November 26, 2013

Se Habla Parents?!



In addition to being the first (and only) real break in the fall semester and the best opportunity to overeat and watch football, Thanksgiving Break is an opportunity to reconnect with close and extended family. If history serves, these family members will take every opportunity to ask some variation on the following questions as often as possible, as quickly as possible, often talking over one another:
 
So, how’s Rutgers? What is your major? How are your grades? Did you hear about #randomkid who has a full ride to Harvard and med school and has a 4.0 already and doesn’t even have to take his exams to get A's? You’re doing that well, too, right?
 
So, even though you’re taking a break from classes, you will likely find yourself talking about your first semester more than you expect (or want to). Here Dean Frosh examines the two most common questions and general advice in mustering a response: 

“What’s your major?”

There are three common situations that make this question a proverbial minefield – 1. You’re undecided, 2. You’re studying something everyone understands and has an opinion on (premed, business, law) but struggling in classes, or 3. You’re contemplating a major that no one understands but still has an opinion on (anthropology, human ecology, art history). 

First, know that you’re not alone. You have a few options in how to respond, and may choose to use different ones depending on the person asking. Ideally, you want to land somewhere between this: 
And listing your grade in every course, plus outlining your spring registration plans.

Dean Frosh, of course, does not endorse lying…but she is fine on not necessarily sharing all the details with people who aren’t your parents. After enough family events where she encountered the response, “An English major? WHAT are you going to do with that?! Teach?!” Dean Frosh began occasionally replying, “I’m thinking about law.” Mind you, she was never thinking about GOING to law school, but it seemed like a tiny white lie that made everyone’s day just a bit easier. 

If you’re undecided, first, know that it’s normal. You’ve only been in college for two months, and while you should be thinking about your options, you should not yet have made any major life decisions. Second, you’re likely not as clueless as you think. You could probably make a long list of majors that you are NOT going to study, so that leaves a smaller list of possible majors. The best ways to respond to your undecidedness are to choose a few classes in your spring schedule to try out some of your interests and to start investigating your options. Believe it or not, conversations with family may even be helpful. Take the time to ask what other people studied, what their majors were, how they chose them, and what jobs they have now. You may be surprised at what you discover – and the resources that you find. If your cousin majored in Public Health, ask him/her about that field. Play investigative journalist. At the very least if you’re asking all the questions, it takes you off the spot!
 
If your Plan A isn’t really working out, the above advice still applies. Feel free to mention that yes, you’re still premed, but you may also admit that the transition to college sciences has been harder than you expected. Responses may give you more ideas for resources to help you improve your performance, provide support, or even give you ideas for other options (“Cousin X was premed but now is pursuing Public Health; maybe you should look into that?”). Take some time to figure out what other people on the planet do for a living and how they got to that place. Realistically, you likely haven’t been exposed to enough options, and contrary to popular belief, many of us who are not engineers or doctors do get paid every week to do jobs that we really love. Even if you’re still devoted to your original plan, doing some investigating may help you see other options and even refocus on your original goals in a way that helps give you some energy to get through finals.

If you find your plans leading toward a less-understood major, consider how conversations over turkey might help you demonstrate that it is a valid and well-crafted decision. If others in your family or community have majored in something less common, they may present a way for family to understand what you’re doing. Consider visual aids and other information to help family understand and respect the field. Show them the Rutgers Career Services "What Can I Do with this Major?" website, share your experiences with a faculty member who may have had an impact on you. Over the years, Dean Frosh has found that parents/family really just want to be reassured that you’re going to do okay. For a major or career interest that they’ve never heard of, that means helping them understand that you can get a good, respectable job and won’t be living in their basement forever. They may not immediately embrace your Sociology major, but by sharing good information about your future and showing them that you’re actively thinking about it, you can help them get to a “wait and see” point of view.

“How are your grades?”

Great so far, they aren’t reported yet!

In all seriousness, though, there are some conversations you NEED to have, particularly with parents and particularly if you are doing badly this semester. Remember that “badly” is a relative term; for some it means failing classes, for others it means earning Cs and C+s when the expectation is higher. Dean Frosh knows that you do NOT want to have this conversation, but she also knows that these topics just get harder and harder the longer they are delayed (In fact, Dean Frosh knows this all too well – see "A Cautionary Tale"). 

