Starting graduate school, let alone college in general, can be a stressful experience. From selecting colleges and universities to apply to and being accepted to selecting a major, finding a place to live, trying to find a balance in your schedule between work, class, and your social life, and, ultimately, finishing your degree; there are a lot of different factors to consider throughout both your undergraduate and graduate experiences. Since starting my MLIS program, I’ve learned a lot about how to navigate graduate school from both insight provided to me by my peers as well as my own trial and error. Being someone who majored in sociology as an undergraduate student and started library school within a year of graduating without any field experience, I know my path to my MLIS degree may differ from most of my peers; but still has value since many of us in library school can agree that there is no one path to a career in librarianship. So, when it comes to library school, your undergraduate major will likely influence what you have to offer to the field of librarianship, but not restrict you.
This aside, while my undergraduate career has already concluded, I’ve found myself occasionally thinking about it in retrospect during the past two terms in my program and wondering how, if I’d known everything I know now then, my undergraduate experience may have differed. You may be wondering why I may be considering this as a writer for a popular blog geared towards MLIS students; but I have good reason to. First, I have a question – while deciding an undergraduate major, did library and information science ever cross your mind? If it didn’t, don’t worry since most colleges and universities don’t offer it as a major; based on the American Library Association’s website. So, while the idea of library school mostly focuses on graduate school as you need a MLIS degree to officially become a librarian by title, undergraduate LIS programs should be acknowledged, too, because they also prepare students to join the field.
However, while some colleges and universities do offer library and information science as a major, their offerings are largely geographically-restricted as most programs don’t offer online alternatives. So, if you’re a current undergraduate student interested in pursuing library and information science as your major, your options are limited compared to the certificate, associate’s, or master’s levels. Thus, if you want to pursue library and information science as a major and can, I would suggest you go for it – but, if you can’t, it won’t hurt your success in the LIS field. Since the field of library and information science is interdisciplinary and full of different experiences, the insight you gain from any major you pursue will inform your future LIS career. Something I’ve learned during my time as a MLIS student so far is that it’s not your major that defines you, but how you chose to apply it to the field.
So, for those just starting college, I’d suggest that you consider multiple information sources as you find your niche in college based on my own experiences. Websites like College Board, Niche, Federal Student Aid, Rate My Professors, and Assist (if you’re studying in California), among others, are great resources to use towards the beginning of your undergraduate experience and beyond because they can help you find your way as you transition from high school to college, even though they’re not comprehensive. Additionally, College Board usually publishes a lengthy, incredibly helpful physical book of majors every year that details what most majors usually entail and what to expect career-wise. While 2018 is the most recent publication date for this resource, it still is worth a review since much of this information is pretty timeless.
Since there are many ways someone can navigate through their college experience from starting university right out of high school, transferring to university from community college, or taking time off to work in between progressing through your degree, all new college students need to know their options so they can finish their degree on their own terms and know they don’t need to finish their degree in four years if that timeline doesn’t suit them. Thus, these information sources, in addition to your college or university’s counseling services, will help you decide which college or university, program, and timeline fits you best and will help you in your future LIS career. For instance, since I was interested in multiple majors when I first started college, it took me 7 years to find a major I wanted to pursue for more than a semester or so, transfer to university from community college, and complete my degree at an university that I felt supported me, my interests, and my experiences. So, please take time to find the program and school that best suits your career goals, personal interests, and obligations so that you get the most out of your college experience. It pays off, I promise.
Secondly, review the websites for your intended schools and programs at length. What may sound good in theory may not be practically applicable to you. For example, class descriptions are good indicators of not only what you may cover in a semester or a quarter, but of the time you will need to devote to the class outside of class; regardless if you are studying online or in a physical classroom. You will often devote the same amount of time to an online class that you would an on-campus class, so neither is an “easier” option. Additionally, if you’re considering minoring in a subject instead of majoring, please know that minors often aren’t reflected on your diploma. So, be careful in designing your degree so that you realistically address your interests and strengths and do not overwhelm yourself and keep yourself from enjoying college.
Thus, researching your prospective college or university’s resources and atmosphere would also be beneficial in seeing how you may fit in on campus since your school will be another home for you even if you do not live on campus. If you can’t realistically envision yourself at your prospective college or university, please don’t insert yourself into an environment that wouldn’t be a good fit for you. Instead, attend the school that would most value you, your intelligence, and your experiences over the one that looks best on your resumé. All of those factors will heavily define your college experience, so choose wisely so that you get the most out of your experience.
Furthermore, since college is often incredibly expensive depending on your financial situation, always review how much aid your prospective or current school may be able to provide you and which scholarships you may be eligible for so you can limit the amount of loans you may have to apply for to afford your education. You shouldn’t have to overwhelm yourself in debt to finish your degree and manage your other financial obligations, like housing, food, transportation, utilities, etc. So, please take time to research the financial resources available to you in the form of fee waivers, grants, scholarships, and other similar funding sources that you don’t have to pay back after graduation so you can progress in your career without having to worry about repaying loans.
Lastly, please don’t forget to take time to do self care regularly while attending college. Also, please take time to get yourself organized and focused so that your regular schedule doesn’t overwhelm you once the semester starts. College can be stressful if one doesn’t properly prepare themselves beforehand. So, taking time now to prepare and find a balance between everything you have to or will manage in your life while in college will help you later as you start this next chapter in your life. Finally, it’s also important for you to take time to meet people and establish healthy friendships because those friendships will be central to your experience as they will act as another support system in your life – and you will need them in college, trust me. It’s easy to lose sight of the smaller parts of the college experience when looking at the bigger picture; but, I promise, it will all be worth it. Welcome to college!