By the end of sophomore year, LSA expects all undergraduates to declare a concentration. This declaration is a major step toward completing the academic component of your experience at the University and will shape your time as an upperclassman. This definition of your education is extremely important, and those of us who have already declared know how powerful and important our departmental affiliation can be. I would encourage students who enjoy their departments and wish to recognize the faculty and staff who have made their academic experience so great to nominate their departments for the LSA Departmental Award of Excellence by going to http://goo.gl/0oNJJ by Sunday, March 20 and completing a short survey.
For those of you who have not declared, the LSA Concentration Fair is tomorrow, Wednesday, March 16 and is the perfect venue to learn all about your future major or minor. As I have mentioned in a previous column, U.S. News and World Report stated that for 2010, 67 LSA departments are in the top 10, and nine school departments ranked number one in the country, but it’s up to you to find which top-ranked program works for you. Believe it or not, there is more to choosing your concentration than just focusing on your academic interests. Departments can serve you as communities, as career connectors and in other capacities. Different departments have different strengths and weaknesses, and consequently, you should speak with people from each concentration you are considering to determine if their resources and focus fit with your expectations. There are several questions you might consider asking when approaching department representatives at the LSA Concentration Fair.
Some departments feature committees and student clubs, which allow concentrators to become more integrated with the curriculum and events that occur each semester. Departments that provide students with opportunities to reflect and engage with the direction of the courses and class work are great starting points for enriching the college experience. Many students who serve on advisory boards, curriculum committees and event planning bodies report a better experience in their department. The more you can give to your department, the more you will get out of your time with professors and fellow concentrators in your department, both in and outside the classroom.
Different departments handle advising in different ways, and before you declare, you should speak with advisers. Many departments have staff specifically responsible for guiding you through your time with the concentration, who can be excellent people to speak with about core requirements and career opportunities. Some units in LSA have peer advisers. Serving as a peer adviser can be an excellent job opportunity and way to give back to your concentration, but also help you understand your concentration experience in the context of your larger LSA and University experience. Departments that invest resources in advising are great sources for personal development throughout your time as an undergraduate.
You should also inquire about research opportunities in your department. Not only can research be a great way to delve deeper into topics you are academically interested in, but it can also be a source of community and work experience. Concentrations that feature a greater number of research projects demonstrate a clear commitment to undergraduate involvement in advancing the field.
In addition to reflecting on these topics, you can go online to LSA’s website to get more information about each concentration. I encourage you to go to each department’s website if you are interested in learning more about your potential concentration(s). Again, getting information from the Concentration Fair and websites is important, but be sure to talk with the key stewards of your department to get the best perspective about what your time with the department will be like.
Some departments spend incredible time and energy bringing concentrators together outside of the classroom. In selecting your concentration(s), look beyond the elementary questions about your ability to take your knowledge and turn it into a job. LSA is about more than preparing for the “real world,” it’s about getting a well-rounded experience that will help you in all aspects of life. For more information about concentrations, and how to select the correct one(s) for you, come to the LSA Concentration Fair anytime from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday on the second floor of the Michigan League. For a more complete list of questions and topics to discuss with department representatives, visit lsasg.umich.edu.
Jeff Wojcik is the LSA SG Academic Relations Officer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.