Developing a plan of study is the first step in taking a strategic approach to the next four years of your life. It’s critical to begin the process of mapping your classes before you begin your first semester. This requires examining your interests, reviewing course options and consulting with an academic advisor. If you’re unsure about your desired outcome, the process of mapping your college experience will jump-start the planning process.

Consider Your Career Focus

The first step is to consider your end goal. If you’ve honed in on a major, study the course catalog and become familiar with the required courses. You’ll want to schedule as many general education courses at the beginning of your plan to ensure you meet university requirements for all majors. If you aren’t sure about your academic major, general education courses will provide an overview of most majors to help you with your career decision. Take note of any prerequisites needed as you review upper-level courses. For example, a 300-level engineering class may require specific math courses that are not a part of general education requirements.

Ensure a Personal Fit

Consider the course load that is the best fit for you as you map out your college courses. For example, if you’re going to be a part-time student, your study plan will take longer than four years to complete. Most majors take around 120 credit hours, so if you’re interested in completing your degree in four years, plan on 15 credit hours per semester. You’ll also want to note course availability since some classes aren’t offered each semester.

Put It In Writing

Once you’ve decided on a major, use a preprinted form or your own sheet of paper to graph out your study plan. List each semester and the courses you plan to take. Be sure to balance your study plan with other responsibilities such as work and family obligations. As you write down the courses you plan to take, list the credit hours next to each class and a total at the end of each semester. Putting your plan in writing will help you see the big picture. Cross-reference your study plan with the course bulletin and put a check mark next to each required course. This will ensure you’ve met all requirements in your major.

Get Expert Advice

Now that you’ve created your study plan, it’s important to share it with an academic advisor. Make an appointment with the advisor that specializes in your major, or if you’re undecided, meet with a general academic advisor. Your advisor will review your study plan and ensure it meets all of the university requirements for general education and your major. It’s best to meet with your advisor early in the semester so that you don’t register for courses that aren’t needed. Your advisor may also share advice about the appropriate sequence for your class registration and other opportunities such as an internship or study abroad possibilities.