Opinion Column

Graduating on time takes careful planning

By Raven Nyman

You’ve probably heard the horror stories before — you know, the ones where university students fail to meet their degree requirements and don’t get to graduate on time with all of their pals? Or worse, they don’t get to graduate at all. Some of you may think that these stories are just urban legends told to scare first year students who party too much. Well, the intention may be true, but so are the tales.

Many students fail to properly research or understand their degree requirements; the mistake is easier to make than you might think. The consequences could mean the inability to transfer to another school or even missing the chance to get accepted into the program of your choice. Failing to properly comprehend your requirements can actually derail your entire degree — I’ve seen it happen to friends and role models, too.

Today, we’ll cover some of the basics of degree planning, and revisit why understanding your requirements — and planning ahead — is critical to the success of your undergraduate experience.

Depending on the faculty you’ve entered into, your degree requirements will differ. Typically, the requirements for first and second year are quite similar across the board. Most universities make sure that students receive a well-rounded educational experience, meaning that Arts students will be required to take a Science course or two as part of their degree. Likewise, Science students will have to dabble in the humanities to receive their Bachelor’s. These cross-faculty requirements change from university to university, so it’s important that you become well-acquainted with your school’s graduation requirements, and specifically, with your faculty’s credit expectations.

Your degree requirements are usually split into two categories: faculty-wide requirements, and specialization specific requirements — or credits. Specializations are usually chosen in the second or third year of your degree, but many specializations require prerequisites or a particular GPA for the application process alone. If you plan to specialize, you’ll need to be aware of the specific steps you must take to be eligible for application.

There are many technological tools that have made degree planning much more efficient and accessible to students. Gone are the days when the only way to get answers was to book an advising appointment. Now, a simple search on your university’s website should direct you to all the answers you need. If you go to the University of British Columbia, you’re especially lucky, since the university has taken many steps to ensure that students have all the tools they need to graduate on time. Still, there are thousands of students who fail to take advantage of these resources, and find themselves behind, or bowing out of the race to graduation all together.

UBC uses a degree audit system known as Degree Navigator to help their students with the planning process. This online tool automatically tells you what courses you’ve already taken, and what course requirements you may have left to complete. However, the tool can sometimes miss nuances of double majors or double honours programs, so it’s important to cross-check your requirements yourself if you fall into one of those categories.

If an in-person discussion is more your style, then Academic Advising is a great place to start. In fact, you’ll likely have all your questions answered there, and perhaps come away with a few new ones. The folks in advising are very helpful, and many universities employ students in their advising positions, which means that you’ll be conversing with someone who has actually been in shoes quite similar to yours. That’s a bonus!

If you have plans to double major or specialize, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with an adviser. When it comes to double majors and honours programs — or combinations of the two, as I’ve experienced — degree requirements can get pretty complex. Let’s be honest: it’s downright confusing. There may be credits you can cross-count, and requirements you need for one major, but not the other. Comprehending these nuances is a major challenge — no pun intended — especially for first years. By the time you reach third year, it will be too late to backtrack on missed requirements, so it’s crucial that students understand their degree expectations early on. How else can one appropriately plan out course work for the future? Advisers can break down the complicated aspects of your degree to help them make sense to you. They can also make recommendations on how to most effectively complete the various requirements of your major(s), specialization(s), or honours programs.

Pro-tip: Get your basic requirements — the credits that everyone needs to graduate — finished early on. By early, I mean within your first or second year, preferably. I was able to complete my language and science requirements during my first and second years, which meant that my senior years were used to focus in on my double major, honours program, and thesis project. Still, I knew friends who after neglecting to complete their requirements, found themselves struggling to keep above water. Some had to take on extra semesters while others spent each and every summer making up for the courses they had forgotten they needed.

Want to graduate on time? Follow these tips and stay ahead of the game by making satisfying your degree requirements a first priority.