The Perpetual Student. We’ve all met one – the person who is still carrying a backpack everywhere, worrying about their grades, and living off Kraft Dinner and beer at the age of 40, with no end in sight.
There’s nothing wrong with being that person, of course. But some of you might feel you want to get your undergraduate degree done in a more timely fashion – ie, in the “4 years of full-time study” that is supposed to be the norm.
How do you do this? It’s not as easy as it sounds – you have to get 40 half-course equivalents, which means 10 per year, which is 5 classes a semester for four straight years – and not only that, they have to be the right classes. There are details to remember – breadth requirements! Transfer credit maximums! Junior credit maximums! Second languages, minors, required courses, prerequisites, labs, scheduling, and so on and so forth. There are enough details to legitimately make your head spin and nobody could blame a B.A. student for stressing out at the very thought of their “Degree Requirements” – especially when trying to make sense out of the super tiny printing in a massively thick university calendar.
Here are 5 tips that can help you stay on the fast track, and sail on through these 4 years.
Tip #1: See an Academic Advisor
I would recommend stopping in to see an academic advisor from time to time to ensure that everything is on track with your degree, and to answer any questions you might have. I am independent-minded and felt confident I could figure my degree out on my own. I did a decent job but I wish I had seen an academic advisor much more frequently. I ended up with a bunch of courses “Extra To Degree”, meaning I took them, worked hard in them, wrote exams and papers . . . and they don’t count for anything towards my degree. Could have saved myself some serious cash and some all-nighters.
Academic advisors keep up with the ever-changing degree requirements, can help you plan out your courses, and can give you inside advice on what the best route is for you to take. It’s worth a stop in to see them from time to time. They can save you a lot of anxiety and frustration.
A caveat, though: remember that human error is always a possibility, and that you need to double-check things yourself. Get advice, rules and regulations, and insights from your advisor but remember that you, in the end, should ensure that your degree meets the requirements you need to graduate!
Tip #2 – Know What You Need
Before you register for classes, know what your degree requirements are. At the end of each term, see what you’ve completed and what you have left to complete. Academic advisors are helpful with this. Whether you use a paper version of a degree worksheet or an online version (ie, Degree Navigator at the U of C) it is helpful to visualize what has been completed and what is left. Make sure your worksheet is up to date, and remember that online data may not be fully up to date or may be affected by computer glitches – double check everything, everytime, and if you’re concerned, go see an academic advisor.
Tip #3: Think Years Ahead
When planning your courses for an upcoming term, don’t think in the present alone. Think of whether those courses are required as prerequisites for classes you’ll need later on, whether you are taking mostly options one term and will end up with 5 senior-level classes in your major in your last semester (!!!!), whether the classes you need are offered every year or if you need to get into one now because it won’t be offered again, and so on and so forth. Try to think about the present and the future at the same time, or you could end up frustrated down the road.
Tip #4 – Take as Many Courses as You Can Handle
The 5-per-term over 4 years can be a heavy load, but if you can handle it, you should be able to complete your degree in 4 years. Try to balance out the classes you take each term. For example, if you are majoring in sociology and taking three senior level sociology courses one semester, a less-intense option course or a course with a very different type of workload, like an English or biology course, could help you balance things out. If you are a psychology major who needs a lab class, try to spread the lab classes out over different semesters so you don’t spend a full 4 months with your days booked up by long and intense and often late-in-the-day labs .
Of course, you are the best judge of what you can handle. If your GPA will suffer from a constant full-load or if you have a demanding work or family life, then it might very well be worth doing some spring and summer classes, taking an extra semester or even a fifth year in order to get everything done. But if you take as many as you know you can handle, you should get done that much faster.
Tip #5 – Be Flexible
In some disciplines and schools, classes are offered so frequently that you can arrange your schedule to be only Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or not have any classes that start before 11 a.m. But if you want to complete your degree quickly, flexibility will help. Willingness to take an 8 a.m. required class because the 12:00 p.m. section is full will move you forward in your degree faster. An evening class or two could help fill in options when a semester is particularly tricky with scheduling. Spring and summer courses are possible; so are distance-courses in many cases. Being flexible and open to different times of day, times of year, and format of classes will get you to the end of your degree faster than somebody who refuses to take classes with a certain instructor or at a certain time of day. Obviously, you know what you can handle and what works for your life, but be as flexible as you can within those parameters.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with NOT completing a B.A. in 4 years. Life happens, things come up, classes that you need get full – it’s not the end of the world not to finish in the magic 4. But if it’s something you want to aim for, hopefully these tips will help!