Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Prepare for a Double-Major

Hello, beautiful - and welcome back to Haley Marie blog!

Since today is my official first day of classes here at BU, I wanted to celebrate with a post about academic life in college. Thanks to everyone who voted in my Twitter poll (if you're not already following me on Twitter, you can find me @haleymarieblog!), I decided that I would tell you all a little bit about my double major and share my best tips for preparing for a double major your freshman year.

As many of you know, I am a freshman entering her second semester at Boston University. Unofficially, I'm planning to double-major in Journalism and Political Science, though technically you can't declare here until the second semester of your sophomore year.

My double major has presented a lot of challenges as I've adjusted to life in college. For example, it means there are stricter gen. ed. requirements I have to meet before I can take classes pertaining to my major, since my dual degree means I'm technically enrolled in two colleges. I also just learned this year that I have to start meeting with an advisor from both schools every time I register for classes, which has turned out to be a lot trickier than one would think!

Freshman year has had its ups and downs as far as balancing my two majors has gone, but personally, I think I made it out of my first semester pretty well! So, today I'm going to share with you a few of the lessons I learned from my first few months at school about how you can prepare for a double-major your freshman year of college.

1. Meet with an Academic Advisor

This might seem straightforward to those of you who have been in college awhile, but for freshmen, this tip might not be the most obvious thing in the world. After all, in high school, you were probably used to having guidance counselors who called you down against your will to talk about your future plans - and, well, college just isn't like that! 

Instead of being called down to meet with an advisor or matched with someone for all four years of high school, you typically have to schedule an appointment with them. If you're double-majoring, you might even have to meet with an advisor from more than one college - for example, I meet with someone from BU's College of Communication and College of Arts and Sciences. 

While taking the initiative to schedule that first appointment might seem a little bit scary when you're new to the process, you really need to meet with an advisor to make sure you're on the right track to meet all your majors' requirements. Whereas in high school you could only register for classes with a guidance counselor's approval, in college you're pretty much on your own as far as registration goes. So, it's important to meet with an advisor to make sure that you know what classes you need to take in order to graduate with both those degrees on time! 

2. Knock Out the Worst Requirements First

Unfortunately, most colleges don't just let you dive into taking the fun classes related to your major right away. Typically, you have to suffer through a bunch of general ed requirements before you can start learning about the things you're truly passionate about. Not to mention that if you're double-majoring, you might even have more requirements to meet than the average college student.

My best advice where general ed requirements are concerned is to "eat the frog," so to speak. If you haven't heard that phrase before, "eating the frog" pretty much means getting the worst parts out of the way first. In this case, that means trying to take most - if not all! - of your gen. ed. requirements as a freshman or sophomore, so all you're left with your junior and senior years is easy, breezy major requirements. 

I think this is especially true if there is a particular class you're dreading needing to take! For example, my school requires me to take Statistics - and as someone majoring in the humanities, I was hoping to never have to take math again. So, I signed up for it my first semester of college, managed to get a B+, an now, I never have to take another math class in my life! Personally, I'm so happy I decided to "eat the frog" instead of putting it off, because I know that if I took this class in the middle of senioritis, I wouldn't have done nearly as well as I did last semester.

3. Cross-Check Requirements Across Schools

And, speaking of gen. ed. requirements, it's important to double-check that you're meeting all of the requirements for both of your majors - especially if your majors are in two different schools! 

At BU at least, I've learned that the College of Communications and the College of Arts and Sciences both have small differences in their general ed requirements. So, because of my double-major, I have had to take additional classes that I wouldn't have had to take otherwise. For example, in the College of Communication, you only need to take a natural science - but because I'm dually enrolled in CAS, I have to take a science with a lab component. Once I found this out, it completely changed the way I registered for spring semester, forcing me to rearrange my entire schedule. So, I'm happy I learned it early instead of later when it would be too late! 

The best way to find out about requirements like this, I've found, is to either meet with an advisor, or simply check the school's website. Most schools upload PDFs or Word Docs of their general ed requirements for current or prospective students to check out, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find out if you're on the right track to meet all of your requirements for the upcoming semester. 

4. Take Advantage of Add-Drop Periods

I've personally never had this happen to me (not yet, anyways!), but after checking your requirements or meeting with an advisor, maybe you've discovered that you're enrolled in the entirely wrong class for your double-major. Now, you're freaking out. What if you don't graduate on time? What if you can't complete your double-major? What the hell do you do now?!

