May 31, 2012

College Advice

On one of the forums I frequent an associate of mine, one whom I get to see about once a year at gaming conventions, announced his intention to go to college and pursue an engineering degree.

He was weighing his options with regard to specific field of study and even what type of school to attend.  He was soliciting the forum's advice on the matter.

Being an opinionated person who had to take 15 years to finish his first bachelors degree, I've got a few thoughts on the subject.  In my educational pursuits I've started (and stopped) study at three universities on a couple of continents, sometimes full time, but mostly while working another job.

I figured that my thoughts on this topic might be useful for others, so I'd share it here.

  • I'd figure out what degree I wanted, from where and then work backwards.
  • Degree requirements change, but they stay generally stable, so the newest graduate catalog should have close to the required courses.
  • Get to know that university's registration process. I've seen many students, myself included, have to go an extra semester because they weren't aware that a particular class is only offered a particular semester, or the university doesn't allow sophomore's to register for particular classes (saving them for juniors or seniors) and that can throw off your class progression plan.
  • Find out about your professors before you have to take a class with them. My general rule-of-thumb is to never take a class from someone who wrote the book or spent their entire life in academia. I could have avoided a lot of pain that way. Also, some tenured professors just suck. I generally find adjutant professors to be the best because they do that stuff in their day job and just teach for extra $ and they love it.
  • Take a good portion of your generic course-work from a community college and transfer in to the university as a sophomore or junior. Make sure that the university will accept your transfer credits before starting classes. I would suggest leaving some "generic" coursework for the university because odds are that university will require a specific number of credits from them to graduate, you might need a buffer from your other coursework, and sometimes you can't get a class you want/need but you still have to take a certain amount of credits for financial reasons.
  • Make sure you understand the class fees. I've seen people think they are taking it easy by only taking 8 credits and then find out they still have to pay as a full-time student! If you can hack it I would suggest taking as much as you can in a single is more cost effective. Most universities have "overload" fees for taking over 18 credits...which is a lot.
  • Don't forget about internet and telecommuting classes. Sometimes you can squeeze in an extra class there.
  • Most university offer classes on nights and weekends. In my experience these classes are most likely to be taught by adjutant professors, contain older (mature) students, and are less likely to be BS courses.