Advising 101: How to graduate on time

By Allison Jarboe, Features Edtitor

Preston Morris / The Bison 

Whether it’s to graduate early, squeeze in another major or minor or simply to graduate at all—students need to understand how to plan their college career and avoid common misconceptions regarding graduation and class requirements.

So here’s a small crash course—we’ll call it Advising 101—to hopefully set you on your way to a successful, directed and timely career at OBU.


Alyssa Sperrazza, junior communications major, explained that she is working on graduating a semester early to save money and to get a jumpstart on work, and planned on earning some classes outside of OBU. “I’m not a lover of math and science,” Sperrazza admitted. “So when I heard I could take a test to get out of those classes I immediately wanted to do it.”

However, when Sperrazza first plan of action fell through, she realized she had to quickly come up with alternative options.

“I’m a very Plan A person, so I hope my first plan is going to work, and if it doesn’t, I’ll wing it from there.”

Carrie Myles, Executive Director of The Milburn Center and Director of Academic Advising said that there are many similar situations that are brought to her attention all the time.

“There’s not really one most common misconception,” she said. “It’s something different every day, which is part of why I like my job; I like a good puzzle.”

Emmalee Ewbank, sophomore worship arts major, had a different scheduling issue arise in her sophomore year.

“The conflict came up because there was an accident in scheduling when looking at my degree plan,” Ewbank explained. “We didn’t realize it until sophomore year, after I hadn’t taken a prerequisite my freshman year.”

Sperrazza agreed that scheduling is a common problem for students.

“It’s hard because you hear multiple answers from multiple people, so it can cause panic sometimes,” she said. “I think it’s confusing that some things count for hours and some things don’t, so it’s difficult to keep track of what is accurate.”


“I think something that students often don’t know early in their academic career is that no matter what, you have to earn 128 hours to get out of here,” Myles said. She explained that there are some degree programs that allow students to complete the common core, the flex core, the major, and a minor, and “check all the boxes,” but if they still don’t have 128 hours, they aren’t completed with their degree. Many degree programs require students to take some elective hours in order to get to that 128 to graduate. Regardless of anything else, to earn a degree here at OBU, students must have a minimum of 128 hours. “That’s really one of the things that I try to emphasize from the beginning: 128 hours, no matter what. Degree checks help with that. You can do an official degree check through the office your junior year, and you still have time to fill in those gaps if you need to.”

Myles explained that most majors outside the sciences consists of three credit hour courses, so if students take five courses they have a 15-hour semester, but in order to stay on track, each year would need 32 hours. “Somewhere you have to compensate for that,” Myles said. “A more than required PE credit—like taking walk jog multiple semesters, you’re not paying extra and you’re getting one more credit.”

Those classes are easy to throw in, or there may be some students who take a one-hour art or music class. There are a variety of ways to find that extra hour or compensate by taking the course.


Sperrazza said that she utilized her break to study for a course she could test out of.

“I spent all Christmas break teaching myself AP biology which, oddly, I enjoyed slightly, but that didn’t prevent me from not wanting to take a whole semester of it,” she said.

For many students, winter or summer break are great times to knock out hours they would rather not spend taking a course during the semester.


“Depending on when we notice – if we’re able to plan ahead – we know early on that to reach 128, we need 32 a semester,” Myles said.

“So we can use J-Term if needed to fulfill that.” For some students, they can take 16 in the fall, 16 in the spring. “But for some, they perform better taking 13 or 14 hours—so they take one or two J term classes to compensate.”


Sperrazza said that she is currently taking taking 18 hours, and “I felt overwhelmed suddenly” at the idea of having to do an overload of classes next semester as well.

Some students are able to juggle the extra hours and handle the extra cost, but some need to look for alternatives.

“If it’s crunch time, and we’re at the end, we want to prevent an overload of hours if we can, because financially it’s a better situation for the student,” Myles explained.


“It felt like a huge weight was lifted when I found out that the CLEP exams would count for those hours I needed,” Sprerrazza said.

Credit by exam is a decent option for a lot of students. However, Myles usually tries to advise students that they have to have an adequate amount of knowledge in a particular subject area in order to perform on the CLEP exam.

“I encourage students to think about a few things,” she said, explaining that if students are going to do credit by exam, the sooner the better, because if it does not work out, they still have time to take that course if they need to. 

“I don’t like it for students to be banking on CLEP credit during their senior year, just in case it falls through.”

CLEP does have some good resources. On its website there are five or ten sample questions from a test, and students can get a gauge, look at the questions and figure out if the material is something they are already proficient in.

Myles stated that OBU also wants to make sure that, no matter what, a student has the skills they need from those foundation classes where a CLEP test would come into play.

“We don’t want them to be surprised by content later on in their degree if they choose to clep out of a course instead of take the class at OBU.”


Sperrazza said that she recommends taking a deep breath and sitting down with an advisor and the academic center. 

“Clarify as much as possible and if you have any doubts, confirm those immediately,” she said.

“You’ll sleep easier, I promise.”

Myles affirmed the fact that OBU has a good system of resources for students “between myself, faculty advisors, and departments, Teri Walker, who does the formal degree checks.”

Every semester, students have to meet with someone, either Myles, or their faculty advisor, in order to get their PIN number for registration—so every semester holds that opportunity to check how one’s degree is looking.

“Everyone is human, so it’s important to have multiple people in the conversation as students take ownership of that,” Myles encouraged.

“If someone doesn’t notice something, someone else likely will, so we have a good network.”

Each semester it is good for students to be thinking about their overall degree progress.

“My advisor and professors did their best working things around to help me fulfill this course, have been so gracious, and have worked their hardest to resolve the issue I had,” Ewbank said.

“So I’ve had to drop a few classes that I wasn’t planning on dropping, and am taking a summer course to meet a requirement, but ultimately my new schedule will be best for me, and I’m happy with where I’m headed.”


Sperrazza said that she is excited to not be taking an overload of classes her senior year.

“I feel like that’s the time to enjoy being in a close setting with some of your friends for the last time,” she said. “I want to soak in every moment before going out from OBU. It’s such a relief to know I won’t have to overwhelm myself trying to graduate in December.  It was going to be possible before, but now with my alternatives, I feel like I’ll actually enjoy myself.”

“We need to be paying attention to not only the number of hours, but also the sequencing of hours and how each relates to a major or requirement or prerequisite,” Myles said.

From the beginning, the most important part is that a student takes ownership of his or her academic journey. Some of that is exploration for undeclared majors, or earning hours to the end goal of a degree, “but there is a big importance in students finding and recognizing their goals, and connecting with systems and resources that are in place to guide that process,” as Myles concluded.

Taking ownership of a degree plan, and having the flexibility and resourcefulness to consider alternatives when necessary, are learned skills, and luckily, OBU has a system in place that won’t leave students trailing behind on their own.

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