By all means, wait until Thanksgiving dinner is over, but do find some time to sit down with parents or others who will be holding you accountable for your education (and in some cases their money) and rip off the proverbial band aid. Start wherever you can: “I’m not doing very well this semester.” “I’m struggling in my classes.” “Wow, Rutgers has been harder than I thought.” Be prepared to show them that you’re making a plan – but make sure it’s realistic (not reliant upon you acing the final). Discuss going to tutoring, going to office hours, getting involved with study groups – and then do it!  Define what  doing “fine” in a class means: a B, C or D? As much as it hurts, give them details. They won’t be pleased with you, but they will be proud of you, at some point if not immediately. Within a few short days, you’ll be back on campus and fully aware of their expectations. 

You are not the first (or the last or the only) student to struggle in college. Trust us on this: bad news about your academics does not make for a warm and fuzzy holiday conversation, but the stress and anxiety from hiding the truth is only going to make it harder to manage the sprint to the finish of the semester. And if you don’t tell them the truth now, it’s going to be harder during Winter Break to explain how you were doing well at Thanksgiving but your final grades are poor. Be candid, speak with them like the adult you’re becoming, and know that there are better days ahead.

November 20, 2013

Strategies for success…or what I learned from Candy Crush Saga



Hi, my name is Dean Frosh, and I’m addicted to Candy Crush Saga.
Phew, it feels better just saying it out loud! I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve been playing a lot of Candy Crush Saga (CCS) lately. I know, you’ve moved on to something new, but hear me out, because CCS actually has a lot to do with your life at Rutgers.

As I was playing the other night, desperately trying to beat a level I’ve been stuck on for weeks, I realized that my struggles with the game are a lot like the issues you face as you wrap up your first semester:

Developing a strong support system is key to your success
To advance in CCS, you need “tickets” from your FB friends, who can also send you extra moves and extra lives to get you through challenging levels. Just like the gaming world, your college experience relies on your ability to identify supporters and forge alliances. Networks of people – family, friends from home, new college friends – create a web of allies who can give you a boost when you most need it.

If you live on campus, your roommate, neighbors, and Resident Assistant are go-to people for support.  If you’re a commuter, the Off-Campus Students’ Association (OCSA) and the commuter lounges on campus can be your home-away-from-home and the foundation of your Rutgers network.  Rutgers has a vibrant community of student groups, so hopefully you’re already getting involved in something you’re passionate about to help you connect with peers with similar interests.

Help may come from surprising places
Some of the friends helping me crush candy are people I haven’t seen in years! Of course I get help from my close friends and family, but it’s nice to know that there are a lot of people out there to help me and who I help in return. In short, college is a time to broaden your network of support. Here are some ways to do so:

Ask for help from your instructor if you don’t understand the material. Visit office hours. Consider taking the lead and forming a study group to share knowledge and prep for exams. Again and again, research shows that working in groups enhances understanding of a subject!

We also hope you’re connecting with advisers. At SAS, we want you to work with a general adviser to discuss academic plans and eventually have advisers in your major and minor departments. If your plans include law or medical school, you’ll also work with a Pre-law adviser or a Health Professions Office adviser.

Remember to acknowledge your whole person when thinking about your needs and support system. Clergy from a variety of faiths are available for counseling and support.  The Deans of Students can help if you have any personal, medical, financial, or other concerns. Questioning your sexuality or sexual identity? Reach out to the staff at the Center for Social Justice or any of the LGBTQA liaisons on campus. Also keep in mind that all students have access to free counseling through Counseling and Psychological Services.

Please remember the help you get and pay it forward and help a fellow student when you can!

You may be able to get by through sheer luck, but that won’t work for long
The first few levels of CCS are easy – I just had to match candies and earn a lot of points.
But then: a dreaded time limit.
Then:  I had to crush through jelly and frosting.
Then: Chocolate covered the board and I had to crush candy before pieces disappeared.
Then: I had to create special candies through a series of moves.

