Now that you have had some practice with goal setting, we’ll turn to the topic of academic planning, which will provide you with a roadmap to achieving your goals. Some students come to college with clear direction; they know what they want to study, what jobs and careers they would like to enter after college, or whether they want to transfer. Others enter college as undecided (sometimes also called “undeclared” or “exploratory”), understanding that their experience with different academic subjects will help them make an academic choice. Still others start a program of study but are uncertain how that program can help them find a job later. Each of these situations is normal.

Programs of Study

Even before you have figured out your own purpose for college, you might be required to select a program of study, sometimes referred to as a major, in an area of study like psychology, engineering, education, or nursing. Every program of study includes required courses and electives. Required courses are the ones directly related to the area of study as well as general education courses such as college-level math and English courses. Electives are courses that you get to choose because they interest you. An electrical engineering major, for example, would be required to take courses related to that area of study, like Circuits and Systems, and general education courses like English and world history. The student can also choose electives such as music appreciation and fine arts. Although it’s hard to see the direct connection between some of the required courses and what you want to do with the rest of your life, you may discover potential areas of interest that you have never considered before, discover a new career path, and find a new sense of purpose.

Many students change their majors or programs of study as they better understand their strengths and weaknesses, learn more about career options, and become interested in different areas of study. Some colleges allow you to be undecided for a while or to select liberal arts as your major until you make a decision about what to study. An early selection does allow you to better plan which courses you need to take and with which instructors and students within your program to connect. An academic adviser or counselor can provide you with proper information and guidance to help you make the right academic decisions.

Even if you are ready to select a major, it’s a good idea to keep an open mind and consider your options. You might learn that the career you always dreamed of isn’t what you thought it would be at all. Working part-time or participating in co-curricular activities such as joining a student organization can help you make decisions and learn more about yourself in the process.

Transfer Considerations


If you are planning to transfer to another college or university, it makes sense to choose your major early and select your courses based on the requirements of the college or university of your choice for transfer. Completing courses that you can transfer will help you save time and money. Most colleges that award associate degrees have a transfer center or, at the very least, a transfer counselor whose job is to provide academic advisement and prepare students for a successful transfer to another institution. All two-year colleges have agreements with four-year colleges and universities to ensure that their students can transfer their credits without difficulty. Some of the four-year colleges or universities even offer their degrees on the two-year college campus.

When you begin college, if you know that you will need to transfer, make sure that the courses you take will be transferablethat is, will be accepted for credit at the new college or university. Good academic planning involves an awareness that your major and career ultimately have to fit your interests, life preferences, personality, and overall life goals.

Connecting Programs of Study with Careers

Earlier in the chapter, we asked questions about why you are in college. Many students would immediately respond, “So I can get a good job or education for a specific career.” Yet some academic programs or majors do not lead directly to a particular career path or job. You actually can enter most career paths from any number of academic majors. Only a few technical or professional fieldssuch as accounting, nursing, and engineeringare tied to specific majors.

Exploring your interests is the best first step to identifying an academic major as well as career paths or jobs that are right for you. Here are some helpful strategies:



With two or three other students, discuss where you imagine working after college. Will you be employed in an office, a hospital, a studio, or a lab? Or will you be working outdoors? How can you use the environment in which you desire to work as motivation to get into the career of your choice? If any of your classmates already have careers, find out why and how they chose those careers. How do they feel about their work settings?

Working with an Academic Adviser


Academic planning is a necessary step in your college career, and it should be an ongoing process that starts early in your first term. An academic plan lists the courses you need to take and complete in your program of study to graduate with a degree. Before you register for classes next term, meet with your academic adviser. Your academic adviser can help you choose courses that are required, weigh career possibilities, and map out your degree or certificate requirements. Advisers can also recommend instructors and help you simplify the different aspects of your academic life. Here are a few ways to make sure that your first meeting with your adviser is a valuable experience:



Have you explored your college’s career center? If you haven’t made a visit, what are you waiting for?