FREQUENTLY ASKED ADVISING QUESTIONS
Plus a Few That Are Not So Frequent But Probably Should Be
A. The Big Question About CollegeA1. I'm a university student, but I'm not sure what good it's doing me. What am I supposed to be getting out of college?
B. About an Undergraduate Major in PsychologyB1. What can I do with a major in psychology?
C. Choosing ClassesC1. What courses should I take?
D. Preparing for College and Adjusting to CollegeD1. What should I do in high school to get ready for college?
E. InternshipsE1. I'm a psychology major, and I'm interested in a career in the mental health / human services field, would you recommend that I do an internship my senior year?
F. Letters of Reference for Graduate SchoolF1. How do I go about getting a letters of reference from professors for graduate schools and what information should I provide them?
Z. Seeing a Faculty AdvisorZ1. What should I expect from a faculty advisor?
QUESTIONS NOT ANSWERED ON THIS WEBPAGE (YET)
Until they are, feel free to ask them in person sometime.
A1. I'm a university student, but I'm not sure what good it's doing me. What am I supposed to be getting out of college?An Excellent Question
You're not alone! This is 'The Big Question'. In fact, I think it is the biggest, and I'm afraid my answer to it is my longest. Bear with me. I'll try to make it worth your time.
First, let me compliment you for asking this question. More students should ask it more often and out loud. Colleges and universities don't do enough to help students answer that question, and the list of reasons for that failure is probably long and varied. Differences among faculty views, particularly across different disciplines, probably contribute to the problem. The answers given by a dance instructor and a physics instructor may sometimes seem to have little in common. I fear, however, that our shortcomings in this area are partly due to too few faculty ever giving the question serious thought.
I have been involved with a number of searches for new faculty, and I always ask each job candidate, 'Why are we doing this? What is the point of higher education?' Some candidates have given answers that were succinct and thoughtful. Others seemed to have so much to say that they were at a loss as to how to condense their ideas into a brief answer. What I find troubling, however, are the number of candidates for whom the question seemed to be entirely novel. They appear never to have given the question a moment's thought. Unfortunately, having thought about this question is not among the requirements for being hired as a university professor.
Despite their reputation for being politically liberal, university professors and administrators are profoundly conservative in many respects. We cling to the blinders of our own disciplinary training, and we tend to assume that if we know something, it must be of value for undergraduates to learn. Stepping back to ask whether we are actually accomplishing anything useful may be too uncomfortable, too threatening, for many of us.
It is possible, perhaps even the norm, to get a lot out of college without asking 'the big question'. However, without asking it and without developing a sense of purpose, you probably won't graduate with a full appreciation of your own achievements. You will have benefitted from your education without reflection and without being able to articulate your gains. I suspect that this is among the reasons for cuts to financial aid and state support of higher education. Our legislatures are full of college graduates who have benefitted from attending college without developing a deep sense of the purpose of higher education. Beyond mere vocational training, universities probably appear to be quaint luxuries rather than vital public goods. (And, perhaps, this may be the case far too often).
Reasons for attending college vary. Let me mention a couple that are not among the best.
College can be a mindless default. Thirteen years in the K-12 education system can give one the impression that life consists of 'jumping through hoops' or of crossing items off a checklist. In each grade, certain tasks needed to be performed in order to get into the next grade. Likewise, certain tasks needed to be accomplished in order to get into college. If the requisite items were crossed off the to-do list, then one could be reasonably assured of getting into the next stage of life. In college, graduation requirements appear to be one more set of 'hoops' through which one must jump in order to move ahead. Although one can 'get into' college by successfully completing high school requirements, one does not 'get into' life by successfully completing the requirements for a college degree. To assume that one will become prepared for 'real' life by passing a set of required courses with a satisfactory GPA places too much trust in those who designed the program and evaluate student performance. 'I'm here to jump through hoops' is a poor answer to the Big Question.
A related reason for attending college is to delay adulthood. College can be viewed as a break between the restrictions of living with parents during high school and the obligations of being employed and self-sufficient. In some cases, but not all, this perspective reduces college to opportunities for getting drunk and having sex. Those who are only interested in a four-year extension of childhood should seriously consider some means of meeting this goal that does not accumulate student debt and deplete family resources so severely.
On the first day of class, I often ask students to write a short statement about why they are in college or what they hope to get out of attending university. By far, the two most common answers (in fact, almost the only answers) are 'to become well educated' and 'to get a good job'. Those are both good beginnings, but they both need further development, preferably self-conscious deliberate development.
If your goal is 'to become well educated', what are the details? What does it mean to be well educated? If you are a student, what should you know or be able to do at the end of college that you don't know or can't do now? This is a good time (and possibly your last chance) to break with the passivity of the K-12 system that dictated your educational goals. Take charge, ask questions, and starting figuring out what you want and need to know in order to be 'well educated'. Don't rely on the college catalog to know what's best for you. There are many potential benefits to a college education. They include, but go far beyond, improving your prospects for employment and a higher income. If your goal is to become 'well educated', your definition of what this means (i.e., your goal for how you want to change) should probably undergo frequent revision as your education progresses. As you become better educated, your understanding of your own educational goals can become clearer, but this is far more likely to happen if you make it a priority to reflect on and update your goals.
If your goal is 'to get a good job', what are you going to bring to an employer that makes you worth paying? What skills, knowledge, talents, or experience do you have that someone should pay you a lot of money? If you don't change in college, why shouldn't an employer offer the job (for less money) to a new high school graduate who has the same knowledge and skills you have? You will need to offer the employer something that the person without the college degree cannot. You must change in college, but change is not automatic. It is possible to complete a college degree without gaining any enduring knowledge or skills. If you are in college because you want a good job, what are you going to do there that will make you so valuable that someone will want you as an employee and pay you well to keep you? Only a foolish employer would hire you for a job simply because you have a college degree without caring what you are actually able to do on the job.
