Dear Ally,

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Monthly Archives: September 2016

When will I graduate?

Dear Ally,

This post was going to be about college myths and while reading up about myths like “if the professor is over 20 minutes late, class is cancelled” (true at my school) and “if your roommate dies, you get a 4.0 for the semester” (not true anywhere), I found the biggest myth of them all: “Everyone graduates college in 4 years.”

The fact is that not even a majority of students graduate college in 4 years or less. Nationally only 65% of college students graduate in 6 years! This means that 35% of students take over 6 years to get their degree.

How can you find out when you can expect to graduate?

  • Calculate it. Take the total number of credit hours needed to graduate and divide by the average number of credit hours that you’ve been taking or plan to take each semester. The answer is the number of semesters it will take to graduate. (For example my school requires 128 credit hours and the average student takes about 15 credit hours per semester: 128 credit hours/ 15 credit hours per semester = 8.5 semesters. 4 years = 8 semesters, so students at my school need to take at least 16 credit hours per semester to graduate in 4 years.)
  • Map it. Charting your course through college can be complicated. You need to know which classes to take, in what order, and when they will be offered. Your school should have a general 4-year degree plan for each major – most likely available on the website. Your academic advisor should help you develop a personal road map for your college journey from the very beginning and should adjust the route, if you encounter any bumps along the way. If you do not have such a plan, ask for one when scheduling your next meeting with your advisor.

What can you do to graduate sooner?

  • Take more classes each semester. If you did the calculation and you’re coming up short, then you need to raise your average number of credit hours per semester, especially if your school has flat rate tuition – get your money’s worth since the cost per credit hour decreases the more courses you take at a time.
  • Follow the degree plan. Listen to your advisor and take the classes when he or she tells you to take them. My school requires a minimum of one science and one math course to be taken in the first year. It’s terrible to hear about a student who put one of these classes off because they’re scared of them only to fail it their very last semester.
  • Take only classes you need. Electives are fun, but too many of them add to your time in school. A double major or a minor might be enticing too, but unless you can work it into your 4-year degree plan, it’s going to cost you both time and money.
  • Pay your library fees and your tuition bill on time. What does this have to do with graduation rates? Students who have financial holds on their accounts cannot register for classes, which is the next tip….
  • Register for classes as soon as possible. Get up at 5am or whenever registration opens for your class’ rank. Why? Because you don’t want to get closed out of a class that you need to graduate and be forced to take it later, throwing off your plan.
  • Consider taking summer classes. Although I don’t recommend trying to squeeze a science or math course into the summer, it can be the perfect time to knock out a general education requirement or two. Talk with your advisor about your options – maybe your school offers summer on-line courses or maybe there is a school near your home that has courses that will transfer to your school as equivalent credit. Your advisor can help you figure this out, but you should start thinking about it in early spring semester – February or March at the latest.

Factors such as changing your major or transferring to a different school can have a serious effect on your graduation rate, so be sure to know all the details of your alternate plan so you can make an informed decision and know whether or not the change will be worth it.

All this being said, college is a wonderful experience that tends to fly by so…


(You probably don’t get this references because Billy Madison came out before you were born. This was one of my favorite movies in college.)

Hope you are having a great week!

Aunt Sarah

All the apps you’ll ever need for college

Dear Ally,

It’s a much different world since I’ve been in college. The tools I used most were pen or pencil and paper – planners, index cards, highlighters, textbooks, etc. Now there are digital versions of all these and more.

There are apps and websites to assist with all areas of college life:

  • Focus. Thank God Pokemon Go didn’t exist when I was in college.  If you find yourself distracted when you should be studying, apps like Self Control allow you to block certain websites for a specific time period. Forest rewards your time spent away from digital distractions by planting digital trees and when you’ve earned enough points can even be used to plant a real tree. If your friends are constantly texting you and you have an iPhone, the “do not disturb” setting is key. Use it to schedule regular study periods and sleep. Mine is set for every night 11pm to 7:30am.
  • Sleep. Whenever it was too noisy to sleep, my roommate and I would listen to her Yanni CD or I would try to sleep with my headphones on, but the end of the CD or tape would always make a noise that woke me up. Apps like SleepMachine have all sorts of soporific sounds to which you can fall asleep and Sleep Time can track your sleep quality and wake you during a time of light sleep so you’ll feel more rested and less groggy when you wake.
  • Write. I had to take my handwritten papers to the computer lab to type them up. Now you don’t even have to type at all, just speak and Dragon Dictation types it for you.  MLA, APA, ACS  – whatever style you need, the EasyBib app can put your citation in the proper format and can even create a citation by scanning a book’s barcode! Even if you don’t have a computer nearby, Microsoft Office Mobile lets you use your phone to work on papers.
  • Store. With cloud storage options like Google Drive and Dropbox professors no longer accept “I lost my floppy/zip drive/jump drive” excuses.
  • Plan. All those study plans that I recommended making are easy with apps like iStudiezLite, My Study Life, and Exam Countdown. Most of these combine to-do lists, calendars, and notifications. You might even be able to access your school’s course management system from your phone and receive notifications of due dates and exams straight from your courses’ calendars.
  • Learn. If I didn’t understand my professor’s lecture, I could read the book or go to office hours. Thanks to sites like iTunesU, Coursera, and Kahn Academy, you literally have access to course material from professors all over the world – notes, video lectures, audio lectures, etc.
  • Organize. We used to call them Concept Maps, but now graphical ways to represent concepts and ideas are call Mind Maps and apps like XMind and Simple Mind mean no markers are required.
  • Study. When I took ornithology a few years ago for fun, my classmates (some of whom were also my students) introduced me to digital to the flashcard app, Brainscape. I now have a lifetime subscription to the pro version and still use it to study birds before I travel someplace new. The best thing about this and similar apps like Quizlet, Flashcards+, and  StudyBlue is the ability share flashcards or download someone else’s deck.
  • Save. Keep track of your spending and manage your money with Mint.
  • Be safe. The Circle of 6 app lets you choose your 6 and two taps lets them know where you are and how they can help.

If you choose to check one of these out, let me know how it goes. If you like one that’s not on this list, please mention it in the comments.


Aunt Sarah



Is your major for you?

Dear Ally,

I hope that your classes are going well so far and your semester is off to a good start!

I am teaching one class this semester, sophomore organic chemistry. I don’t know if it’s the difficult nature of my class or a typical second year issue, but I’ve had two conversations this week with two different students questioning their career goals and considering other options.

Perhaps you or your classmates are going through the same thing. You’re starting to get into the real courses in your major and maybe it’s not exactly what you expected. You may not graduate in four years if you change majors, but it’s better to realize now that it’s not a good fit, than after you get your first job and find you hate it and end up going back for a second degree. Your uncle spent 6 years in undergrad because he changed from accounting to chemistry. I had a hard time deciding between chemistry and an education major and was discouraged from double majoring. I chose chemistry, but still wanted to teach, so I went on for a doctorate, so I could teach at the college level. Ten years into our careers we’re both managing people, which is very different from what each of us started out doing.

If you’re having trouble deciding to stick with your major or not:

  • Try out a variety of different classes. This is the beauty of a liberal arts education. You’re expected to take courses in different departments and fields of study, so take advantage of this and take courses in other areas that interest you. You might find a new major or maybe a fun new hobby like I did when I took ornithology, which I refer to as “the bird class.”
  • Get experience outside of the classroom. What you’re doing in class, which is usually foundational and theoretical, may be different from the day to day life of someone in your future career. Find out what it will be like by interviewing, shadowing, or interning with a person in the field. I’ve heard stories of nursing students who changed their majors once they got to clinicals because they found out nurses have to actually touch people.
  • Talk with a licensed career counselor. If your school has a career services center, make an appointment to receive career counseling. They can help you by giving you a personality test like the Myers Briggs or the Strong Interest Inventory. Some of these are available for free on-line. I took this 10 question quiz and it told me I have a social personality and that I would enjoy education, but that I should not become a truck driver.
  • Find your passion. Think about you would enjoying doing even if you didn’t get paid to do it.

horse plague.jpg

(This hung on my wall throughout my childhood.)

Hope this helps you either solidify the choice you’ve already made or discover a new career path.


Aunt Sarah