Four-year plan to the rescue! How to schedule life like a pro.

Today, our very own intern Theresa Hoffmann, who is an honors student in college, offers you some advice.

I’m not so great at time management or looking to the future. I make a lot of plans in my head that never go anywhere. If you’re anything like me—if you’re a prospective or current college student—writing a four-year plan can help you stay organized an on track to graduate on time. We had to write our own four-year plans in my freshman seminar class, but even as a senior, I still refer back to mine (and I was one of those kids that thought writing it in the first place was stupid).

What is a four-year plan? It’s a skeleton list (or a really detailed list if that’s your thing) of everything you plan on doing: classes you need/want to take, study-abroad trips you want to go on, internships you want to have, scholarships you want to get—throughout your college career, broken down by semester and summer.

Why write a one? If you keep it updated as you go and refer to it when scheduling classes, you’ll know exactly where you stand when it comes to graduating on time, building your resume and fitting in fun. When you know from the very start what classes you have to take and what order you have to take them in, you can organize them so you’re not stuck with a really heavy course load while studying for the GRE and applying for graduate school. Plus, you’ll know what fun classes and activities you’ll have time for.

How do you write a four-year plan?

  1. Format it in a way that makes sense to you but is also readable to someone else, like your academic advisor.
  2. Look up your graduation requirements and the credit load allowed per semester.
  3. Write your required classes into your plan, organizing them by the semester you plan on taking them. Keep in mind that some courses have prerequisites that you’ll have to take first. Be sure to write them down in the proper order.
  4. Add what you’re planning on doing each summer—study abroad, internship, summer job.
  5. If you have plans for any other breaks, like an online class over winter break or an alternative spring break trip, add those.
  6. If you’re planning on continuing your education, put the required tests on your plan. The summer before your senior year is a great time to study for and take the GRE, MCAT. or LSAT.
  7. Some other good things to add: clubs and organizations you’re in, community service you do, conferences you present at, etc.

How do you use a four-year plan? When it comes time to schedule classes for next semester, pull it out and make sure you’re still on track. At the end of each semester, update it with the courses you and your grade in each one. If you’re changing your major, adding a minor or making any other changes, the long-term impact will be clear at a glance. Setting goals, especially putting them down on paper, is key in achieving goals. Also, notice that your four-year plan is an excellent reference when writing your resume and preparing for an interview.

Good luck.

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