If future employment is among your educational goals, college is your opportunity to practice for life-after-college. No actor would want to perform a play without an opportunity to learn the lines and rehearse. Treat college as your dress rehearsal for what comes next. Treat college as if it were your job (which it is). Ideally, it will be a job you enjoy and find interesting, but a job nonetheless.
What work habits will your employer expect? Practice them now. If you hope to be a salaried employee (as opposed to one paid by the hour), you will probably be given tasks that will require more than 40 hours of your time each week. Use college as your opportunity to develop the work ethic and self-discipline you will need for that type of work. On that high paying high responsibility job you imagine having some day, how often will do you plan to simply not show up for work? Treat class attendance as a dress rehearsal for good attendance on the job, and select habits that will support that pattern. That includes appropriate sleep habits and either responsible drinking or complete abstinence from alcohol.
How will your employer expect to be treated? Practice a professional level of courtesy with your professors. Don't miss exams or assignments. Don't put yourself in a position where you need to beg for deadline extensions. Don't plead for higher grades that you didn't earn. Use a courteous and professional style of communication, including in email. (A female colleague of mine who was approaching 60 did not take kindly to a student whose email salutation to her was 'Hey Dude!').
If all goes well, your career will probably require you to assume leadership roles, you can practice this in college as well. Seek out opportunities to gain experience organizing events, join clubs and serve as an officer, get involved with student government, or find opportunities for positions of responsibility as a volunteer in community organizations.
In short, instead of using college as an opportunity to prolong childhood, use it as a relatively safe environment to practice adulthood.
Try this. Make a list of the roles you are likely to have in your future life. Include the roles you'll have on the job, but don't limit it to roles for which you'll get paid. Better yet, keep an ongoing list of these future roles.
Here are a few examples of roles you might have in the future or tasks you may need to perform: being a parent, assisting your elderly parents, making financial or medical decisions for yourself and family members, voting, starting a community organization or charity, trying to get your city council or school board to address a problem that concern you, making choices about your diet and exercise, creating a household budget, engaging in recreational, travel, or cultural activities. At work, you will perform the specific role defined by your job description, but even if not part of that formal list of duties you will probably have to continue learning new information and procedures, develop and maintain good rapport with supervisors and coworkers, make hiring decisions, communicate effectively in writing, interpret numerical information, supervise others, contribute to policies and procedures that help others be more effective, and train junior members of the organization. The list is far from complete. Think about your future and try to list as many of your own likely roles as you can. Ask others, such as your parents, to help you brainstorm more when you think your list is complete. Come back to your list occasionally and add to it.
Once you have a list, ask yourself which roles are likely to be most important to you in the future. Then, consider how prepared you are for those roles and try to identify the knowledge, skills, and experiences that would help you to better fulfill those roles. Ask others for help and suggestions. Finally, consider how your college education could help prepare your for your most important future roles.
Although graduate/professional schools provide focused training on relatively narrow topics, the undergraduate years the final opportunity for intensive instruction on basic skills and wide-ranging knowledge. It is easy to take education for granted. After graduation, most people will never again have an instructor dedicated to helping students improve their skills or broaden their knowledge. For most, college is the last chance to receive this help. An undergraduate education is the 'last best' opportunity to develop general-purpose skills that will be needed in a myriad of life roles. Although the so-called '3 Rs' are associated with elementary school, college students are still working on improving their mathematical skills, writing skills, and even their reading comprehension. The undergraduate years are also an opportunity to acquire knowledge about specific topics that could be relevant to future roles, such as knowledge concerning management, economics, political systems, foreign languages, the arts, and the sciences. As hard as college may seem at times, improving skills and acquiring broad knowledge is more difficult without the help of an instructor.
Ultimately, however, for many of life's roles, you will need to be self-educating. One of the ways you should change during college is to become better at independent learning. That change can include an increase in self-discipline, greater efficiency in locating sources of information, improved reading comprehension, broader technical knowledge, and, most importantly, skills for critically evaluating the quality of information. On that last point, Google is no substitute for critical thinking. An internet search can answer almost any question, but many (perhaps most) of those answers are wrong. The better you are at selecting reliable sources of information, reading critically, thinking logically, and understanding the methods of scientific research, the better you will at educating yourself.
'Take charge' and 'ask for help' might seem contradictory, but that need not be the case.
After 13 years of compulsory K-12 education, it can be hard to adjust to the idea that, after high school, education is voluntary. Let me repeat: College is voluntary. That makes it a good opportunity to start taking charge of your own life and to start making decisions that are in your own best interests. One of your tasks as a college student is to learn about yourself and about the world so that you will be better able to judge what is and is not in your best interest. (I'm not advocating selfishness here. I would include acting in a manner consistent with one's own moral values as being in one's own 'best interests').
The point here is to begin making important decisions for yourself rather than being passive. That doesn't rule out asking for help. In fact, it probably requires it, but seek information from multiple sources. Ask for advice and suggestions from family, friends, and faculty. Seek out better information sources, such as people who currently work in careers that may interest you. After collecting information and advice, make your own choices. Take responsibility for your education, your career, and your life.
What I have written here is only a broad framework or outline. Reading this webpage isn't going to answer 'The Big Question' for you. The details of the answers will vary from person to person, and you'll have to find them for yourself. However, if you feel lost, stuck, and full of doubts, it's a good idea to ask for help. (In fact, it's a good idea to ask for help even if you aren't feeling lost!) As a college student, you have a far greater abundance of resources available to help you find your path than you will have at any point in the future. Make full use of them! On the academic/career side of things, a good faculty advisor can help. If there are personal problems getting in the way, today might be a good day to make an appointment with the Counseling Center. Career Services might help as well. Keep in mind that getting input from a variety of sources is a good idea.
