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A Major Lesson (or Why You Need a College Advisor)
(Continued from 1)

But because of the strategy that the average adult uses to go to college, mistakes like these tend to compound themselves, often invisibly. In my experience, many if not most adult students start with either an undeclared major or with a liberal arts major. Many adults return to college because they feel trapped in a job, one that seems to offer little if any satisfaction and/or room for advancement. Whatever they are doing is not particularly enjoyable, and they want to change their lives. They understand that a college degree will enhance their career opportunities, but many of them have only decided on what career they don’t want, not one they do want. So they start as liberal arts or undeclared majors.

By itself this is certainly not bad, and large numbers of adult learners graduate every year with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. But many, after a few semesters in college, discover some subject that they want to
learn much more about, something that they fall in love with. This phenomena is actually one of the goals of a liberal arts education: to expose students to a wide array of knowledge, with the hope that they will stumble across something that will entrance them for years to come.

So many adult students do find an area that they become interested in, and they decide to change their major. They go from liberal arts – where their curriculum is about half electives – to a stated major, which may have much fewer electives. And they pick up their trusty college catalog and start taking a different selection of courses.

And they get in trouble all over again.

Majors are called majors because the majority of the classes you take (or at least a very sizable minority) are focused on a particular topic or area of learning: history or computer science or math or elementary education, etc. And those courses come at the expense of all those electives you had (and enjoyed) when you were a liberal arts major. Now, suddenly, there is no home for those electives under your new curriculum. They don’t fit. While the knowledge you gained from taking them is always valuable, they no longer contribute toward your degree in your new major. I have seen countless students who changed from liberal arts to another major lose ten or more classes in the transition.

An hour or two with a good advisor can eliminate or at least minimize this problem. In my school and many others, there are degree audit sheets for every major offered, and while they may be a bit dense for most students at first glance, it’s our job as advisors to make sure the information in them is understood by the student. It is also our job to make sure students understand the impact that improperly chosen classes or hasty changes in majors can have on the transit time to a degree.

I’ve only touched the surface here of why you need to find an advisor and check in with him or her every time you make a decision about classes, majors, transfers, etc. Buried in your tuition bill is the money to support an entire advising office. You’ve paid for those people to help you (and they will). There's only one thing: you have to ask.


Mike Doolin spent fifteen years getting his B.B.A. and, 25 years later, used the experience to write a book about it for his M.A.: A Guerrilla Manual for the Adult College Student. He is an adjunct Assistant Professor at Monroe Community College, where he teaches Business Communications and Technical Writing. Mike advises hundreds of adult students every year in MCC's Advisement Center.

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