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Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137
Laramie, WY 82071
Phone: (307) 766-2929
Published April 24, 2023
Discover what you need to know about academics — from advising to choosing a major and finding resources.
Choose a Major
When you tell someone you’re in college, their next question is usually: “What’s your major?” This leaves many students feeling pressured to pick a major before they even apply. However, up to half of UW freshman change majors. That’s why UW offers the exploratory studies track for incoming students. Students in exploratory studies can choose from six big-picture categories and begin exploring their interests with advising from the Advising, Career and Exploratory Studies (ACES) office. In addition to exploring through general education coursework and electives, students are encouraged to partake in experiential learning to help find their passions.
Cowboy Coach Abigail Fry suggests doing job shadows, where you learn about a career by talking to and following people in that career. “I always knew I wanted to work in health care, and after shadowing my local pharmacies in high school, I knew pharmacy was the right fit for me,” she says.
Freshman Trinity Nesser of North Powder, Ore., agrees: “I had no idea what I wanted to major in my senior year of high school, but thankfully I was able to do different job shadows, and those really helped me pick elementary education.”
Many of the students we interviewed emphasize it’s OK to switch majors. “When I first came to the university, I was a kinesiology major with intent to go into physical therapy,” says Cowboy Coach Avery O’Brien. “After my first semester, I decided the health care field wasn’t for me.” He ended up switching to finance (real estate minor). Luckily, UW has many majors and minors, he says, allowing you to find what interests you.
David Stotzer, a junior from Albuquerque, N.M., came into college undeclared and started exploring through his courses and internships. Those experiences led him to eventually decide on majoring in economics and marketing (honors minor). (Read more about his internships here.)
When do you need to pick a major? Adviser Carly Page says that by the end of your first full academic year, it’s good to have a general idea of what you’re interested in and to lock in your major by the second year. While you can change majors later in your college career, it will likely mean tacking on time to get the courses completed.
“Personally, I don’t want students to get too hung up on the fact that a specific major leads to a specific career,” Page says. While this is true of certain careers like nursing, many careers today are accessible from a variety of majors. “For example, my degrees are in criminal justice and environment and natural resources, and I went straight into higher education,” Page says. “The life skills you learn while going through college and earning your degree can be transferable to so many different careers. Earning a degree opens up a lot of doors and opportunities for students.”
Make the Most of Advising
Your adviser will help you, as a student, register for classes and meet requirements, but that’s just the beginning. Advisers can also help you find resources and solutions to challenges. The more you communicate with your adviser and come to your appointments prepared, the more you can get out of the experience.
“Part of the process is to talk about what classes you need, but it’s the conversations and relationship you can build where so much more insight can come in,” says Advising Career and Exploratory Studies Academic Advising Manager Rebecca Despain. For example, share with your adviser your interests and what experiences you are looking for.
Cowboy Coach Emily Powell agrees: “I would recommend learning about your adviser and being intentional about those meetings. They are there to help you succeed academically, and they want you to succeed.”
Senior Toby Covill of Pinedale, Wyo., who is majoring in biology with a concentration in ecology and evolution (honors and geology minors), says, “Come prepared with information and topics you want to discuss when you meet with your adviser.”
Cowboy Coach Peyton O’Dougherty explains that advisers are also there to help when you run into challenges: “You can communicate with an adviser before anyone else, and they can guide you with next steps as well as provide resources.” She also suggests asking questions and requesting a four-year plan to stay on track throughout college.
Transfer student and senior Perlene Keller, a psychology major (honors minor) from Worland, Wyo., suggests talking to your adviser about your longer-term goals: “They are experts in their fields — connect with them regarding your professional dreams and aspirations.”
Lastly, make sure you’re aware of your registration time each semester, and be prepared, as classes can fill up quickly. Don’t wait until the last minute to make your advising appointments.
Find Academic Success
No one is good at everything, and succeeding in college requires different skills and study habits than excelling in high school. Luckily, UW is home to many resources, as well as caring faculty and staff who want you to succeed. From tutoring to counseling and many offerings in between, you can find the help you need.
Disability Support Services: “I have ADHD, and I struggle with things such as timeliness and focusing, so I have had to find ways to be successful,” says transfer student and senior Perlene Keller. “Utilize Disability Support Services on campus! They can provide accommodations for classes, and that helps alleviate the burdens you may face.” (Read Keller’s story here and here.) Learn more about Disability Support Services at www.uwyo.edu/udss.