If you are one of my advisees and would like to talk about finding a more meaningful approach to your education, I would be happy to chat with you.
B1. What can I do with a major in psychology?The Short Answer
You're asking the wrong quetion.The Even Shorter Answer
Anything.The Longer Answer
Psychology is a misunderstood field and a misunderstood major. The field of psychology is not focused exclusively on human services, mental health, or counseling. A typical undergraduate majoring in psychology may only take a single course focused on those topics, and many do not take any. A bachelor's degree in psychology does not qualify you to practice psychotherapy. It is also not a 'pre-counseling' major. There are a variety of routes to becoming a counselor or a mental health professional. All require education beyond the bachelor's degree, and most (if not all) of these graduate programs accept students who have majors other than psychology. Psychology is a fine undergraduate major for entering the mental health field, but it is not the only route to such professions, and it is an excellent preparation for other careers.
At most U.S. universities, the approach to psychology is scientific, and the field is frequently defined as 'the science of the mind and behavior". As a psychology major, you might learn about such topics as neuroscience; experimental research on memory and other thought processes; changes in brain, thought, and social behavior across childhood and later life; and social influences on behavior. You will also be trained in statistical analysis of numerical data, the scientific/experimental research method, and in scientific writing.
Among the good reasons to major in psychology is an interest in the scientific approach to brain, mind, and behavior. Although this can provide an excellent background for graduate programs related to counseling and mental health, other majors can also provide appropriate background for some careers in these areas. Depending on the details of the career goal, appropriate alternative majors include nursing, education, sociology, social work, or (particularly for those interested in medical school) biology, chemistry, or neuroscience.
An undergraduate major in psychology has potential value for almost any career path. The undergraduate major develops verbal, quantitative, and analytical/logical skills. The major provide training in the application of the scientific method to answer questions about behavior and thought, and in critical evaluation of information obtained by others. Ideally, it also should improve students' ability to predict general patterns of human behavior, understand influences that are likely to persuade or change behavior, and design devices or information that are more easily used by humans. These are broadly applicable set of skills and areas of knowledge that can contribute to a strong background for careers in business, medicine, industrial/software design, public policy, education, and most other fields. For many careers (such as becoming physician), the psychology major would need to be supplemented with skills and knowledge from courses in other departments. A good faculty advisor can help plan a program of appropriate undergraduate coursework.
Finally, to return to the first answer, instead of asking, 'What can I do with a major in ...', a better approach is to ask, 'What do I want to do?' That second question is the important one. Once you have an answer to that question (or a set of very tentative possible answers to that question), a good advisor can help you explore whether psychology would be an appropriate choice of major for you.
B2. I want to help people. Should I major in psychology?
Coursework in psychology provides a good background for a very wide variety of roles in life, including those roles for which you will get paid. There are also many different ways of helping people, some of which involve the helper getting paid.
I try to encourage students to think broadly about their future options. An undergraduate degree in psychology does not qualify you to be a mental health professional nor is admission to graduate programs for human services professionals limited to psychology majors. Psychology is simply not specifically a 'pre-counseling' major.
Wanting to help others is commendable, but it doesn't narrow down one's career options. There are many opportunities to help people as a volunteer, and there are many careers that involve helping people that do not require a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
I often tell my advisees a story about a particular job. In this occupation, it is necessary to deal with others who are going through a distressing emotional crisis. The job requires being a compassionate, understanding listener who can guide clients through their experience of anger, frustration, and even grief. It may involve helping others come to an acceptance of an irremediable loss. In this occupation, the ultimate goal is to help others get back on track with addressing the step-by-step solutions to the practical problems they face. This job requires being able to handle both rage and depression in others, and to understand that they may be treated as a scapegoat for pain that is entirely due to the client's own self-damaging decisions and actions. What job am I describing?
B3. In high school, my friends told me I was a good listener. Should I major in psychology?
Psychology is an excellent background for a wide range of roles in life including many different careers. It might be a good choice for you, and if your friends' comments have piqued your interest in the counseling or mental health fields, it's possible that it could be a good career direction for you.
However, being a good listener when friends feel down or upset is very different from being a psychotherapist working with people who have serious psychological disorders. You would not simply get paid to be a professional friend. It is relatively easy to cheer up a friend who is basically well-adjusted but feels sad, discouraged, angry, or frustrated about the normal ups and downs of life. A little attentive listening, compassion, encouragement, and affection can often turn things around quite rapidly. If that were enough to successfully treat depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, or the various forms of thought and personality disorders, then all we would need in order to rid the world of psychological disorders would be caring families and friends. A good hug might be enough to cure schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, that's not enough.
If you have thoughts about a career in the mental health field, seek out information about what it would really be like to work as a counselor or psychotherapist. If you don't know how to go about finding that information, ask your faculty advisor or a career services staff member for suggestions.
Although it's possible that being good to your friends in high school might indicate you would make a good counselor, it might just mean you are already helping to make the world better by being a good and caring friend. The world needs more good friends, but it doesn't need all of them to become mental health professionals.
B4. I like children. Should I major in psychology?
I joined the faculty at WSU in the fall of 2005. During my first eight semesters, I taught the required Experimental Psychology course six times. That means that, for awhile, I was teaching almost all of our majors. In that course, I began each semester by asking students to complete a short questionnaire about their current ideas about a future career. Approximately 80-90% said something related to counseling, human services, or mental health fields, and a large majority of those students also mentioned working children or adolescents. If you have career thoughts along those lines, you would certainly fit in with the majority of our majors.
