College, like life, is all about the balance between the macro and the micro- between long term planning and what’s at the very top of the to do list. Nowhere in the university setting can that interplay be seen more clearly than during registration. As a success coach, part of my job is to help students, especially freshmen and sophomores, choose a course load that will set them up for success both during the semester for which they are registering as well as in terms of their long-term college goals.
When thinking about the semester itself, I help students try to achieve balance in the amount and type of coursework a given set of classes will likely require (considering his or her academic strengths/weaknesses as well as other factors that may influence the amount of time a student will likely have to study). Knowing the student well means a lot in this regard. For example, last week I met with a student whose freshman seminar advisor had recommended to him a certain course load that included four reading and writing intensive courses and one higher level math course. However, because I get to spend much more one-one-one time with each of my students than a freshman advisor does, I know that, in addition to writing not being his strong suit, this particular student plays a Spring sport. We reworked the plan to include fewer writing intensive courses, and we organized his week so he would not be overloaded on any given day with the demands of both athletics and academics. Especially for students who are struggling to climb out of an academic hole, it is important to create a short-term registration plan that will give them the greatest possible chances for success.
We also, of course, have to strategize and plan based on a student’s long term goals. For my students who come to school (or quickly realize) what they want to major in, this is about making sure they are completing core requirements while also taking at least one or two classes that fulfill the requirements of their major. Many students don’t realize, for example, that some courses are only offered in the fall, or only once every two years, or may be offered every semester but fill up quickly. These conversations help them map out a 4-year plan, even as they are focused primarily on registering for the semester ahead.
For students who do not yet know what they want to major in, I remind them that it’s perfectly okay not to know. I let them know that exploration is not just okay- it’s encouraged! Many first and second year students are primarily fulfilling core requirements anyway, so they will still be able to register for a full load of classes. Then, I say, “find room to take at least one course each semester in an area in which you think you might be interested, just to try it out.” I remind them that a broad, general education makes you, well, an educated person! And isn’t that just as important (or, in my opinion, even more so) than exclusively honing in, at the age of 19 or 20, on a particular, specialized skill set?
In the end, helping students through the registration process is about showing them how to look at big and small simultaneously, and that is a skill they can take with them throughout their lives.
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.