Is your student on track to graduate? Here are questions to ask, year by year

​​​​We can all agree CMU is a great place to be, but there’s something to be said for completing your degree successfully in four years.

Graduating on time saves time and money. But if students don’t pay attention and stay on track, they might face some surprises at the end.

“I see the ramifications,” says Sarah Grandstaff, academic adviser for the College of Communication and Fine Arts. “Students find they didn’t take enough of one requirement or took too much of something else.”

You can help your student stay on track by delving deeper than “How are your classes going?” and asking specific questions along the way, as well as encouraging them to take advantage of a myriad of campus resources.

Grandstaff and her colleagues in Academic Advising and Assistance suggest four questions you should ask your student during each of their four years to help them stay on track:

Freshman Year

  1. Have you talked with a general academic adviser yet?​

    “General academic advisers work in partnership with students to help them make progress toward graduation,” Grandstaff says. “General advisers specialize in career and academic decision making, degree requirements, course selection, class scheduling and many other academic issues.” Find them on the Academic Advising and Assistance page online.

  2. What do WI and QR mean?

    The point here: there are required courses for every CMU student, and students should be very aware right off the bat what they are.

    For example, WI stands for Writing Intensive and QR is for Quantitative Reasoning.

    “A lot of students get confused about the assorted requirements,” Grandstaff says. “Some of these general education requirements have to be met by certain deadlines. It's important to know what they all are.

    “When in doubt, check your bulletin,” Grandstaff says. “Don't rely on the student down the hall for information. They may be in a different situation than you.”

  3. Have you used any campus resources?

    There are a slew of them, just waiting to help, from hall directors to success coaches. There are people who can help you with everything from roommate problems and time management issues to stress and study skills.

    Students can visit the math center or the writing center. They can attend the Study Abroad Fair or take in major night, where students can learn more about any major on campus.

  4. What's going on in your life outside of classes?

    Many students focus just on academics freshman year, figuring they’ll join a club later.

    “But if your student answers this question with ‘Just a lot of hanging out,’ you might encourage them to explore Greek life, join one of the more than 400 student organizations or pick up a campus job,” Grandstaff says. “Think about college holistically, not just academics.”

Sophomore Year

  1. Doesn't something happen at 56 credits?

    Yes — your student is now at junior standing and must sign a major with a faculty member. Also, required competency courses have to be completed by now, including English 1, English 2, oral English and math.

  2. How do you sign a major?

    It varies by department. Reach out to a department and ask for details. Also know, Grandstaff says, that students can still change their major after they sign.

  3. Do you know about the Advising Workbench?

    This is a great degree audit system that shows students what required courses they’ve completed and what ones they still have to take. Access it through CentralLink.

    “This is a great tool to use throughout all four years,” Grandstaff says.

  4. Have you met with your college adviser?

    Each CMU college offers its own adviser. “This really zeroes in on your major,” Grandstaff says. “We can talk more in depth and take that advising to the next level.”

  5. Have you visited the Career Services website?

    This is a good time to explore internships, take surveys and skills tests about career aptitude, find out what areas you’re naturally strong in.

    The Career Services site is packed with good information.

Junior Year

  1. Have you scheduled your pregraduation audit?

    Students need to have signed a major and completed 56 credit hours to do this.

    This happens in the Undergraduate Academic Services office, and they book a month in advance, so plan ahead. You can’t just breeze in off the street for an audit.

    “That audit will look at what you have to do, what you’ve already done and what's left to do,” Grandstaff says. “Students will have fewer ‘uh-oh’ moments if they do this. There’s still time to catch problems if you do it your junior year.”

  2. Are your extracurricular activities still working for you?

    “Once you’ve decided you want to major in Public Relations, for example, you might want to join the Public Relations Student Society of America in lieu of or in addition to the Quidditch Club,” Grandstaff says. “Students should know it’s OK to reprioritize and let things go if needed.”

  3. Have you visited Career Services?

    Take advantage of mock interviews, resume help, internship information. Also here: First Impressions, which offers career outfits — head to toe — for free, if you have a career fair or job interview planned.

  4. When did you last meet with your major or minor adviser?

    “This is the next level of advising,” Grandstaff says. “They have detailed information a college adviser might not know. They can assist with practical things like modification paperwork, as well as larger things like preparing for graduate school.”

Senior Year

  1. Seriously, you've visited Career Services, right?

    One final plug for this fantastic resource.

  2. When can you apply for graduation?

    The answer: at 86 credit hours. Don't delay. If there’s something amiss, it’s a lot easier to fix it at 86 credit hours, Grandstaff says, than at 117.

  3. Will you get a final audit once you apply for graduation?

    The answer: Yes. Your student will get a final audit via e-mail.

  4. Have you thought about your transition out of college?

    Have students had exit counseling for their student loans? Secured recommendations from advisers and mentors? Any academic wrap-up left to do, like sending transcripts to graduate schools?

Ask these questions of your son or daughter, and if they pursue the answers, they’ll stay on track, Grandstaff says.

“But the students should be finding the answers to these questions — not you,” she adds. “You’re there to guide and support.”