Generally Speaking

My advice to any current student is to not take your general coursework lightly. Those introductory courses are a chance to explore and think beyond what you may already know to be true.

Nearly every college and university has a set group of courses that undergraduates must take before specializing in a major.  Students who know from birth that they want to be doctors, or journalists, or some other exciting career often find these courses annoying, and maybe even unnecessary.  The concept of “well-roundedness” seems old and outdated.

In the push for career training sometimes the idea of learning for the sake of learning new ideas becomes lost.  The university as a place of ideas is slowly slipping away as the marketplace demands more workers and fewer thinkers.  However, your general education requirements may allow you to have the best of both worlds.  General education requirements force you to take classes that you might otherwise ignore.  Mathematicians have to endure humanities courses just the same as English majors have to slog through some quantitative skills curriculum.  These are wonderful opportunities to push yourself, and maybe, just maybe find a new way to approach an idea.

My own graduate career did not have the equivalent to a general education requirement, but I made one for myself and found that my research was better for it.  The courses I took in sociology allowed me to get out of my silo and see the world from the perspective of brilliant people in another field.  I chose classes that reflected something I really wanted to learn, got permission for them, and eventually was able to work with the chair of the sociology department on my thesis.

My advice to any current student is to not take your general coursework lightly.  Those introductory courses are a chance to explore and think beyond what you may already know to be true.  They also can confirm that yes studying neuroscience or medieval literature are exactly what you want to do with your life because you can honestly say that you have looked at other things and nothing quite measures up.  If you had wanted professional training only you probably could have done an apprenticeship and skipped college all together.  Many great entrepreneurs, such as Bill Gates, have famously dropped out.  Nonetheless, if you have chosen to go, make the most of chance to learn something new.

The Best Kept Secret

We all learn the golden rule as children: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Unfortunately, many students forget this lesson when they are in dire  straights and need  help.  Every administrator works with hundreds of students.  Students who need exceptions to policies and rules are completely expected every year.  However, what isn’t expected are nasty attitudes.

Screaming, snarkiness, and a condescending attitude won’t get you very far if you need an administrator to go to bat for you.  Exceptions are rare and asking someone to alter the rules for you is a big deal.  Here are a few tips on how to go about getting what you need.

First, be kind to everyone you encounter. Administrators at every level talk to each other.  The students who behave poorly towards staff gain reputations.  Second, have your ducks in a row.  The student who has mostly been a good student, or is known on campus for being a leader is the student who is more likely to gain favor. Students who are constantly looking to bend the rules are more likely to hear “no.” Finally, ask early!  Waiting until the first day of registration, or the day of graduation is a surefire way to not get the answer you want.  Respect an administrators time and they are more likely to go the extra mile for you!

Get it in Writing – Protect Yourself Against Mixups

Having recently taken a new position in Academic Advising, I am already amazed at just how many students leave

The best degree plan is an approved one
The best degree plan is an approved one

their academic futures up to someone else.  People, even people who are genuinely concerned about your well-being as a student, make mistakes.  Sometimes this works in your favor, and the University has to waive some requirement they didn’t remember to tell you to take.  However, this isn’t always the case.  Sometimes your choices lead to your own downfall.

If you know you need an exception for your degree program then talk to someone early and have them write the answer with a signature.  If they are going to email it then try to be present when the email is sent, and ask that a copy be sent to you as well.

Asking for assistance early shows that you care about your education and are willing to take initiative.  Having something in writing or in an email format protects you in case someone loses your documents.  Things happen.  People in advising and registration change jobs and may misplace something.  Emails can be accidentally deleted.  It is up to you to be sure you are earning all the appropriate general credits and major requirements.   Speaking of general credits do you know what yours are?  For those of you scratching your heads asking what is a “general credit” I will have another post soon.