First of all, don't panic! Instead, if you're already registered for the class, see when your add-drop period ends for the current semester. Chances are, if you've come to the realization early on in the semester, you can either drop the class or enroll in a new one with little to no penalty. At most schools, as long as you make the swap early enough, your transcript won't show that you dropped a class, meaning you can get into the right class for your majors without worrying about your grades suffering because of it. 

At BU, our add-drop periods are much longer than at many other schools, so we have a long time to make sure that we are truly committed to the classes we're in! Though I'm currently on the right track to meet my majors' requirements, I'm grateful that if something were to happen, I have an exit strategy to make sure I can still graduate in a timely manner with my dual degrees. Add-drop periods are definitely a helpful safety net for those of us who want to pursue a double-major!

5. Double-Count Classes Toward Your Majors

Chances are, if you're choosing to double-major, you already have some idea of the years of hard work that lie ahead of you. I'm not going to sugarcoat it: double-majors have a lot heavier workload than many other college students, simply because we have to get more credits to graduate with two degrees! 

Yet while there's no way around the fact that you're going to have to do a little bit of extra work to graduate with two degrees on time, there are definitely ways that you can cut down on the workload to make it easier on yourself. One thing that's been especially helpful to me has been finding out where I can double-count classes to knock out requirements for both majors. 

If your college allows it, I would definitely recommend seeing where your classes might overlap in both schools' requirements. Are some courses cross-listed in both departments - such as a political media course (for a communications/poli-sci major) or a biostatistics course (for a biology/statistics major)? Then, take those whenever you can! Or, similarly, can you count some of your requirements for one major toward general ed requirements for the other? For example, I have been able to count my political science classes toward the College of Communications' social sciences and history requirements. Whenever you can, double-up on classes - your workload (and your parents' wallets) will thank you! 

6. Get Credit Wherever You Can

To get to where you were now, you probably had to take a lot of difficult coursework in high school to prepare you for college. For example, you might have been enrolled in AP classes, taken IB courses, or even taken dual enrollment classes at a community college in your area. But now that you're in college, do you know which credits are accepted by your university, and which ones are not?

If you got good scores on your AP exams (we're talking a four or a five) or have credits you can transfer from another college (such as a community college or university where you transferred from), don't put it off - DO IT NOW! Meet with an advisor to make sure you get credit where credit is due. That way, you can see how many classes you can cross off your list, so you won't make your workload heavier than it ought to be.

Alternatively, also make sure that you're aware of places where you might have AP or other credits that can't be recognized. For example, I took AP World History as a high school sophomore and got a 5, but despite my high score, BU doesn't give students any credit from World History. So, don't count any of your AP credits without checking the online guidelines or meeting with an advisor first. You might think you have credit just because you got a good score on the big test, but in reality it all depends on what your school chooses to accept. 

I cannot stress this step enough for cutting down on your workload as a double-major. At BU, double-majors often have to overload on credits (meaning you have to take five classes a semester instead of the typical four), which costs your parents more money in tuition and, TBH, isn't much fun for your schedule. However, because I came in with a full semester of AP credit, my advisor told me I would likely only have to overload once, if at all, in order to graduate with my two degrees on time. So, if you happen to be a high school student reading this post and know you want to double-major, definitely load up on as many AP courses as you can (sanely) handle! It will save your parents so much money - and yourself so much time. Even if it seems like a struggle now, you'll be eternally grateful that you decided to push yourself!

7. Seek Advice from Upperclassmen

A few weeks before classes started at BU, I moved into my dorm early and participated in a week of group community service through a program called the First Year Student Outreach Project. During that week, one of my group leaders happened to be a sophomore studying Public Relations and Political Science in the two colleges that I planned to enroll in. Since then, I've spent a ton of time talking to her about the courses she's taken and whether or not she's found it difficult to major in two different colleges at BU! 

Though it might seem a little awkward to reach out to upperclassmen, I think it's super important and valuable to find mentors in older students who want to follow similar career paths as you. After all, your friends are some of the best resources you have in life anyways. So, if you can make friends with an upperclassmen (or two, or three, or more!) who's also a double-major in your chosen fields, that's even better!

Not only will it help you now, while you're stuck taking five classes a semester and wondering how to get through finals week, but it may also help you later on in life, when you're trying to land a prestigious internship or even trying to get a "real job" after college. For example, if you're applying for an internship at a major finance firm and you know an upperclassmen who used to intern there, then you'll be able to learn all the dirty details of what you should put in your application and what you should say in your interview to help you achieve major success. Or, if you're looking for a job in marketing and you happen to know someone who graduated a year above you who has a job with a marketing agency, then you know just who to e-mail and ask if there are any positions available in her office! 

These are my best tips on how to prepare for a double-major - what are yours? Let me know in the comments below!

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