Tutoring: “Throughout my time on campus, I utilized tutoring on multiple occasions,” says Cowboy Coach Emily Powell. “It helped me out a lot when it came to classes like biology and organic chemistry.” Use the Penji app to find and book appointments, Powell advises. Learn more about free tutoring resources and supplemental instruction at www.uwyo.edu/step.
Math and writing centers: At the Center for Assistance with Statistics and Mathematics (www.uwyo.edu/mathstats/casm) and the Writing Center (www.uwyo.edu/writing-center), students can receive free math and writing help. “My favorite academic resource I have used at UW has to be the Writing Center,” says freshman Trinity Nesser. “I took almost all of my papers there for review, and the tutors were so helpful.”
Counseling: Sometimes academic challenges aren’t from the coursework itself but from anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. These affect many students, and UW provides free confidential resources, including the University Counseling Center (www.uwyo.edu/ucc).
Student Success Services: First-generation students, students with limited income and students with disabilities can apply to become part of the Student Success Services program funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The program helps with academic success, university connectedness, financial literacy and post-graduation and career planning. Learn more at www.uwyo.edu/seo/sss.
These are just a few of the many resources available on campus.
Take initiative: Unlike high school, most of your studying won’t be assigned homework but instead self-driven initiative to read, review and apply the material. Even before the semester starts, look over all course materials on WyoCourses and get organized using apps, electronic calendars and reminders, or a paper planner — whatever works best for you.
Learn time management: For every credit hour, plan for three to four hours of studying outside of class. “You may think you might have a lot of free time now that you’re in college, but you should devote much of that time to studying, or you may find yourself falling behind in your classes,” says Cowboy Coach Grant Dillivan.
“When I started as a freshman, I learned just how important time management is,” says Cowboy Coach Sarah Griner. “It can be very hard to maintain a healthy balance between social life, work life and your personal life, so I have found that setting aside time each day in the morning or afternoon solely meant for studying worked best for me. My favorite place to study and get work done is on campus at either the library or in the Enzi STEM Building.”
Figure out what works for you: “One of the most important keys to success in college is learning how you study best and figuring out how to manage your time appropriately,” says Cowboy Coach Karissa Kiser. “A good tip is to utilize all your resources like tutoring, supplemental instruction, meeting with your professors and studying with peers. The more exposure you have to each of these, the better you can gauge what works for you and what doesn’t, and then you can start to develop useful, efficient and effective studying skills.”
Go to office hours: “I really enjoyed going to my professors’ office hours,” says Cowboy Coach Abigail Fry. “The professors genuinely care about your success and love to help students in areas they might be struggling in.”
Graduate With Honors
Incoming students from all majors can apply to join the UW Honors College and earn a minor in honors. The Honors College offers small unique transdisciplinary classes, a strong sense of community, priority registration, great housing, education-abroad options, and increased opportunities for research, internships and presenting work at national conferences.
“What I love about honors is all the unique opportunities it provides for students,” says Cowboy Coach Grant Dillivan. “During my time in honors, I have been able to participate in incredible study-abroad courses, take classes on brand-new subjects I’ve never studied before, be involved in my first book club, attend conferences, and make meaningful connections with a community of like-minded students and faculty.”
Senior Toby Covill agrees: “I love how interdisciplinary it is. You get a lot of people from all sorts of majors, so you get to see a wide breadth of perspectives and beliefs.”
Learn more at www.uwyo.edu/honors.
Harness Your Gen Ed Requirements
In college, your first two years will largely be devoted to general education requirements. Most requirements, however, have multiple options available. You can use these options wisely to either explore your interests or, in some cases, knock out a course that’s also required for your specific major.
“A lot of our general education requirements can be a double dip for a major,” says Advising Career and Exploratory Studies Senior Academic Advising Professional Carly Page. “That’s a nice way to knock out a requirement and start to build major requirements.”
However, if you haven’t chosen a major or want to explore, these requirements are also a great place for that. “Look at your general education requirements as a fun way to experience something different, especially for our exploratory studies students,” Page says. “You can dip your toes into areas you’re not sure about. If you like it, you can pursue it further.”
Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137
Laramie, WY 82071
Phone: (307) 766-2929