What is a field of study?
A field of study can be considered as the knowledge, skills and abilities you need in order to reach your goals: to become an educated person, to develop a career, or to help make the world a better place in which to live, to mention a few. There are just as many ways of assembling a field of study as there are students. Yours will be as unique as you are!
A field of study can be assembled from these ingredients:
A. Selection of an area of concentration (academic major)
B. Cognates (either required by the major or a very good idea for career support)
C. Selection of a minor (optional, only required for education students)
D. Distributive requirements
E. Enrichment opportunities (honors program, overseas studies, research, internships).
F. Service learning opportunities
G. Co-curricular activities (leadership, skills, breadth)
Your Alma Experience can be an intentional, coherent set of experiences designed to deepen and enrich your life, both during college and beyond. You will start on this puzzle before you arrive at Alma, and will continue lifelong learning after you leave campus with a diploma.
Let’s look at the pieces:
Selection of an area of concentration (the academic major). An area of concentration, also called a major, is a package of courses and experiences organized around a central theme, or core. Most majors at Alma are broad, rather than over-specialized. They contain both required courses and room for optional electives, so you can personalize your major. Requirements for each major are listed in the online catalog. You should understand the requirements for any major you are considering. Make sure you read the course descriptions and puzzle out the pre-requisites and the sequence of upper level classes. Advisors and others can help give additional advice on exact course selection.
Remember that majors (and minors) are just groupings of courses for which degrees can be awarded. No major or minor can hold all the classes you need for a career; in fact, many careers are in the junction between fields.
There is also something called a Program of Emphasis (POE), whereby students can build “their own program” of study if what they want to do doesn’t fit into a pre-existing major. A POE is not for everyone; it is larger than a major, must be assembled carefully, and must be approved by an academic committee. There are some POEs, like the Foreign Service POE, that are already well established at Alma College.
Cognates. Some majors have formal and required cognate (academically associated) classes. Physics, for example, has math and computer science cognate classes that are required for the major or the minor. Other departments make suggestions for classes that would be appropriate, but do not require them for degree completion. The language found in the department catalog entries will clearly indicate the situation that applies.
Selection of a minor.Although a minor is not required for graduation (except in the case of Education students and for Teaching Certification), many students broaden their skill set by selecting a minor that complements their major, or represents a strong divergent interest. There are lots of combinations! For example:
- A Psychology, Economics or Communication minor with Business major
- A Chemistry minor to support a Biology or EHS major
- An English, Math or Language minor with almost any major
- A performing arts minor with any major
Distributive requirements (DRs). These are the areas that must be covered by all students as part of gaining the breadth at the heart of a liberal arts education. Selecting DRs that expand your skills and support your goals is critical toward building a solid background for success. Students who rush into DRs just to “get them over with” are usually much less satisfied than those students who use DRs to explore possible majors, to support their learning, or to investigate a special interest. You should plan on one DR or so per term so you still have choices when you are a junior or senior. By then you will know exactly what classes you need and want to take.
Enrichment/Professional opportunities.This is a broad category of additional experiences that deepen your preparation, enrich your college experience and help you stand out from the competition. These options can help you become more certain of your career goals.
Overseas or off-campus study, internships and may be part of majors/minors, or used to support your Alma Experience. More information is available at the Off-Campus Study office. Spring Term classes also fall into this category (see the “All about Spring term” page).
Some students wish to participate in the college honors program, earn honors within any academic department, or compete for national honor societies (like Phi Beta Kappa) or national scholarships (like the Fullbright). See the page on “Preparing for Excellence” as well as the catalog, other web pages and announcements across campus for more information.
Service-Learning. Many students search for opportunities to give back, to help others, or to gain perspective on experiences different from their own. Alma has many service-learning opportunities in the form of regular classes with service-learning components, Spring Term classes, alternative break trips or internships with non-profit organizations, just to name a few.
Co-curricular activities. These include clubs, sports and other activities to help you build leadership and team-work skills, broaden your ability to handle responsibility and help you learn more about yourself, your peers and the world. Besides, they can be a lot of fun!
Sample a wide variety of activities and then home in on a few that are most appealing or where you can make a difference. You might be tempted to “do it all” just like in high school, but that attitude isn’t very sustainable over the long term. Striking a balance between work and play is a life skill that everyone needs!
Putting it all together. At first, it may seem overwhelming to pull this all together into your Alma Experience, but the good news is you don’t have to organize this all at once, nor will you “go it alone.” Your advisor, your teachers and your peers and staff members are all available to help you sort it out. Make sure you also read the pages “Selecting a field of study” and “What if I’m undecided?” Your plan begins with wishes and dreams, so get started!