However, an undergraduate major in psychology is not a "pre-counseling" program. Going to graduate school to become a counselor or other human services professional does not require that you major in psychology. Likewise, a major in psychology does not limit you to counseling or human services as a future profession.
Perhaps more importantly, 'liking children' does not necessarily mean you should be, or would like being, a school counselor, school psychologist, or a psychotherapist who specializes in childhood disorders.
Think about the experiences you have had that led you to believe you like children or want to work with them. What precisely do you enjoy? If you look forward to spending time with your young nieces and nephews at family gatherings it might just mean that you like being an aunt or an uncle. If you liked coaching a children's soccer team, working at a summer camp, or teaching a Sunday school class, it might only point to volunteer work that you would find rewarding in the future.
I suspect that for some students, part of the attraction of working with children has to do with not feeling entirely grown up yet. Being in their late teens and early 20s, they have personal experience with being a child and an adolescent. The issues of those age groups are familiar. In contrast, it is much harder to picture being an authority figure while dealing with someone who is even a mere 5 or 10 years older. Although this is understandable and probably quite common, it is not the best reason to select a career working with children. Keep in mind that even teachers and school counselors are required to be authority figures with adults as well as with children.
Further, consider the possibility that what you are really feeling is a desire to have children of your own. If so, how sure are you that you want to work with children all day as your job, and then go home to care for your own children as a parent?
If you think you can work well with groups of children, you might also want to consider a major in education and a teaching career.
Keep in mind that dealing with the normal range of emotions in healthy children can be very different from providing professional services to children with psychological disorders. A child with normal sadness will respond to a good listener, a hug, a smile, or a joke. Cheering up normal sadness is relatively easy and very rewarding. A few minutes of compassionate listening or a smile and a hug are not going to cheer up a teen with major depression or fix a violent child with a severe emotional disturbance.
If you are considering entering this field, you should learn as much as you can about the population of children who receive professional services and what it is like to provide those services. If possible, talk to people in that line of work or seek volunteer/internship opportunities that will give you experience with that population.
There is a need for talented, dedicated, and well-trained individuals to work with troubled youth. You might be one of those individuals. However, there's a lot more to it than simply 'liking kids'.
B5. I'm a junior majoring in nursing, but I'm not enjoying it. Could changing my major to psychology be a good idea?
I have been asked this question several times in recent years. It is one of my least favorite questions, but it's clearly one that is very important.
An undergraduate degree in psychology lacks the obvious practical advantage of a nursing degree. It does not qualify you to enter a specific profession. Nurses are generally paid well and are in fairly high demand. With a degree in nursing, and a decision to pursue nursing as a career, the job search and decision-making process is comparatively straightforward.
What should you do if you are succeeding as a nursing student, but you dislike your program? Let's assume, at least for the moment, that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the quality of your program, and the issue really is a question of 'fit' between you and nursing.
With all training programs, not just nursing, the experience of being trained is substantially different from the experience you will have once you are on the job. The tasks you perform and the way you spend your time overall are different as a nursing student versus a working nurse. The same is true for being pre-med (or even a second year medical student) as opposed to being a doctor. Studying accounting is different from being a CPA. Being a clinical psychologist is very different from taking notes in lectures about abnormal psychology.
In the case of nursing, what is critical to decide isn't whether you like being a nursing student, it's whether you will ultimately like being a nurse. Although it may be impossible to answer that question for yourself with perfect certainty, talking with nurses and reading about the profession can help. If you need assistance getting this kind of information, discuss the matter with career services staff or a faculty member.
If you change your major to psychology, you will face the same challenges, decisions, and wide-open opportunities that are faced by most other liberal arts majors. You will not be channeled into a well-defined career path. You'll have to face that big, hard question, 'What do I want to be when I grow up?'
Psychology can take you almost anywhere, but for some careers you may need to supplement your psychology background with additional specific sets of skills and knowledge. (Also, some professions will require training beyond the bachelor's degree). If you are changing to a psychology major fairly late in your undergraduate studies, completing the psychology major and acquiring supplemental skills may take longer than you had planned to be in college.
This is a difficult decision and should be made in consultation with a good faculty advisor, career services staff, your family, and others who may have relevant knowledge.
B6. I'm taking intro psychology and like it. Should I major in psychology?
Here are a few things to consider:
First, college can become extremely difficult and unpleasant if you select a major with substantial coursework in which you have no interest. Selecting a field that is interesting and enjoyable to study is one (but not the only) criterion to consider when selecting a major.
However, it is easy to misjudge your degree of interest in a topic after taking only one course. Separating your feelings about the instructor from your interest in the material is very difficult.
Do you like your psychology class because you like psychology or because you like your instructor? Taking another psychology course with a different instructor might help you to decide, but reading could be an even better approach. How interesting do you find the material in your textbook? Browse through the psychology textbooks for more advanced courses that might still be on the shelves in the campus bookstore. Would you like to take classes that assign those books?
Psychology could be a good choice of major for you. It is an extremely versatile major. Almost anyone in an occupation that deals with human (or other animal) behavior or that involves data collection, data interpretation, and data-based decision-making could benefit from a background in psychology. That covers almost every job (and almost every off-the-job) activity you'll ever do.
Keep in mind, however, that you will work at your career for about 10 times as long as you attend college. The jobs that you want to be able to get might require a particular set of skills and knowledge that a major in psychology will not specifically provide. Some programs, such as in nursing or education, can have such an elaborate set of course requirements that they cannot easily be combined with another major. Even if your favorite classes are in psychology, the types of jobs in which you will be happiest for the rest of your life may require that you major in something else.
