Here at, Your College Sensei, efficiency is key to academic success. Building an academic plan of study is an essential part of achieving that. The goal is to get, “Through In Two, Finish In Four”. If you are earning an associate degree, it should take you two years, a bachelor’s degree should take 4 years and with a good academic plan, you can accomplish that.
What Is An Academic Plan
An academic plan is a schedule that outlines every course required each semester to graduate in two or four years. An academic plan should be flexible and customizable. The main goal is for a student to visualize the semesters and years to come and understand what courses they need in order to get to graduation. It also helps to visually see where and when classes like electives, general education, and major can fit in. Planning can also identify when it may be necessary to take Summer or Winter, classes. With all three of my degrees (AS, BS, MBA), I created an academic plan of study. I studied it and revised it constantly. I wanted to be sure that it was as tight and efficient as possible. The task of mapping out my courses was enjoyable as I could see my progress as I checked off classes already taken and see those that were left.
You May Find You Can Graduate Early
Many schools schedule two years in advance which courses will be offered each semester. I rarely planned more than two years out because it wasn’t necessary. I made a 2-year plan for my AS. Once I transferred, I made a 2-year plan for my BS, it was during building my plan I realized I could get my BS in a year and a half. When I got into graduate school, I made a 2-year plan for my MBA. Just like my bachelor’s degree, I realized that I could graduate with my masters in a year and a half too. This is how powerful building an academic plan can be.
Know Every Class You Need To Take
Creating a full list of courses will be complicated and time-consuming in the beginning but well worth the effort. Your college will have a list of all the general education requirements as well as a guide on its website. For example, I’ve included a link to my community college, Butte College, general education requirements. Your major will have its own set of required courses and accepted electives that you need to take. Courses from both of these lists, general education, and major, will need to be combined into a single list of the courses needed to graduate based on the requirements of your college and degree. Here is my AS in Business Administration degree requirements.
There will be flexible requirements that have several different course options to complete a requirement. If we use Butte College’s requirements as an example, we can see for Area E—Communication & Analytical Thinking, the requirement is only one 3 credit course. You have over 25 classes to choose from to fulfill that Area E requirement. One of the classes will work with your schedule time-wise. It can even possibly count toward something else, like a math or communication requirement.
As you can see, the more options you have, the more creative you can get in structuring your semesters, there are lots of possibilities that can fit almost any schedule. Be sure to include the number of credits each class equals. The list of all your classes will be crucial to developing your academic plan. It will let you know exactly what you need to take and it can reveal any prerequisite classes you didn’t know about and when they are offered.
Know Your Prerequisites
A prerequisite is a required class before taking another class. For example, in some cases, accounting is needed to be completed in order to take small business management. That makes it a prerequisite. Be sure to identify which classes require prerequisites and the prerequisites you will need to take on your list, so you know what you need to take and in what order. Prerequisites are notorious for throwing your academic schedule off.
Know Your Credits
As I have stated before credits will rule your every move. It’s important to know exactly how many credits you need because they are the building blocks of your degree and the pathway to your graduation. I go into detail about credits and how many you should take each semester in, What Is A Full-Time College Semester Load? Why It’s Important You Take One.
The average number of credits needed for an associate degree is 60, and for a bachelor’s 120. Most universities only allow a maximum of 18 credits per semester, for more than this you need to get permission. You can’t just have 60 or 120 random credits and expect to walk away with a degree. It’s much more complicated than that. You must make sure the credits fit into a structured degree program.
You will arrange your credits via classes, so they add up to a specific arrangement to meet graduation requirements. If you are falling short on credits, you may need to add more classes based on what you need. If your major requires more credits than can be taken per semester, you may need to take some classes over the summer or during winter break or get permission to take more. It’s worth noting, that permission to take more credits is usually granted if you are in good academic standing.
Creating Your Academic Plan
Knowing your course and credit requirements will enable you to create a balanced and complete academic plan. Your academic plan should plan out the courses that you need to take each semester to graduate. Structure your schedule by taking into account which courses might be more time-consuming or difficult and the prerequisites needed. It’s important not to overload your schedule, don’t take the more difficult courses together, space them out throughout your semesters. As you move through the semesters, the classes you need will narrow down to what is remaining and required. This is where your schedule will be the least flexible. If you fail a class, you will need to update your academic plan.
Meet With An Academic Advisor
After you are done constructing your academic plan, meet with an advisor to make sure you are on the right track. An advisor might tell you about any requirements you may have missed or give you a suggestion on a better class to take. When I was at community college, I was all set to graduate with my AS in Business Administration and transfer the following semester. However, when I met with my advisor, she pointed out that I was only two classes away from an AS-T in Business Administration which was better than just my AS degree. I had never heard of the “T” part of the degree. The “T” represents “transfer”. A lot of perks came with earning the transfer part of the degree. It was well worth my time to squeeze in the two extra classes.
Remember that your plan will change based on the availability of classes and your enrollment times. You may need to make some adjustments to your plan each semester. This is normal and ensures you remain on track to graduate. The goal is to make every semester count!