You get the idea… each new challenge built on my skills from the one before it.

At first, I was able to advance by sheer luck. But now, I realize that the levels each prepared me for ever-more difficult challenges. And if I didn’t really master the skills, I struggled in the next level.

Sounds a little like Calc, huh?

This is the same premise as having to complete courses in sequence or managing cumulative exams. You need to create a strong foundation on which to build the next level. And at the next level, you need to synthesize what you’ve learned in the past. You need a solid foundation before you build the rest of the house.

With only a few more weeks in the semester, you may need to really scrutinize your foundation. If you need help building or repairing, the Rutgers Learning Centers offer free group and individual tutoring and academic coaching.

There are ways to cheat, but they’re expensive

There are tons of websites and YouTube videos on how to beat levels in CCS. Yet all of these cheats come with a literal and figurative price: I had pay for boosters, or I moved ahead when I wasn’t ready. This leads to a vicious cycle of having to keep paying or cheating, since I’m not prepared for the next level.

Looming finals create stress and stress can add desperation to decision-making. Now we all know there are various forms of cheating (buying a term paper, having someone else do your work, copying answers) that feel easy and seem to fix the immediate problem. These are questionable academic decisions and also obvious violations of the Academic Integrity Policy.

For example, if your instructor posts the PowerPoint slides and doesn’t take attendance, do you really have to attend every class? (The answer: YES! Thanks for playing!)

At some point, every college student feels pressure to take the easy way out. Doing so can short-change you and jeopardize the future of your education. Beyond the obvious problems that come from an Academic Integrity violation (failure in the course, suspension, expulsion), remember that you are building an academic foundation and a weak foundation cannot hold up the house (see above). What’s the point of spending time and money on a degree that doesn’t have any substance behind it? Your diploma is just a really expensive piece of paper if it doesn’t represent sincere investment on your part.  

If you’re feeling desperate or tempted to take a short cut, please reach out to your support system. Talk with friends, family, and professional support staff on campus. Discuss your concerns with your faculty, advisers and friends and get help if you need it. Making good decisions will help you wrap up the semester well and keep you from running out of moves before you win the game.

Now, if you excuse me, I have some candy to crush…

November 12, 2013

Beating the "I Don't Know What to Register For" Blues



Hello, dear procrastinator. It’s happened to the best of us. The time to register for spring classes is here, and you’ve suddenly realized that you don’t know what courses to take. And the next advising appointment is in December. And you register TOMORROW. 

Dean Frosh is sympathetic, so we’d like to offer some quick suggestions, as long as we agree on the following:

1. Next semester, you will schedule your advising appointment way, WAY in advance. Maybe even when the Fall Schedule of Classes opens or even at the beginning of the semester.
2. This generic advice is NOT real ACADEMIC ADVISING. Real advising is a unique conversation about YOU – your interests, background and goals – and cannot be replaced by general information or clever memes.
3. You will still schedule an appointment with an adviser…even though it’s in December…to review the class schedule that you’re putting together this week.  You’ll definitely still have questions and things to discuss with your adviser about long-term academic planning. Registrations can be adjusted all through December, winter break, and the add/drop period.
Ok, assuming we’re on the same page, here are some tips:
Courtesy of Flickr user laughlin under Creative Commons license
Think Balance. Most first-year students take 5 classes (around 15-16 credits) for their second semester. Science-track students generally take 4 classes, also in the 15-16 credit range. But it’s not just about credits: those 4-5 classes should serve a balance of uses. At least two of the classes should be in your planned or possible major choices. Two should work toward SAS Core or other requirements. Loading up on any one purpose (ie. Four courses toward your planned Psychology major, or taking all Core courses because you’re undecided) is a too heavy and unbalanced, not to mention unnecessary for a 4-year plan.