This type of decision is best made in consultation with a variety of information sources. Discuss this with your faculty advisor, career services staff, your family, and others who either know you well or have knowledge about the fields of study and work that you are considering.
B7. My grades are low. Should I change my major to psychology?
It depends on why your grades are low and why you are considering psychology.
If your grades are low because you have been pursuing a major in a field that does not interest you or for which you do not have an aptitude, a change of major might be appropriate. For example, I once knew a student who had declared a major in mathematics but who was about to fail first semester calculus for the third time. It seemed pretty clear to me that the math major was not a good idea for him.
If you have broad academic difficulties, if you are low on curiosity and lack motivation for school in general, or if you have a strong dislike for all things related to science, then changing your major to psychology is probably not the solution to your GPA problem.
Once while riding an elevator with a group of WSU students, one young woman declared to her companions, 'This is just too hard! I need to change my major to something easier -- maybe like psychology or something.' She seemed to lose interest in that plan when I told her that of all departments offering a major within the College of Liberal Arts at WSU, the one whose average course grade is lowest is psychology.
The bottom line is that at WSU, like most other reputable universities, the Psychology Department offers fairly demanding science-oriented courses, not fluff.
Psychology might or might not be a good option for you. Try out a course or two before making the switch.
B8. I don't like science. Would psychology be a good major for me?
B9. What's the difference between the two options for majoring in psychology at Winona State?The Short Answer
Not much.The Long Answer
However, the requirements do differ slightly, and if you are, or become, a WSU psychology major, you should become familiar with the differences. I developed and maintain the web site for the WSU Department of Psychology where you can read through the details.
In brief, the two options share a core of six required courses. Option-A also requires that you complete a minor in some field other than psychology. Option-B does not require a minor, but does require one additional course in statistics and one additional writing course. It also specifies your choice of psychology electives to some degree.
Most WSU psychology majors base their choice of option on whether or not they have an interest in completing a minor in some other department and whether or not they want to avoid taking a second course in statistics.
C1. What classes should I take?
There's no simple answer to that question.
For most students, the first year of college should address two primary goals: building basic skills and sampling courses from a broad range of departments. By the end of the first year, you should be showing improvement in your quantitative skills (math) and your communication skills (reading, writing, and speaking). You should also have sampled a diverse set of topics that you have not encountered before. (This will also have the practical benefit of fulfilling some of your general education requirements). Ideally, during your first year you will learn something about your own interests and aptitudes.
You also should work with your advisor and others (such as parents and career services staff) to begin listing the future roles for which you want your education to prepare you. This process should include identifying a number of possible career paths, but keep in mind that you also will have important roles in life that are not part of your future job. Although your later years in college will emphasize the completion of requirements in your major, you should also select courses that will suit your various future needs. What roles will you have in life, and how can college help you prepare for them? What knowledge and skills, beyond those you obtain from courses in your major, might benefit you in your ideal future job? What knowledge and skill might help you obtain satisfactory entry-level employment if you don't walk directly into your ideal future job the moment your graduate? These are good questions to consider as you make choices about your education, and it is wise to seek advice on these issues from a variety of sources, including your faculty advisor.
C2. Do you have any general suggestions about what classes I should take outside of psychology?
You can never know too much math.
You can never write too well.
Becoming a college student does not mean that you leave the so-called '3 Rs' behind. You should go as far as you can with your quantitative skills in general mathematics and with its application in statistics. Members of organizations who have solid quantitative skills are usually highly valued. Take more math/stats courses than necessary. Make yourself as valuable as possible.
Also, go as far as possible in developing your writing skills. I have read many undergraduate papers written by students attending the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh, and here at Winona State, but I have never read a paper that could not have been dramatically improved by further editing. The quality of your writing (and of your speaking, for that matter) is how you will demonstrate to the world that you are an intelligent and educated individual. Your quantitative skills may not be obvious to all, but everyone you encounter will hear you speak, and almost all who are important to you will read what you write. Set yourself the goal of becoming a much better writer. Take more writing-intensive classes than necessary. Never deliberately settle for anything less than an 'A' on a paper. Learn from your mistakes and instructor feedback. Never turn in a first draft of a paper for any class. Re-reading and re-writing is how you will learn to write. Make the decision that your goal is to improve your skills, not merely to get a satisfactory grade. Even 'A' papers can be improved.
Finally, although it may sound odd, college students are still learning to read. Take courses that will improve your reading comprehension and general verbal abilities. Although I wish I had better data as a guide, my strong recommendation is to take courses that assign readings other than undergraduate textbooks. Most textbooks are written reasonably well. However, they attempt to communicate technical information in language that is as simple as possible. You will learn facts and even difficult concepts from textbooks, but reading textbooks will do little to broaden your general vocabulary or enhance your appreciation for good writing. To develop verbal skills, I advise students to take courses in literature, philosophy, or other fields that do not rely on undergraduate textbooks and where the reading assignments are written at a fairly high level of verbal sophistication.
If you are skeptical about the need to work on your verbal skills, let me mention that I have seen a number of cases in which good students with high GPAs and solid training in the sciences have had the road to their first choice of graduate school blocked by their score on the verbal section of the GRE and by their mediocre writing skills. I have yet to see a psychology major, who has ambitions of further training, score well on the verbal section of the GRE and poorly on the math section. When there has been a problem with one of the two scores, the issue has always been with the verbal section.
A university education can produce improvements in math, reading, and writing skills, but those improvements are not automatic. Completing a degree, even with a high GPA, does not necessarily indicate a high level of proficiency in those areas. Whether your goal is graduate school or a good job right out of college, your math, reading, and writing skills are critically important.
If you need further guidance, speak with a good faculty advisor.
