If you are already in school you have just finished spring break and are looking to finals and registration for the next year. Hard to believe one more year has gone by. You want to be sure you are on the right foot every semester and that begins with registering for the right classes now.
The first information source to hold close is the college catalogue. It actually represents the legal contract between you and the school. And it contains an important bit of language, which notes that the rules can be changed at any time. They don’t change very often, though, and during your time as a student you should plan to abide by the catalogue that is in effect the day you enroll, unless a new catalogue is released. Refer to it whenever you have questions, such as how and when to challenge a grade, or what grades mean, or what happens if you’re caught cheating. The catalogue is now usually found on the college’s web site as well, and that version may be the most current. But keep the hard copy too if there is one. If you fall afoul of the rules, the first thing school authorities will point to is the catalogue, and someone will say to you, “But didn’t you read…?” Legally, you are expected to know what it contains. So become familiar with it, and keep it handy. It is also where you find out about the classes that are offered and you should review the options and requirements before you register.
Before registration talk to classmates and other students about the classes they have most enjoyed and faculty that have been most valuable to them so you can make a plan to discuss with your adviser that will have winning classes that you are likely to love as well as filling your requirements.
Another legal point involves your e-mail account, which colleges now usually provide for students as the means of communication with them. If your bill is not paid, for example in a worst-case scenario, and you are about to be thrown out, it is as likely nowadays that you will receive an e-mail as a letter with this news. (But do not toss out letters from your college—open them and pay attention.) If you ignore school communications, the college can still claim legitimately that you were notified—they have done what is required to reach you. Why so harsh? In college, the students’ world begins to change as expectations rise that they are responsible for themselves, on the way to becoming responsible adults in society. Whereas in high school and at home someone has been telling you where to go, what to do, how to do it and when, in college you are considered a responsible person able to be more self-reliant. Even students who have jobs and families and know they have to pay their taxes on time sometimes think they can pay their tuition late or that the college will take care of them the way someone did in high school if they don’t abide by college rules or deadlines. Being self-reliant does not mean that you do not seek help when you need it—quite the contrary! Seeking help is a sign of maturity. Asking questions and getting guidance is what self-reliant individuals do. They know where to go to get the answers they need.
Registration is not a single step, though many schools have a single office where all aspects of the process can be taken care of and coordinated. The players involved include an adviser and the offices of the registrar, bursar, and financial aid. Let’s hope your college has a clear web-based explanation and process for this key activity.
There are specific times and dates set aside for registration, usually depending on your year. Freshmen get special consideration—special arrangements may allow freshmen to register ahead of the pack or during orientation. There is more support and guidance then, and you should take advantage of it. Seniors get priority treatment because they are working toward graduating and may need to get into popular courses. That leaves sophomores and juniors having to scramble a bit more. Again, it is really important to read all messages about registration dates and times and to know the school calendar. Make notes in your own planner or PDA. Popular classes fill up quickly, and you want to be first in line for them. Class sizes are determined by various factors which include the size of the room as set by the fire department, room availability, or the nature of the course –is it a lecture which can be hundreds of students or a seminar where discussion is expected and only a few students are viable for that format. Demand is also created by the need to fill certain requirements in a particular time frame such as Bio for pre-med students being a prerequisite for other classes pre-meds have to take. Or classes that have labs required as the practical application of what is learned may have limited physical space which will limit the numbers who can take the corresponding lecture. So when classes are closed out because they are fully enrolled it is usually beyond anyone’s control to fix easily. This is not a time to have a fit. Note that during registration, because students drop classes, courses that may have been closed out one day may open up the next. It is wise to stay on top of the process if there is a particular course you want or need, but are having trouble getting into. Timing can make all the difference. In some schools there may be a wait list managed either by the registrar or the faculty members concerned. Inquire, but nicely.
Your next step should be meeting with an adviser to see that you’re taking the right courses for your grade level and to fulfill requirements, and to be sure you are not taking too many or too few classes. If you have a low grade point average, for example, the school won’t generally allow you to take more than a certain number of credits, so that you can focus on doing well in a reasonable number of classes. As a transfer student, you want to be sure of which courses can be transferred from your previous school. This can sometimes take extra effort. There may be a particular office or transfer student adviser to help with this process. Be sure to save old syllabi or course descriptions for courses whose credits you hope to transfer. In some cases colleges have understandings with other schools called articulation agreements, which allow for automatic transfer of credits from one like or related school to another. Such decisions are made by faculty or with faculty input, not by admissions officers or registrars.
There are various kinds of advisers. In your first year or two it is the job of someone from an advising center, dean’s office, or office of student affairs to guide you. This adviser is trained not only in the rules of the school and curriculum, but also to help support you in many ways, including during personal crises—he or she is your ally. In some cases the advising center may be coupled with the registrar’s, bursar’s, and financial aid offices, for a one-stop shopping experience. For example, if your adviser suggests that you add a class, you might, in the same space, make adjustments to your program and your bill through the registrar and bursar. It goes without saying that you should always pay attention to your advisers; as noted earlier, never ignore notices, letters, or e-mails coming from any of the offices mentioned.
In some schools you cannot go online to register unless your adviser has signed off on your plan—at least in your first year or two. You may be able to make changes in your program without your adviser’s knowledge in some cases, but that may become a problem later if the changes don’t serve you well. If problems later crop up, the adviser can point to the advice given to you (which is often on record in a file or online), and you will have to take responsibility for your contrary independent decision. Always ask.
Once you have declared your major, most likely a faculty member in your major department will guide you through the department’s rules. Faculty members may not be as savvy about all the college’s rules and requirements, however, so keep in touch with your original advisor too. Remember, the more college officials who know you and know your strengths and challenges, the better they can serve you in achieving your goals. Your faculty adviser, for example, may be the one to nominate you for honors or scholarships. When calls go out asking for students to recommend for various programs and opportunities, the ones who come to mind are those whom officials know. Hiding out does not get you anywhere.
Summer does not mean a break!
Once registered for the next term and upon completing your finals do not think you can forget school. Use the summer to engage in internships or work that will build your resume and relate to careers you may be interested in. Read constantly to keep your brain active and your skills fresh. If you are planning to apply for special programs, scholarships or graduate programs in the fall work on your personal statements over the summer when you don’t have the pressure of course work hanging over your head. You can more easily do self reflection and multiple drafts.
Then you can know that you will start the fall term, great courses in hand, brains sharp, and ahead of the game for a great new year.
Book Excerpt: Preparing now for the next semester: Excerpt from Chapter 3 I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide
Marcia Y. Cantarella, PhD, is author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide For more on this topic see Chapter 3. You can learn more about Dr. Cantarella at www.CollegeCountdown.com
More articles by Marcia Cantarella from her book I Can Finish College