The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Weekly SBS Pathways Tips

5 Frequently Asked Questions to Start Your Spring Semester

1. How can I tell if I'm "on track?"

You may have heard that "full-time status" is 12 credits and, technically, that's true. Dropping under 12 credits in any semester brings you to part-time status and can have serious consequences in terms of financial aid, housing, and visa status (for international students). But 12 credits per semester is only part of the picture.

Twelve credits per semester won't get you to graduation in four years. In fact, you'll need to average 15 credits per semester - or 30 credits per year - to accumulate the 120 credits required to graduate in four years. Because not all courses carry the same number of credits, you may have 17 credits one semester, 14 credits the next semester, and 15 credits the next. That's fine, as long as you earn an average of 30 credits per year.

Every student has a personal path and timeline, but it's important to know that students who accumulate 30 credits per year are more likely to graduate - at all - than those who take fewer. So keep your eye on your credit totals so that you don't fall short of your goals.

2. The first week is over: Can I still add or drop a class?

Technically, you can add, drop, or swap until Monday, February 5. But that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea. Here's what you need to consider:

On the one hand, you want to get the schedule that's just right for you, and if you need to make adjustments, it's better to do it now than to do poorly in a class or withdraw (W) later when it's too late to add something else to your spring schedule. On the other hand, classes are well underway. Unless you've been attending the class you want to add, enrolling now will mean you're starting with several absences, a great deal of missed material, and possibly missed homework assignments.

If you do decide to change classes, follow this advice from SBS students and advisors:

  • Check Your Schedule. Look at your overall credits. If adding a course will bring your semester total above 19 credits, SPIRE won't add you; you'll need to drop or swap. If dropping a class will bring your total below 12, you won't be full time. 
  • Talk to the Instructor. If you'd like to add, email the instructor and attend class to ask if it's okay to do so. In some courses, it's fine, but in others, you may have missed too much material. If you do get to add, be sure to visit the instructor or teaching assistant's (TA) office hours for advice about getting up to speed.
  • Consult Your Advisor. You don't need to see an advisor to change your schedule, but if you're unsure of the implications, make an appointment with your departmentalor SBS Exploratory Track (ET) advisor or consult with a Peer Advisor (PA). 

Swap - Don't Drop. If you drop a class without adding a new one at the same time, you could get shut out of both classes if SPIRE fills those slots before you get in. Use the swap function instead so that you won't lose your place in your existing class if the one you're hoping to add is full or you don't meet eligibility. 

3. How can I improve my grades (or keep them up)?

Maybe you hit it out of the park last semester. Maybe you didn't. Either way, this semester marks a brand new beginning, and it's critical to start off strong. It may be tempting to ease back into academics slowly, prioritizing your social life and assuming you'll catch up later. But waiting even a week to get going can leave you behind, scrambling to catch up. This is the perfect time to review the SBS e-Tips we sent you last semester on getting a strong start, avoiding common pitfallsgetting the most out of classes, taking college-level reading and lecture notesorganizing your time, finding help on campus, preparing strategically for exams and papers, and more.

Here are a few key reminders:

  • Learn each syllabus and Moodle site. Even if your instructor walked you through the syllabus on the first day of class, review each one carefully and put topics, exams, and assignment due dates in your calendar now.
  • Dive right into your readings and assignments. Don't wait to start reading, working on assignments, and blocking out larger projects. Deadlines come up quickly, and you need to be up-to-date on your work.
  • Participate in class. If the course structure allows it, raise you hand to ask questions, offer input, and engage in discussions. You'll not only enjoy class more, but you'll also retain what you've learned.
  • Get to know your instructors and TAs. Visiting your instructors and teaching assistants will let them know that you're invested in the class and will make it easier to seek help when you need it. Not sure what to say? Ask a clarifying question about the lecture, or just let them know that you're enjoying the class and looking forward to learning more. 

Get help early. Don't wait until you've fallen behind to get help. Check out the tutoring options at the Learning Resource Center (LRC), see your professor or TA, talk to your advisor, or start or join a study group. There's lots of help for you on this campus - you just need to reach out.