C3. What psychology classes should I take?
First, for students who are not psychology majors, the answers will vary greatly. I would be happy to chat with you about courses that might fit well with your goals and interests.
For psychology majors, you have requirements and electives. If you are not already thoroughly acquainted with the requirements for the psychology major at WSU, see the academic information on the Psychology Department's web site. After the introductory course, the required courses cover the methods and the history of psychology.
As for electives, you have a great deal of freedom, especially if you select the Option A requirements. However, I do have some suggestions:
I strongly recommend that every undergraduate psychology major take at least one course in social psychology, one in biological psychology, and one in cognitive psychology. These areas focus on different 'levels of analysis' and focus on broad research-based generalizations about human thought and behavior. Although opinions will differ somewhat across psychology professors, my own view of psychology is that these topics (along with the psychology of 'affect' -- sometimes referred to as 'motivation and emotion') form the core content of psychology that every undergraduate psychology major should study.
Other topics in psychology deal with differences among individuals or between groups. These courses cover (or should cover) individual or group differences in the domains of biological, cognitive, social, and affective psychology. Topics focusing on differences include developmental psychology, the psychology of gender, cross-cultural psychology, personality, and abnormal psychology. I encourage all students to take two or more courses that focus on differences, and I would be happy to assist you in selecting the courses that are most appropriate for your goals and interests.
Finally, many undergraduate programs include courses on particular areas in which psychology can be applied. At WSU, courses with applied themes include health psychology, human factors, personnel psychology, organizational psychology, clinical psychology, psychopharmacology, and two courses on the relationship between psychology and the legal system. I encourage students to learn as much as possible about the applied side of psychology.
This does not exhaust the list of available psychology electives, which also include courses on learning theories, sensation & perception, and advanced courses in developmental psychology. Such courses may also be important to you, depending on your goals and interests.
Finally, although it is not an official requirement, all psychology majors should take the one-credit Careers in Psychology course.
To sum up, at WSU classes required of all majors consists of 17 credits of courses. Although the Option A version of the major only requires six additional courses (18 credits), I strongly suggest that, at a minimum, all students should take social psychology, biological psychology (Brain and Behavior), and cognitive psychology, followed by at least two courses on differences and two courses on applications.
C4. Is sociology the best minor for a psychology major?
I have divided my website into a 'Professional' section and 'Personal' section. The plan was to keep my more controversial opinions confined to the Views area of the Personal section. Perhaps my answer to this question really belongs there.
With all due respect to my colleagues in sociology, my answer to this question is an emphatic "No".
Sociology is the most common minor among WSU psychology majors. A recent list of our psychology majors indicated that approximately half had declared a minor in sociology. (That figure may be low because those with a major in both sociology and psychology were not listed among the sociology minors). This means that a minor in sociology does nothing to set you apart from the crowd in the mind of a prospective employer or graduate school. No one will look at your record and exclaim, "Wow! Not only did she major in psychology, but she had a minor in sociology!". When combined with a major in psychology, a minor in sociology will neither surprise nor impress anyone.
The major and the minor (or the two majors) should be complementary. That is, they should complete each other in a contrasting manner. Although psychological science and sociology take very different approaches, there is enough overlap in their themes that they do not provide sufficient contrast. Just as my advice to a psychology major would be that sociology is a poor choice of minor, I would advise sociology majors not to select psychology as a minor.
A major in psychology can be an excellent background for almost any career, as long as any other necessary sets of skills and knowledge are also obtained. For example, a major in psychology can be excellent preparation for medical school, as long as all of the necessary coursework in biology and chemistry is completed as well. Psychology provides knowledge and skills that are relevant to any future job in which you might be dealing with information, people, or both. However, it does not provide all of the knowledge and skills needed for every possible career. Having some ideas about possible future career directions can be very helpful when working with your advisor to choose courses and select extracurricular involvements. A few examples of minors (or second majors) that you might want to consider include mathematics/statistics, biology, management, marketing, chemistry, or computer science. Developing your writing and critical reading skills through a minor in such disciplines as literature, philosophy, or communication studies could also help develop important broadly applicable skills.
D1. What should I do in high school to get ready for college?
Go as far as you can with math. If you are not required to take four full years of math, do it anyway.
Read and write. If you have the option to take more composition/writing classes, take them. Keep a diary or journal. Cut back on the amount of time you spend reading the code used for text messaging, and read and write actual sentences. Read books. Learn to read for pleasure during your summers.
Developing a better background in science is also a very good idea, but do everything possible to improve you math, writing, and reading skills.
D2. Should I really expect college/university to be a lot harder than high school?
Yes. If it isn't, something is very wrong.
D3. Is it OK if I don't take college all that seriously during my first year?
First, I should point out that college and high school generally follow opposite time patterns. In high school, you do most of your learning in class and supplement that learning with a little homework. In college, you do most of your learning outside of class. Although attending class is very important, most of what you learn will come from your textbooks and reviewing the information presented in class. In other words, do not misinterpret the relatively small number of hours you are expected to spend in classes each week. Being a fulltime college student is a fulltime job, even if the great majority of your education occurs when you are not in class.
Second, many students who have become my advisees took a year or two to settle on tentative career goals. For many having goals greatly improved their academic performance, as measured by grades. Often, these goals included a desire to go to graduate school. However, because they did not take college seriously at first, their low grades from their first year or two of college placed a serious obstacle in their career path. In a few cases, those low grades even put completion of their bachelor's degree in jeopardy. More commonly, the drag that low grades from their first few semesters puts on their overall GPA makes it unlikely that they will be able to attend graduate school.
