on time, should all of the classes they need be filled and if the professors teaching them refuse to let your student in off of the waitlist.

To avoid these potential problems, encourage your student to register for classes as soon as registration opens (yes, even if registration is at seven in the morning). It’ll save them a lot of trouble in the future.

Don’t be afraid to talk to professors.

Let’s say that your student really needs a couple of specific classes, and even if they did everything right and registered as soon as they were able, they didn’t get them. Especially if the course is a general requirement or necessary for your student’s major or minor, encourage your student to email the professor.

They should ask to be let into the class, but remind them that it’s important to say why they need to be let in. Professors get plenty of emails from students begging to be let into their class, but there are only so many people they can let off of the waitlist. Make sure that your student is one of them. Have your student very clearly state why they need the class in that specific semester or even at that time as opposed to another time slot, and the professor will be far more likely to admit your student.

Professors really do want to help, so if your student just explains why they need that class, the professor will probably admit them or do their best to recommend other classes or sections that could work for your student.

Make a Plan B.

Even if you and your student think that there’s no chance of them not graduating on time, make a Plan B anyway. You never know what could happen, especially if your student isn’t certain of their major and might change later in their college career. A back-up plan could include your student taking on extra courses in future semesters, signing up for summer classes at a local community college, or whatever else fits your personal situation.

Hopefully you won’t need a Plan B, but it’s better to be prepared than scrambling to come up with one only after your student realizes they might not be able to graduate on time.

As long as you and your student sit down and make plans to keep them on track, they’re likely to graduate on time. Even if they make a mistake or choose to change majors, as long as you’ve talked through your backup options, everything is going to work out just as well.

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