Building a flexible four-year plan
Students tend to put off developing a four-year plan because they:
- feel it’s too confining, and will lock them into all four years with no freedom
- feel intimidated/overwhelmed by the process, because they don’t know the steps
- don’t make the time to complete a plan and modify it as needed
- aren’t certain of their major and are unwilling to use potential majors instead
A powerful tool. In reality, when a four-year plan is constructed correctly, it can be a very powerful tool. It gives you focus and direction while providing a framework for planning your future. A plan actually increases your options, because you will know which classes and activities you are taking, which class slots are reserved in each term, and how things can be shifted around should unexpected changes occur. After all, you don’t want to reach your senior year only find that time conflicts wipe out that cool minor or throw you into an extra term, do you?
Maintain flexibility. There is nothing sacred about the plan you make. It WILL change, and it NEEDS to change! Prepare your plan in pencil, unless you move to a computer and printouts. Developing a good plan is a process that will take time to complete, and is a skill worth acquiring.
Work with your advisor. Although these instructions can be completed without your advisor’s input, you will want to share your plan to your advisor and discuss it frequently. Advisors have good suggestions for electives and for timing strategy, and can help you problem-solve your way to a better plan. If your advisor is outside your major department, you might use the “chat with many” approach to augment the process.
Start the plan:
- Pick up an “academic plan sheet” from the Registrar or online.
- Always use pencil to remind yourself that this is a “flexible” plan.
- Fill in classes for all completed terms. List course numbers and credits.
- Total and enter credits for each term and year already completed. Note “S” terms.
- Divide the credits required for your BA or BS degree (usually 136) by 4 years.
- Most students need about 34 credits each year to stay “on track” for graduation.
- Check catalog for Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor of Music degrees credit total.
- Pencil in credits needed (usually 34, 68, 102, or 136) at end of correct year.
- Are your “credits taken” close to “credits needed”? If not, increase load or use summer classes.
The DR checklist box:
- Fill in the DRs you have already taken on the appropriate line (inside the box).
- Note any plans/suggestions you have for each DR (outside the box).
- Make sure to look closely at the DR list in the catalog and read/talk about possibilities.
- Wait for the perfect choice, and don’t rush through them.
- Note any DRs you plan for spring term or overseas terms (if appropriate).
- Writing Proficiency: Make sure you have a "C" grade or better in ENG 101, and you have a plan for the other 12 credits. Note that each major requires a writing component, so don't forget to count those credits as well.
- If performing arts ensembles (150s) will exceed the 8cr allowed, write “watch 150 limit”.
- Double check all DR listings on your co-audit form (the total list of all classes taken).
Enter your major (or each potential major) on the back of the form, or separately:
- For the major, note the total credits and list the required classes by number and name.
- Write in the remaining classes (and credits) as listed in the catalog.
- For multiple tracks, include the one(s) that interest you.
- Pay attention to punctuation; this differentiates requirements from choices!
- Include any forced choices (like “take one of two”) and any other requirements.
- Total up the “reserved credits” already promised for the major. Subtract from the total.
- The remaining credits are considered electives, because you elect your choice.
- Some “electives” are restricted (“one class at the 400 level”). Note them.
- List any prerequisites or conditions for each class (where present). Plan for them.
- Include any cognates (required classes outside the major). Understand what you need.
- Make checkboxes by each class and DR to be completed. It feels good to check them off.
- Repeat for any other major, minor or program you are considering.
Other wishes and dreams:(update each term)
- Note any other classes not already planned that sound interesting (useful, fun, whatever)
- If you are planning an off campus or overseas term, get help VERY early!
- Add in all EDC requirements and deadlines, if appropriate.
- Review and update this section during each registration cycle.
Terms and times: (now for the research!!)
- Use the online/paper schedule to look up class times for each term.
- Write down terms and times, or copy/paste/print from online sources.
- Predict future offerings based on the current year (fall, winter and spring).
- Classes are offered once each term, once each year, or in alternating years.
- Locate the terms for all classes you intend to complete.
- Talk to advisor(s) and department if a class is not listed within the “yearly” cycle.
- Ask ahead for faculty sabbaticals (could cause deferred classes).
- Note any potential TIME conflicts (one huge payoff of this exercise).
- Double check terms and times on a regular basis (each new class schedule)
Pencil courses within upcoming terms: (time for the plan!)
- Schedule prerequisites early, note which class are offered multiple terms.
- Place each class as specifically as possible, adding day and time.
- Use arrows for swappable items (choices or terms).
- Don’t try to plan every slot too far ahead, just project where you can.
- When classes are the same term and time, take them in different years!
Monitor your plan:
- Check, plan and update the plan during each advising cycle.
- Keep track of progress and CPA for degree completion to avoid surprises.
- Attend senior audits to double check your degree completion.
If you change your mind. The real advantage to a flexible four-year plan is that it teaches you some valuable and transferable skills. Perhaps you’d like to go overseas, change your minor, add a program, or (gasp) even change your major. You will know exactly how to acquire the information you need and research the possibilities to re-tune your plan. You will know if your potential change is possible and you will have a better handle on how to reach your goals. The solution may be as simple as a summer class or two, but you will be able to see the big picture and act accordingly.
Best of all. Your decisions and your future should be in your hands. This is one proven method for getting there.