For students heading off to college, the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” can suddenly feel extremely daunting. While students don’t need to have it all figured out before they arrive on campus, they do have to sign up for classes. Here’s how they should navigate that process.
Students should seek out advice and support early.
When it comes to choosing classes, students should know that they won’t be at it alone. Most students will be paired with an advisor, who can help determine their course load. “Students can tell their advisor, ‘I really like history and English classes, but I don’t like math,’ and the advisor can help select what type of classes they should enroll in,” says Marjorie Savage, University of Minnesota’s parent program director. They can also guide students on how many classes to take, and when. For example, advisors can ensure students are enrolled in enough credits to graduate on time as a full-time student, while also making sure they aren’t overloaded with work. They may also have insight on how to balance some content-heavy classes with lighter workloads. Additionally, advisors know which introductory classes are required before moving on to higher-level courses, and what students will need to complete in order to graduate with a certain major.
But academic advisors aren’t the only contact students should consider. “It’s never too early to see a career advisor,” Stephanie Benson-Gonzales, the associate director of family programs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, says. These advisors can help students connect their academic interests to future careers, including the tangible skills they’ll need to succeed.
It’s important that students take classes they’ll enjoy.
Another key reminder? “Students should keep in mind that the courses they choose their first semester won’t determine their entire future,” Savage says. “It’s more important for students to be choosing classes they’ll enjoy.” But enjoying their classes isn’t just about having fun. “Students who work with an advisor to intentionally explore how their passions, skills and interests align are more likely to graduate on time than students who continuously change their major,” Benson-Gonzales says. So if your student feels pressure to declare a major, they should know it’s totally normal to be uncertain. In fact, “the majority of students will come to college undecided about what their major will be,” Benson-Gonzales says.
Your student will likely change their mind, and that’s okay.
Even if your student comes to college with a major in mind, they may end up changing it. After all, “you don’t need to be what you are declaring your first semester,” Savage says. This can cause some uncertainty from both the student – and their parents – but Benson-Gonzales asserts that that uncertainty is actually a “great place to be,” as it enables a student to seriously consider what they want to pursue. “Parents shouldn’t be negative about what classes their student chooses,” Savage says. What’s most important is that they’re discovering what might capture their attention in the long run.
And if your student feels a little lost? Talking to people can help steer them the right direction. “Networking will guide them to the right path,” Benson-Gonzales says. They might just discover a class – or major – they hadn’t considered. “There may be courses your student has never even heard of before, so they should keep an open mind,” Savage says.
A variety of classes can expand their horizon and fulfill necessary requirements.
Once they’ve had more exposure to a variety of classes during their freshman and sophomore years, students will have a better idea of what they want to focus on for their major. They can even get more specific, opting to add a minor, or concentration. This might entail taking specific classes, so encourage your student to work with their advisor to ensure they’ve fulfilled everything they need.
In the end, the first year of college is an invaluable time for students to expand their horizons and explore what they’re interested in. Choosing the right schedule is about finding classes to fulfill both the requirements necessary for the student to graduate – and to grow. “Take what’s required, but also something that will be fun and fill you with joy,” Savage says. Those will be the classes your student will never forget.