4. I'm not feeling connected yet - What can I do?

It's easy to get the feeling that everyone starts college by diving into fun and meaningful friendships, whether in their dorms or through other involvements. But the truth is that it often takes some time to form those connections, and if that's your situation, you're definitely not alone. People who live on a floor with a lively sense of community may have many built-in opportunities to socialize, but if you commute or live on a quieter floor, it may be more challenging. It really is true that everyone eventually "finds their people," but to help you get there, try these suggestions from experienced SBS students who have been in your shoes:

  • Join a new clubClubs are great ways to meet other students with similar interests. If you're looking for opportunities for ongoing connections, consider clubs that involve discussions or working together on a project, rather than just attending weekly club meetings. Don't assume you can't join mid-year. Most clubs are always looking for new members.
  • Connect with campus organizations. You can find a sense of camaraderie through campus groups and organizations like CMASS, the Stonewall Center, the Center for Women and Community (CWC) the campus cultural centers, and our own SBS Academic Fellows Program (AFP), for first-generation and ALANA SBS students. 
  • VolunteerVolunteering in the community is a great opportunity to do good while also meeting other kind-hearted students. There's nothing like chatting while cooking a meal for a shelter, working on a clothing or food drive, or raking leaves for a community member to break the ice. Whether it's an ongoing program or a series of one-time projects, volunteering is a great way to connect and spark friendships. 
  • Get involved in your department. If you've already declared a major, see if your department has a club you can join. Many SBS majors have clubs or offer study breaks, film screenings, or discussions. Don't worry if you don't have someone to go with - it's perfectly fine to introduce yourself and join right in. The point of groups like the Comm Club, the Economics Club, the Legal Studies Undergraduate Board (LSUB), and others is to connect students to the department and one another. 

If you're struggling with feeling disconnected or that second wave or homesickness that often comes after Winter Break, don't hesitate to reach out to an RA or peer advisor (they've been in your shoes), your advisor, or a counselor at the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health (CCPH) or the Center for Women and Community (CWC).

5. What should I be thinking about in my second semester?

Great question! It's easy to get lost in the day-to-day business of your classes, homework, jobs, and social life, but it's important to keep your eyes on the big picture. One of the great things about SBS Pathways is that in addition to supporting you with resources like these e-Tips, it's a framework for helping you to build, reflect on, and integrate all of the dimensions of your education:

  • Academics: your major(s), minor or certificate possibilities, and curricular choices
  • Co-curriculars: clubs, sports, leadership opportunities, and volunteering
  • Experiential Learning: study abroad or domestic exchange, community engaged service learning, teaching assistantships (TA), and research or production projects
  • Professional Development: internships, job shadowing, networking, job fairs, work experience, and professional development workshops

Think of yourself as having your own personal "SBS Pathways" folder with a file for each dimension. Spend some time now considering the experiences and skills you'd like to cultivate in each area so you can begin to develop a plan for this semester, next year, and beyond. Graduating with interesting accomplishments in each "file folder" will position you well to pursue meaningful career possibilities. And it will make you a much more interesting, effective, and fulfilled person, now and in your future. 

SBS Pathways is an integrated approach designed to guide you along yourchosen pathways to student success. From your First Year Seminar, to holistic advising, to career and professional development, SBS Pathways supports you in developing your own vision of success, setting goals, and cultivating the skills, insights, and experiences you'll need to bring them to life - now, and in your life beyond UMass.

Want to learn more? Visit an advisor in your SBS department or the SBS Advising Resource Center (128 Thompson). If you're an ALANA or first-generation college student in SBS, join the Academic Fellows Program (AFP) for events, resources, and a supportive community that promotes diversity, leadership, and academic success.

Previous SBS Pathways Tips

Welcome to UMass. Now What?

Start Your Spring Semester Strong

Finish Your Semester Strong!

Finals in College are Different

Registration Essentials

Ready for Registration?

What's Your Plan?

Need to Improve Your Test Scores?

People on Campus You Should Know

6 Tips to Stay On Top of Tests and Assignments

Get More out of Lecture Classes

Take Your Notes to the Next Level

5 Ways to Get the Most from Your Classes

Things I Wish I'd Known

5 Tips to Start the Semester Off Strong