Minor things can be Major. Most SAS students require a minor, and most students truly have no idea about their minor options. While the major connects somewhat directly to your long-term plans, the minor can serve many purposes. It can enhance your academic plans, giving you an additional body of knowledge connected to your major, or it can be the opportunity to indulge your other interests and passions. Remember, the minor does NOT need to be connected with the major – except that they should both be interests of yours! A full list of offerings is available at sasundergrad.rutgers.edu/majors

Review your Core. Use Degree Navigator to review your progress on the SAS Core requirements. While you don’t need to complete the Core immediately or even soon, you should try scheduling at least one course per semester to satisfy Core requirements that don’t overlap with your major/minor departments. Remember, though, that the Core is designed to be spread across your 8 semesters of study. For instance, if you are a math/science-phobe, you should spread your Quantitative and NaturalScience requirements over multiple semesters rather than schedule math and science together in one semester…because you can!

Browse Classes. Too often when students are looking for classes, they start by looking for a specific class rather than browsing to see what options exist and spark an interest. Look through different departments and browse course titles to look for interesting classes. Use the Keyword search in the Schedule of Classes to see if we offer classes in something you find interesting. Maybe consider the new German class (taught in English) Fairy Tales Then and Now or the Computer Science class Data 101 for non-majors.

Don’t believe everything you hear/read. Tools like Rate my Professor can be useful to provide insight about a professor’s teaching style and class demands, but you need to filter what you read through your common-sense-ometer. Read comments, not just ratings, and remember that “hard” may be your ticket to really understanding the subject.

Remember, registration is a process (that lasts 3 months)! We’ve already told you that registration remains open through Winter Break. You should plan to have at least a full-time (12 credit) registration at the end of this week – that gives you a full-time term bill, which helps relieve you of hassles with financial aid and with making changes to your schedule. But you have the full span of three months (now until the end of add/drop in January) to take final exams, research major/minor ideas, identify fun electives, and amend your schedule accordingly.

We hope these tips help you with some initial plans for your spring schedule, but be sure to make – and Keep! – an advising appointment, so you can get some good individual advice from your SAS adviser.

November 1, 2013

You Never Forget Your First Time: Advice for Spring Registration



Courtesy of flickr user splineapple

An update of an important past post: 

Spring registration is here, and Dean Frosh has words of wisdom and registration tips to help our new first-year students. 

The most common (printable) word used to describe your first encounter with webreg is FRUSTRATING. Most first year students register in the second week of November. Experience tells us that Webreg will struggle under the weight of that many students. Be patient.

Remember that registration is a process. That means the first day that you can register is the FIRST day, but not the LAST day you will register. You'll have access to webreg from that first day through winter break. Remember, too, the add/drop week at the beginning of spring semester to finalize your schedule.


A few quick points to help:

Prepare well. Carefully review the Schedule of Classes to see how to make the best use of online resources like Degree Navigator, the Course Schedule Planner and Webreg. Consider attending a workshop to help you learn how to use these registration tools or review the Rutgers Online Tools Workshop Prezi.

Before or after you register, come for advising. If you can't see an adviser before your first day to register, come for advising after - get an adviser's opinion on your plans and advice on getting into classes or making changes.
Advising appointments are available through finals and even into Winter break!

The Schedule of Classes is not live, so it may show a course as Open when the seat has been filled because it has not yet updated. 

Once you've clicked the button to "Add Courses," wait patiently for the system to respond. Continued clicking of the button will anger the registration gods and will likely result in your being logged out.

For most courses and prerequisites, webreg is accurate. If webreg tells you that you do not have the prereq, check the class listing again. If you're still unclear, call or stop by your local SAS advising office. If it’s between 10-midnight. on your registration night and you’re having a problem, check out the Academic Services homepage, deans will be on LiveChat and may be able to help!

There are 14 learning goals to complete in the SAS Core. If you can't get into a course you planned to fulfill one (or multiple) goal(s), look for other Core areas. Or do something really crazy, like take a course just because you're interested in the topic. Not every course has to be a Core, major, or minor course! Don't forget about elective credits. And don't worry, Public Speaking is offered every semester and will be a great option eventually.

Remember also to check out the Byrne Seminar listings; spring semester is your LAST chance to take a Byrne, so don't miss the opportunity.

And, again, if all else fails, plan to stop in to one of the SAS Advising Offices between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. for help! Good luck!