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The Importance of a 4-Year Plan for Completing your College Major

June 27, 2013

Dublin High School Class of 2013 Commencement 7Your child has graduated high school, been accepted into college and is likely looking forward to a final summer with their friends (and possibly a job or internship) before diving into college. There is one important homework assignment, however, parents should encourage their child to complete early in the summer.

The courses your child takes, the major they pursue and the academic decisions they make will largely happen without the input of a parent. Despite that shift to independence, encourage your child to create a four year college plan. This will not be an intuitive step to take for your child – they will likely respond that the priority is choosing first year classes and that they’ll figure out the rest later.

The value of looking ahead is visualizing the major. Even though declaring a major doesn’t happen for a couple of years at many schools, the decisions made now could impact how easy it is to finish a major in four years. Looking ahead helps a student understand what a major really entails. For the first two years of college, many of the courses are general in nature, getting all students on a level playing field. It is in the third and fourth years where students really get to specialize. If your child looks ahead and isn’t excited about the courses they’ll be taking in a couple of years, that’s a warning sign.

A four year college plan doesn’t, however, mean your student has carved their future in stone. There can be multiple ways to pursue a major, especially in large, comprehensive universities. The four year plan is a guidepost – a way to visualize one possible path to achieving a major. The four year plan is a reference point – a way for your child to know if they are on track.

While the four year plan is your child’s plan, you can play a role in helping him or her get started – college planning is very different from high school planning, and more complex. Even as you want your child to become completely independent, it is ok to help them take this first step.

Below is a suggested summer project for you and your new grad as he or she prepares to being their college journey:

  • Work with your child to research the requirements to complete his or her major, or majors they are considering. What are possible upper year courses and their pre-requisites? Have your child read the course descriptions of upper year courses – does the prospect of taking these courses in a few years motivate them? This isn’t about locking in decisions that are years in the future, but rather visualizing the major.
  • Research how AP credit can be used to satisfy required courses and electives for majors being considered – different colleges have different rules about how or if AP credit can be applied to fulfill degree requirements. And make sure the college has received AP credit results from the CollegeBoard.
  • While most first year and many second year courses meet core degree requirements, understanding the pre-requisites of future year courses may impact decisions in the early years of college.
  • Map out several scenarios for completing the major (and potentially a complementary minor) – depending on the degree there can be multiple paths. The details will inevitably change, but having a plan provides a point of reference as your child becomes more familiar with the college system.

Finally, make sure you know when your student is allowed to register for first year classes. At some schools students entering with higher academic standing are permitted to register for classes earlier (providing an advantage in getting into popular classes or preferred sections).

Even though your child is taking their first step to full independence, you can still play an important mentoring role as a parent during their last summer before college.

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