Five tips for planning your college career and beyond

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — College is hard. Starting college is even harder. You have to find your way around campus, make new friends and learn how to fend for yourself, all while figuring out what you want to do with your life. Even choosing which classes to take can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are academic advisers for every major whose job it is to help you navigate these challenges. However, only about half of University of Florida students ever go see their academic adviser, said Amy Vasquez, adviser for plant science majors.

And that’s a problem. Not having a clear plan for how you’re going to earn your degree can lead to big issues such as not finishing your degree on time.

Here are five tips to help you avoid complications down the road.

  1. Get to know your adviser.

“You should meet with your adviser at least once a semester,” said Amie Imler, adviser for students majoring in animal sciences. Your adviser can help you balance your schedule so that tougher courses are spread out over a few semesters rather than lumped into one.

Advisers also know which courses are only offered once an academic year and will help you factor that into your plan, said Vasquez.

  1. Be professional.

Treat going to class like going to work. “You wouldn’t go to work in the morning wearing your pajamas,” said Imler. “You need to be developing professional habits now.” Imler noted that, at some point, you may want your professors and academic advisor to write your letters of recommendation. How do you want them to remember you?

  1. Get involved.

Employers, professional schools and graduate programs will want to see that you’ve developed leadership skills by participating in extracurricular activities. Vasquez recommends joining a club or organization on campus or in the community.

  1. Have an open mind.

Some students come to college intensely focused on one goal, said Herschel Johnson, adviser for food science and human nutrition majors, and that focus can blind them to other potential opportunities. “You may feel like you have to prove yourself from day one,” Johnson said. “You feel the competition, and you may not approach college as something that is about you as an individual.  Don’t compare yourself to other students. Find your own path.”

Some students may be unaware that there is more than one path to a particular goal, said Vasquez. For example, a student who wants to go to medical school doesn’t have to major in biology, she said. In fact, majoring in a field such as entomology may actually help you stand out among a pool of medical school applicants.

  1. Have a back-up plan.

Approximately 50 percent of students enter UF with plans for continuing to professional school, such as medical school or law school, but not all of those students end up there, said Johnson. If you’re aiming to be pre-med or pre-law, be open to another route you can take and plan accordingly — ideally with the help of your academic adviser.

You can get in touch with your academic adviser by contacting the department in which you have declared a major. Undecided students or students looking to change majors should reach out to departments they are considering, or visit the UF Career Resource Center.

Caption: Faced with many options and opportunities, planning one’s college career can be daunting. Fortunately, academic advisers can help guide students. UF Photo by Hannah Pietrick.

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By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

Sources: Amie Imler, 352-392-9739, amie.taylor@ufl.edu

Herschel Johnson, 352-294-3701, hdjohnson@ufl.edu

Amy Vasquez, 352-273-4573, amyalex@ufl.edu