During the weeks of fall course selection, many students at the University of Rhode Island are making mistakes without even knowing it. Incoming freshmen and rising seniors alike can become victims of delayed graduation if they do not know which classes they should be taking.
“This time last year, I thought I was going to be able to graduate,” said Ryan Spooner, a fifth-year journalism major at URI. “I thought I had all the classes all done, because I [was] caught up with all the requirements and what I ended up wanting to do was come back in the fall to take the internship course, and I also signed up at the time for feature writing… What ended up happening was that I had a couple of things fall threw for the internship and ended up being here for one class last semester.”
Spooner believed he could still graduate in the fall, but when he went to file the paperwork he found that he was still short two 300-level classes.
“Part of it was that I changed my major, so there’s a lot of reasons I ended up being here longer,” said Spooner. “I think [that] one mistake I made was that… when they said 300-levels, I assumed that it was by rounding up, [so] I thought that anything above a 250, so a 260, a 270 counted as a 300-level course. I’m the first person in my family that’s gone to a four-year university, so I’m completely new to everything.”
Spooner is one of many students at URI who are the first of their families to attend college. While this is an achievement for him, it can also present additional challenges.
“If no one in your family has attended college then the ins and outs of college are not common conversation in the house,” said Dr. Jacqueline Webb, an adviser and professors of the marine biology department at URI. “Some people don’t know that they need to ask for the help, [and] some students might think that asking for help is embarrassing, [but] it’s not, it’s why we’re here.”
Often students are unaware of how complex choosing their schedule can really be, so they listen to friends’ advice and make decisions based on a generic form for enrollment.
“You can put it all on an advising sheet, but for every individual student with individual needs it becomes more complex, especially if you are going to major and minor or double major,” said Walton. “There are all kinds of combinations that students do, as opposed to just one major, that make negotiating the system more complicated and therefore advising is crucial.”
For one student, who asked to remain anonymous, her freshman year at URI the university dropped one of the student’s classes because too few students signed up right before classes started. Without that course, the anonymous student was left with too few credits to be considered a full time student.
“I just went down to the advising office and I sat with one of the [university college] advisers,” said the anonymous student. “She sat with me for a good hour and we looked through all these classes. And she just waited until things would drop and then she would pick it up, and it was really good because I had no idea what to do on my own and she really helped me.”
Though the anonymous student would recommend voicing concerns to the university college advisers, the student believes that every student needs to look into classes on their own carefully, as well.
“I think [the advising is] pretty good [but] you have to take your own responsibility to a certain extent,” said the anonymous student. “I just had that one bad experience that could have messed up everything.”
Walton advises that students should make appointments to see their advisers at least once per semester to discuss classes, and to come prepared with lists of questions and special interests so that they can benefit from the meetings. She advised that many people take classes that they think will fulfill credits for general education courses or their major that often do not.
“They listen to their friends about what classes are easy and what classes are hard,” said Webb, “and take that information at face value without asking the question about what is the value of the course… Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it.”
Spooner does not blame the advising department for his extended time at URI because he was very focused on getting his journalism credits at the time, leading to a simple oversight that he said he should have seen himself but was not equipped to.
“I think that anytime people have questions, they should ask,” said Spooner. “I thought that I had it figured out and I didn’t. Put your ego and your foolish pride in your pocket and ask questions if you have them.”