Sometimes we like to take the scenic route to our destination, and sometimes we want the most direct route possible. It’s important to know the difference.
When your student begins their college career, the hope is that they will graduate in four years. Colleges are increasingly recognizing that students need important information in order to know and understand their path to graduation. Degree maps are one way to help students track their path and their progress toward that final diploma.
What is a degree map?
A degree map is a semester by semester list of courses which a student needs to take in order to graduate on time. Sometimes called a major map, it suggests courses to complete each semester in order to be “on track” to graduation by taking the right courses in the right order. Degree maps are intended to be student friendly and dynamic, changing as student situations change. If your student changes major, for instance, their degree map would obviously change as well.
Degree maps are generally constructed assuming minimal or no remedial courses at the beginning of college. Some may need to be customized to account for significant remedial needs, AP credit, dual enrollment credit, or transfer credit. Some degree maps begin by indicating simply an interest area if the student has not yet declared a major. By identifying an interest area, students can begin taking courses that may help lead to the choice of a major.
Degree maps should always include an expected date of graduation – usually in four years for a bachelor’s degree. If circumstances change dramatically for any reason, a new map with a new graduation date would be created. A student who fails many courses might have a later target graduation date while another student who takes significant summer credits might have an earlier date. Degree maps may provide the most effective and/or efficient sequence of courses, but it may not be the only sequence.
A degree map is not a contract. It provides a guided pathway toward completing an “on time” degree. A degree map should help a student visualize their path and plan their courses each semester.
Why bother with degree maps?
The use of degree maps benefits both the student and the college.
Students can more clearly see the steps they need to accomplish in order to complete their degree. They may recognize how pre-requisite courses build upon each other, when certain milestone courses should be taken, how a major is structured, and how all-college requirements and major requirements fit together. Students who follow their degree map will avoid taking unnecessary courses and therefore save time and money. They will know where they are going and where they are at each stage of the journey.
Students, of course, have responsibilities. They must take the courses suggested, at the time that they are suggested, and they must pass them. Students should not withdraw from classes and should consult regularly with their academic advisor. Students need to understand that that variations such as a new major, will change their degree map.
Colleges, too, benefit from having degree maps for students. Having a map, or clear path to a degree, increases student retention and therefore increases revenue. Students who know where they are going, and know how to get there, tend to stay the course. Schools are more able to plan course offerings, schedules and faculty sabbaticals around student needs. Academic advisors can provide more knowledgeable advising and can work to clarify requirements.
All students should have access to their degree maps if they exist. If your student does not have one, or has not seen one, they should ask their advisor. If the school does not provide a map, your student might work with their advisor to create an individual one. Having a guided pathway toward the final destination will give your student, and you, peace of mind and the knowledge that each step is moving toward that final walk across the commencement stage.