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Where Am I Going? How Will I Get There?

By Marcy Kraus, dean of freshmen and director of the College Center for Advising Services

Each August, a new class of first-year students arrives on campus. Their parents are right behind them. After floor rugs are purchased, mini fridges are plugged in, and names and hometowns have been exchanged among hall mates, thoughts turn to classes and majors and often careers. Students check in with each other about their fall courses …" Are you taking chemistry first semester? Which level of calculus are you planning on? Should I take a writing class now or later? Isn't it a good idea to try and get ahead?" Good advice abounds … and poor is right behind.

New freshmen will have several meetings with their pre-major advisor during the orientation week, leading to, we hope, a well planned and sensible fall course schedule that takes advantage of Rochester's very flexible curriculum and explores existing and new interests. Returning students, while not new to college, may be thinking about new things … a new academic direction or a new academic opportunity. Because students live in the fast lane, questions about academic plans are sometimes delegated to mom or dad. As I wrote in a previous Buzz, "[l]ife on a college campus is fast paced, complex, and for more and more of us who serve roles as teachers, mentors, and advisors, filled with hours of time spent responding to a wide variety of e-mail inquiries.”  While email can be used very successfully to resolve a quick academic question, it is not a satisfactory way to answer questions like "where am I going and how I will get there?"

Enter the eight-semester academic plan. Now is a good time to encourage your student to open her computer and begin to lay out an academic plan. For some freshmen, this task can seem daunting. For others, it is a perfect tool to see that it is possible to pursue a double major and study abroad. When I talk with students about their own plans, I am fond of saying "start big and we will re-evaluate your plan every semester." Often the big plans become smaller and more manageable, or students change directions completely. But part of the value is in the planning itself. Four years goes by very quickly and the new freshman who had dreams of working in a cancer research lab senior year may be disappointed if he leaves that dream to chance.

Parents can play a key role in helping their students understand the value of planning and guiding their students to ask key questions in the development of the plan. If your student is a freshman, encourage her to share her academic goals with her pre-major advisor. Suggest she do research on her own. Suggest that she be “open minded” to new options and ideas. Remind your student that no one person on campus will likely have all of the answers, and just as adults spend time researching options and seeking out second opinions, so should students. To that end, it will likely be helpful to speak to an advisor in the College Center for Advising Services in Lattimore 312, or to a faculty member or administrator in a specific academic department. Advisors in CCAS can refer students to a wide variety of helpful resources.  These initial plans will lay the foundation for the later plans to come and help students begin to answer the question "how I will get there?"