Getting Your Ducks in a Row

By Adela Penagos, PhD, President

Ever since the middle of May, I have been attending several Commencement ceremonies.  One of my favorite parts of these events is having the opportunity to congratulate all those students I have worked with for the past several years and celebrate all of their accomplishments.  A Commencement ceremony also reminds us of the opportunities that lie ahead.

If you are entering your first year in college this coming fall, you are probably beginning to receive information about the courses available at the school you have chosen to attend.  Some universities expect students to select their courses prior to matriculation, while others have “Shopping Days” and provide other opportunities for students to pick their courses once they arrive to campus. Given all the choices you will have in the upcoming years, what classes will be the best for you during your first semester?

1.     A Freshman, First Year, College, or University Seminar: 

Some colleges have built this as part of their core first year curriculum, others offer it as an elective to their students.  Regardless of the circumstances at your school, this can be one of the most engaging and rewarding courses you take in college, if picked wisely from a variety of topics with the assistance of your academic advisor, your college consultant, or a peer.  It will allow you to develop your critical thinking, analytical, and public-speaking skills by exposing you to interesting readings and providing you with a venue to express your points of view in a seminar-like environment.  The small size of the class will allow you to foster a community among your peers who are experiencing the exact same joys and challenges of being a first year student.

 2.     A language course: 

If you took a language throughout high school, I would highly encourage you to continue to study it.  As any other subject in which learning is built upon what we have previously learned, there is no better time to master it than in college. Speaking another language will help you distinguish yourself from other applicants once you decide to join the work force, go to graduate, business, law, or medical school. Furthermore, it will keep the door open for you to study in another country during a semester abroad, apply for a Fulbright after graduation, and gain a better understanding of other people and cultures. If you are considering learning a new language, your first semester is also the best time, as it will allow you to discover if you want to continue to learn such language throughout your time in college.

3.     Major-related courses: 

If you think you know what you want to major in, take a least one course in the area of studies you are considering. This will allow you to quickly discover if you want to major in a given subject area because you are passionate about it, interesting in learning it, and cannot see the next four years without learning more about it or if you are simply following someone else’s dream who advised you to major in a certain academic field because you took one class and did well in high school. What you major in college and what you end up doing as a professional seldom relate to one another –unless you want to be an engineer, and to decide this, I hope you have shadowed several engineers by this point; even to be a physician, you do not need to major in a science. The most important skills you will bring to any industry is your insatiable curiosity, your work ethic, your critical thinking, analytical and problem solving skills, and above all your ability to relate to others. Pick a major and courses that will give provide you with this background. Do not follow your peers.  Follow your heart and mind.

4.     Electives:

You are going to need to accumulate a certain number of courses or credit hours to obtain your degree regardless of your school. This is the time to learn something new. Many times, students end up majoring, concentrating, or minoring in an area that was an elective course during their first semester. You may discover a new way of looking at the world and yourself or realize that something is not for you. This is part of the reason you are going to college. Hence, take risks –even if you have not been taught this at home— you will gain resilience, endurance, and many other traits that will help you to be successful in life and this is what the journey is all about.

And last, but not least, remember that you are going to college to develop relationships with your peers, your professors, and all those around you. Be kind and grateful, be ready to ask many questions, and have the most transformational years of your life.