How are you taking the helm in your life? How are you doing this in your academic pursuits? How are you doing this in your personal life?

In this module we will cover strategies and techniques that will be helpful in you identifying how you can establish a plan for your future and take ownership of your choices, of your life.

Making a Plan

Curriculum Maps

Many colleges and universities will provide curriculum maps, or course checklists to illustrate the sequence of courses necessary to follow this timeline. These timelines often assume that you are ready to take college-level Math and English courses and that you will be attending college as a full-time student. If placement tests demonstrate a need for prerequisite Math and English coursework to get you up to speed, your timeline will likely be longer. Some students attend college part-time, often because of family or work responsibilities. This will obviously have an impact on your completion timeline as well. Programs that have special requirements may also require that you plan for additional time. For example, it may be the case that you cannot take certain courses until you have satisfied a series of pre-requisites, so you will need to plan accordingly. Alternatively, you may be able to speed up, or accelerate, your timeline to degree by taking courses during summer. Or if you take fewer than 15 credits per Fall or Spring semester, you can take courses during the summer terms to “make up” those credits and stay on track for graduation.


In addition to a curriculum map and support from your Academic Advisor, UGA DegreeWorks can assist you in your academic planning, as it is programmed to align with degree requirements and can track individual student progress toward completion. DegreeWorks functions like an interactive checklist of courses and special requirements – allowing you to plan multiple semesters online, to register for planned courses, and to track the progress of your plan. Though friends and family are well-intentioned in providing students with planning advice and can provide important points for students to consider, sometimes new students make the mistake of following advice without consulting their college’s planning resources. It’s important to bring all of these resources together as you craft your individual plan.

Despite all of the resources and planning assistance that is available to you, creating an individual plan can still be a daunting task. Making decisions about which major to pursue, when to take certain courses, and whether to work while attending school may all have an impact on your success, and it is tough to anticipate what to expect when you’re new to college. Taking the time to create a plan and to revise it when necessary is essential to making well-informed, mindful decisions. Spur-of-the-moment decisions that are not well-informed can have lasting consequences to your progress.

The key to making a thoughtful decision is to first be as informed as possible about your options. Make certain that you have read the relevant resources and discussed the possibilities with experts at your college. Then you’ll want to weigh your options against your values and goals. You might ask: Which option best fits my values and priorities? What path will help me meet my goals in the timeframe I desire? What will be the impact of my decision on myself or on others? Being well-informed, having a clear sense of purpose, and taking the necessary time to make a thoughtful decision will help to remove the anxiety associated with making the “right” decision, and help you make the best decision for you.

This material is from College Success – an Openly Licensed textbook on how to succeed in college. Chapter 4.

Creating an Academic Plan

With the assistance of your Academic Advisor, find the curriculum map for your major or for an example major that you might be considering if you’re still exploring. Use the information in the curriculum map to draft an academic plan for the remainder of your undergraduate degree. This plan should include both a semester-by-semester sequence of courses and a list of related activities to help you progress toward your career or graduate school goals. Keep in mind any personal circumstances that may impact your plan (such as whether you’ll need to attend part-time or full-time).

Use the grid below to help map out the next several semesters. (Download it here)

Image of semester plan grid

If there are some classes you are not quite sure about, that is ok. You can still fill this out based on what you anticipate taking or would hope to take in the future.

This material is from College Success – an Openly Licensed textbook on how to succeed in college. Chapter 4.

Being Flexible with Change

Though we’ve discussed planning in a great degree of detail, the good news is that you don’t have to have it all figured out in order to be successful. You can still put a puzzle together picture-side down by fitting together the pieces with trial and error. Similarly, you can absolutely be successful in your academic and career life even if you don’t have it all figured out. You may have to take things a little slower, but that will be ok. It will be especially important to keep this in mind as circumstances change or things don’t go according to your original plan. Try to envision your academic path like climbing a mountain – you will need specific equipment and tools for it to be easier on you (physically and mentally), you will need to take periodic breaks to rest (again, physically and mentally), and your goal is to finish what you started and in doing so you are not racing against anyone else. Reaching the top of the mountain and reaching your graduation are great accomplishments and you know the pace that is right for you.

