A first-year college student needs a four-year plan.

The student wants to graduate on time, and the university wants them to, too. It’s win-win, and helping students with course planning is a big part of my job as an academic advisor.

What’s the best way to help, though? When helping a student with long-term course planning, I have a couple of choices.

  1. Make the student do most of the work. I can ask the student to bring in a rough draft (and it will be rough). We can then revise it together, with the student consulting the complex course catalog and slowly making changes while I offer pointers. For someone who knows the catalog inside and out, it’s slightly maddening, like playing Candy Land with a 5 year-old. The process will be messy, the end result often imperfect, and the whole experience mildly frustrating (yet satisfying) for the student.

  2. Just do it for them. I can make a four-year plan in ten minutes, maybe less. I can crank one out quickly and perfectly, while the student sits and watches.

The temptation to do this is nearly overwhelming, but it’s not what’s best for the student. It results in a better product, yes, but what am I teaching my students when I plan out their lives for them?

  • Mistakes are bad.
  • Authority figures always know best.
  • When things get hard, someone will swoop in and do the work for you.
  • You’re not capable of taking charge of your own life.

It’s true in so many areas of life: the process, not the product, is the point.

It’s good to have a plan. It’s even better to make one.