Consider the case of a particular student who had the potential to maintain a B+ GPA. He did not apply himself during his first semester. After receiving Fs his first semester, he managed Cs during his second semester. From there, he turned things around, typically earning two As, two Bs, and a C. Although that means he earned a 3.2 GPA (on a 4-point scale) during his last three years of college, his D average during his freshman year pulled his overall GPA down to 2.65. That is only slightly better than the minimum needed to graduate with a B.A. in psychology from WSU and probably ruled out admission to most reputable graduate programs. The moral of the story is that it is important to take your college education seriously from the very first day.
D4. I'm smart enough that in high school I was able to get 'B's without doing any work. What grade should I expect in your introductory psychology class if I keep doing what worked for me in high school?
E1. I'm a psychology major, and I'm interested in a career in the mental health / human services field, would you recommend that I do an internship my senior year?
E2. I'm a psychology major, and I'm NOT interested in a career in the mental health / human services field, would you recommend that I do an internship my senior year?
F1. How do I go about getting a letters of reference from professors for graduate schools and what information should I provide them?
Unless you have left the area, you should make your letter requests in person. Do this at a time when it is possible to spend awhile discussing your plans.
If I have agreed to write letters of reference on your behalf, please follow these instructions carefully. Check with your letter-writers for differences among their preferences, but what follows is good general guidance.
First, provide all of your information and forms together in a single packet as early as possible. Items provided on paper and items provided by email should arrive as close to simultaneously as possible. Paper items go to my department mailbox. If possible, everything should be provided all at once and as early as possible.
Provide deadlines for each letter, but provide yourself a margin of safety. Tell me they are due earlier than they are. If that deadline is approaching and your letter hasn't been sent, do a convincing job of acting like you're starting to panic. Although the chances are very good that I will send your letters on time even without reminders from you, take nothing for granted. This is an important step for you, so be assertive. I never resent reminders from students. In fact, I consider it a very positive sign of conscientiousness when students send me a series of reminders about their deadlines. I suspect that your other busy letter-writers probably feel the same way.
With very rare exceptions, I write a single version of your letter and then make minor modifications for each school. To write the letter, I want the following:
1. Provide a copy of your complete college transcripts with all courses and grades listed in chronological order. Highlight all courses you had with me, and circle your current cumulative GPA.
2. Provide your GRE scores. I don't need anything official, but I need to know the numbers. (The same applies to your MCAT scores if you are applying to medical school).
3. Provide me with your resume and, if needed, a brief supplementary document. I want to know about your volunteer, extra-curricular, and internship activities/plans. I am particularly interested in knowing about experiences that are even distantly related to your career plans and about any positions of responsibility/leadership you have had either as a volunteer or an employee. I also want comprehensive information about your research experience. I want to know whether the research was a class assignment, assistance with a faculty project, or an independent study. For each experience, provide the name of the faculty member with whom you worked, the topic of the research, the number of semesters the project took, any papers/posters/presentations produced, and the letter grade you received if any. If any of this is not on your resume, supply it in a brief reader-friendly document.
4. Provide me with a writing sample. This should include a copy of your personal statement that will accompany your graduate school applications. If you have written class papers for me, supply a copy of the paper you believe to be your best work.
With the information just listed, I can write the generic version of your letter. However, I do not write a 'to whom it may concern' letter. That approach undermines my credibility and the persuasiveness of your letter. If I agree to write you a letter of reference, I will send a formal business letter properly addressed to each recipient and it make reference to the degree and program name to which you are applying. You should provide me with the following information in electronic form (preferably in a Word document) from which I can copy and paste the information into your letters:
1. I want all schools listed in a single document.
2. For each school, include the type of degree (e.g., MA, MS, MSW, PhD, MD, JD, ...) you are seeking.
3. For each school, give the official name of the subject of the degree (e.g., Counseling, Experimental Psychology, School Psychology, Clinical Psychology, ,...).
4. For each school, provide the official name of the department that offers the program (e.g., Psychology, Counseling, Neuroscience, ...).
5. For each school indicate whether you want letter only or letter plus their form, and also indicate whether the letter is to be printed and mailed, uploaded to a web site, or emailed as an attachment.
6. For each school provide the proper full mailing address of the recipient regardless of whether the letter is to be mailed or uploaded. For some schools that will be the department itself, and for others it will be a graduate admissions office or something similar.
7. For each school, provide the date by which you want the letter to arrive. Remember to give a margin of safety, so tell me it is due earlier than it really is.
8. If you are applying to a program that is substantially out of the ordinary, please provide an explanation. The best approach is to explain this information when you first ask for your letters and then jog my memory with a brief note on the document that has the rest of the information about the program.
Again, supply everything all at once. Send electronic information (the Word document with school addresses) at approximately the same time as you provide any paper documents. Ideally, there will be one computer file with all of the electronic information and one packet with any papers you need to get me. Papers should be clipped together in a single large envelope or folder. If you provide materials a little bit at a time, they will get lost or overlooked.
I suggest offering all of this to all of your letter-writers, but check whether their preferences differ from mine. If anything is not clear, ask questions. Don't guess. If you would like to chat about the details in person, I would be happy to meet with you.
IMPORTANT: How you handle requests for letters matters. It is one more opportunity to show that you are an excellent candidate for graduate school. Demonstrate to your letter-writers how thorough, organized, punctual, mature, and self-sufficient you are by making it as easy as possible for them to do this task.
Finally, writing a set of letters is not a trivial task for a faculty member. I expect something in return if I write you a letter: Stay in touch and let me know what happens!
Z1. What should I expect from a faculty advisor?
You should expect an advisor to provide general academic and career guidance, to be able to answer questions about your primary area of study, to advise you about further study beyond the bachelor's degree, to assist you with major issues in navigating university bureaucracy, and to refer you to others who may be better able to provide further assistance.