Expecting Change

After you’ve devoted time to planning, it can be frustrating when circumstances unexpectedly change. Change can be the result of internal or external factors. Internal factors are those that you have control over. They may include indecision, or changing your mind about a situation after receiving new information or recognizing that something is not a good fit for your values and goals. Though change resulting from internal factors can be stressful, it is often easier to accept and to navigate because you know why the change must occur. You can plan for a change and make even better decisions for your path when the reason for change is, simply put—you!

External factors that necessitate change are often harder to plan for and accept. Some external factors are very personal. These may include financial concerns, your health or the health of a loved one, or other family circumstances. Other external factors may be more related to the requirements of a major or college. For example, perhaps you are not accepted into the college or degree program that you had always hoped to attend or study. Or you may not perform well enough in a class to continue your studies without repeating that course during a semester when you had originally planned to move on to other courses. Change caused by external factors can be frustrating. Because external factors are often unexpected, when you encounter them you’ll often have to spend more time changing your plans or even revising your goals before you’ll feel as though you’re back on track. You have already experienced this on some level with your Academic Suspension and returning to the University after a semester away. But you have grown so much from that experience and are ready to face these new challenges and obstacles in your academic path, but now knowing where to turn for help.

Managing Change

It is important to recognize that change, whether internal or external, is inevitable. You can probably think of an example of a time when you had to change your plans due to unforeseen circumstances. Perhaps it’s a situation as simple as canceling a date with friends because of an obligation to babysit a sibling. Even though this simple example would not have had long-term consequences, you can probably recall a feeling of disappointment. It’s okay to feel disappointed; however, you’ll also want to recognize that you can manage your response to changing circumstances.

You can ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I control in this situation?
  • Do I need to reconsider my values?
  • Do I need to reconsider my goals?
  • Do I need to change my plans as a result of this new information or these new circumstances?
  • What resources, tools, or people are available to assist me in revising my plans?

When encountering change, it helps to remember that decision-making and planning are continuous processes. In other words, active individuals are always engaged in decision-making, setting new plans, and revising old plans. This continuous process is not always the result of major life-changing circumstances either. Oftentimes, we need to make changes simply because we’ve learned some new information that causes a shift in our plans. Planning, like learning, is an ongoing lifetime process.

Asking for Help

Throughout this course we have made mention of individuals who can help you plan your path, but noted that your path is ultimately your own. Some students make the mistake of trying to incorporate too much advice when planning and making decisions. They may forgo their values and goals for others’ values and goals for them. Or they may mistakenly trust advice that comes from well-meaning but ill-informed sources.

In other cases, students grapple with unfamiliar college paperwork and technology with little assistance as they proudly tackle perhaps newfound roles as adult decision makers. It’s important to know that seeking help is a strength, not a weakness, particularly when that help comes from well-informed individuals who have your best interests in mind. When you share your goals and include others in your planning, you develop both a support network and a system of personal accountability. Being held accountable for your goals means that others are also tracking your progress and are interested in seeing you succeed. When you are working toward a goal and sticking to a plan, it’s important to have unconditional cheerleaders in your life as well as folks who keep pushing you to stay on track, especially if they see you stray. It’s important to know who in your life can play these roles.

This material is adapted from College Success – an Openly Licensed textbook on how to succeed in college. Chapter 4.

Taking Ownership

At this point in the class we are working to establish ownership of our future. Taking the Helm is about you recognizing that you are in control of your future, you are in the driver seat, and we want to make sure you have the tools and techniques to be successful.

In the following video Navy SEAL Jocko Willink discusses how to take ownership of your actions and decisions. Please use this as a moment to reflect on how you can take ownership of your actions and decisions – in your academic life, as well as in your personal life.

Jocko Willink challenges us to take ownership of our actions, of our choices, of our future. How are you going to take ownership of these things and how are you going to lead?

Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0

This item has a Creative Commons license for re-use. This Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license means that you may use, remix, tweak, and build upon the work for non-commercial purposes as long as you credit the original creator and as long as you license your new creation using the same license. For more information, please go to Creative Commons licensing.

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