Some faculty advisors also may be able to provide useful suggestions if you are struggling academically or want to improve your approach to studying. Unfortunately, despite the fact that they are professional educators, not all faculty have the relevant background knowledge to provide accurate information about effective academic strategies. Although most faculty are eager to offer advice on this topic, the information you get will vary in quality and accuracy. If you would like this type of assistance, ask your instructors and your advisor for guidance, but also ask about the other resources for academic support that are available on campus.
Keep in mind that your faculty advisor is primarily qualified to help you with academic, educational, career, and intellectual issues. Your advisor is not your therapist, physician, or financial advisor. Try to steer a middle course of self-disclosure with your advisor. If you are having personal problems that are getting in the way of your studies, don't pretend that all is well. On the other hand, the most personal aspects of your finances, family difficulties, sex life, substance abuse, mental health, and medical history are private matters that you do not need to disclose in detail. However, your academic advisor should be able to refer you to appropriate sources of assistance with those types of issues.
Z2. When should I see a faculty advisor?
Typically, students see their advisors once per semester for a brief appointment at which they get their registration access code. They may also consult with an advisor when considering a chance of major. However, if you limit yourself to one 20-minute appointment per semester, you are missing out on a potentially valuable resource. Your advisor should be willing and able to assist you as you think through your career goals, to provide suggestions for improving your academic performance, and to refer you to other resources on campus that may be of particular use to you.
I encourage you to make a habit of seeing your advisor early in the semester for an additional and less rushed appointment for help with developing your plans and improving your performance. If your advisor does not seem willing or able to provide the guidance you seek, consider changing advisors. (Keep in mind, of course, that even the best advisors can sometimes be in a hurry or be having a bad day!)
Z3. How should I prepare for my advising appointment?
Unfortunately, this question is not asked frequently enough.
First, come prepared to take notes. You should not have to ask your advisor for a slip of paper and a pen in order to write down your access code! Also, it is a mistake to think you'll remember all of the important details from your meeting.
Second, do some homework. Be familiar with the requirements for your major and for graduation. If your advising meeting consists of your advisor simply reading to you from the university catalog, you are not making the best use of either your time or your advisor's time. However, if you find the catalog information confusing, want to verify that you understood it, or want guidance about options, then arrive at your meeting with a list of questions. (Write them down so you won't forget to ask them!)
Beyond this, and especially for meetings that are not limited to selecting courses for the next semester, come prepared to be honest, to ask questions, and to be open-minded about alternatives and new approaches.
Let me stress that part about honesty. Relationships between high school students and high school teachers can sometimes become a bit adversarial. Now that you're in college, it is time to put that behind you. Although I'm not your doctor or psychotherapist, come to advising meetings with the assumption that I am 'on your side'.
Z4. Can I see you for advising?
If I am already your faculty advisor, you must meet with me once per semester shortly before registering for classes. That meeting is required in order to obtain your access code.
However, I strongly encourage you to see me at least twice per semester. The required meeting tends to be short, rushed, and narrowly focused on the immediate issues of choosing courses for the following semester. An additional meeting, especially early in the semester, can be a much better time to chat about 'big picture' issues. Consider yourself invited!
If you are a WSU psychology major, you may request me as your advisor, or you may meet with me to supplement the information you are already getting from your assigned advisor. I encourage students to seek information and advice from multiple sources.
Others are also welcome: WSU students not majoring in psychology, community college or high school students, individuals considering returning to college, or anyone else for whom an advising meeting might be appropriate. You may contact me about an appointment at my Winona State email address. Current WSU students may also see me during my regular drop-in office hours. My email address and office hours can be found on the WSU Psychology Department web pages.
Z5. How do I make an advising appointment?
If I am already your faculty advisor and you want to make an appointment to see me during the regular advising period before registration to obtain your access code, please use the online appointment system. Each semester I send an email to all of my advisees with instructions and/or a link for using that system.
Aside from seeing me for your access code, if you are a WSU student, you may visit me during my office hours without an appointment. WSU students and others may contact me about an appointment via my Winona State email address. My email address and office hours can be found on the WSU Psychology Department web pages.
Z6. I am one of your advisees, and I need my access code. Can I make an appointment by email?
No. I have too many advisees to handle appointments individually by email.
If I am already your faculty advisor and you want to make an appointment to see me during the regular advising period before registration to obtain your access code, please use the online appointment system. Each semester I send an email to all of my advisees with instructions and/or a link for using that system.
Z7. I am one of your advisees. Can you email me my registration access code?
No. I don't send out access codes by email. Advising appointments are important. See me in person for your code.
Z8. I'm having personal problems. Can I come talk to you?
Yes, but with limits.
It is OK to let your instructor or your advisor know that you have issues that are interfering with your academic progress, but I discourage you from going into too much detail with a faculty member. I believe in personal privacy rights, and I don't think you need to -- or ought to -- disclose more details about your medical condition, family problems, substance abuse, or psychological history than necessary. (For example, I find it troubling that there are apparently faculty who feel entitled to details when a student misses class for medical reasons).
If you are in one of my classes or you are one of my advisees, we can discuss options for academic survival during times of personal turmoil. That can include referrals to appropriate university personnel who are qualified to assist you with the details of your difficulties.
Let me point out also that, although I am a psychology professor, by law I am no more qualified to assist you with personal problems than are your English or Physics professors. In terms of both ethics and legality, we cannot provide psychotherapy or medical advice. We can assist with academic and career issues, and we can help you find other forms of assistance from those who are fully qualified to help with your particular type of issue.
Within the limits of what is legally, ethically, and professionally appropriate, I would be very happy to help.
Answer: Computer Tech Support