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Better idea to stay in undergrad for 5 years?

  1. May 15, 2010 #1
    So I got to thinking....it might be better for me to delay graduation by a year..or maybe just a semester. But I need advice on this issue (and others) from a lot of different people, and I figured this is one of the places I should ask.

    I just finished sophomore year and I feel like I'm not doing "enough", I guess. Last summer I had a job in this place (U.S. army base, engineering offices there) but all I did was digitize and organize their huge hardly-organized file cabinet of records. This summer I'm going to spend 5 weeks studying at National Taiwan University in Taipei, but it wasn't with a program through my school (it's through the school in Taiwan instead, even though both schools are "partner schools") and it's pretty unlikely any credits will transfer. The credits aren't in my major anyway (math and computer science) but I can't help but think that this wasn't a good idea for this summer, even though I'd be kicking myself for the rest of my life if I didn't do this (and there really isn't a better alternative for this summer).

    So, like I said, I feel like I've really accomplished nothing. My grades especially this semester are pretty average (B in systems programming and I'm expecting one in probability theory) and I didn't do anything else really truly noteworthy. The organizations I'm in are nothing special and I didn't even do much in them because of my classes..really. That systems programming class, two of the programming assignments I got scores of around 50 because they made up new assignments this year and the only way to get good grades on them was to pull four all-nighters and technically break the rules (really..that's what happened. The only people who got relatively close to finishing it had to stay up all night multiple nights in a row, abandon their other classes, and help each other on what were supposed to be solo projects, but given their difficulty the course staff didn't care that much about how they had to work together a bit, but I decided that I wasn't going to put that much time into that one class and instead work on that one no more than the amount of time I worked on my other classes and also get enough sleep--which I have mixed feelings about doing).

    Anyway, I had a real revelation in April. I realized I was on the totally wrong track and I need to get on the right one. I think I may have made a little progress before, since I got a job "section leading" (basically undergrad TA) a discrete mathematics class next fall almost confirmed, and I have ideas of better organizations to join next year, but I feel that it's kind of too late unless I purposely delay graduation at least one more semester. I could easily get all my coursework done by spring 2012 even with taking Chinese class (which I really want to do, even though it eats up 20 credit hours of the up to 72 I have left in 4 semesters..but if I have to forgo doing that I will) but I'm starting to think it may be better to wait a little longer..that way I get to have two more summers after this one to do things I already should have been doing, more time to take coursework that I should take before even applying for graduate school (which I am nearly 90 percent sure I want to do), and more time to get involved in projects.

    So yeah, I'm pretty obviously not on the right track right now, but is this a good idea to get on it? Or is it more important to get done as fast as possible and get out of there? I know that with my bad summer choices so far I've screwed myself a little..but I think I might be able to not screw myself any further, for lack of better words, if I make the right decisions. But is this a good decision to make?

    Thanks a lot for taking the time to read this and help me.
    -Brian (Chetlin)
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2010 #2
    So you got this awesomely practical job experience doing something utterly useful that lots of companies need done. I don't see why this was a waste just 'cause it wasn't shiny.

    Again, where's the downside? You've got nothing better to do, so instead of sitting around watching TV, you're immersing yourself in a foreign culture and learning around the world. This is good for you so long as you know how to sell it.

    Stop beating yourself up over the crazy course that required you to go above and beyond. Everyone's had 'em and some guys were masochists and others weren't and it's just a part of the curriculum, so you deal and move on. Ok, so you probably won't get a rec from that professor, just make sure there are others who you can get recs from.

    *shrugs* Organizations don't matter much for grad school and only matter for jobs if you know how to sell 'em, so you should really only bother with 'em if you're actually passionate about 'em.

    So yeah, I don't see any red flags that scream that you're horribly off track. Your grades could be better, but as you're not getting C's your GPA is probably solid. I'd suggest you find yourself a research mentor, for two reasons: a) research looks good and all, b) a good one can give you a reality check on where you really stand for grad school applications. Unless you need to be out fast for financial reasons, there's no real reason to speed up the degree. I've never known anyone to be penalized for sticking around for 5 years, and it's becoming pretty common for engineers/science majors to hang around that long 'cause of the course requirements. Just take your time so that you can lighten your course loads and do better in each course.
    Last edited: May 16, 2010
  4. May 16, 2010 #3
    I guess so. I just compare what this is to what a lot of my friends did last summer, and this summer, and it seems like it's worth a lot less.

    The biggest downside other than the credit thing is that it's expensive..like I'm paying almost every cent I earned last summer to do this. But I will regret it forever if I don't because I'm never going to have an opportunity to do something like this again, and I'm not going to be financially in trouble afterward, and I can work all my life later and get the money back (plenty of opportunities for that, only once ever for this one).

    I feel like they're at least worth taking a look at..if I don't like them I can always leave.

    That's a good idea, thanks :) the instructors who taught that crazy course also told us to write to them if we were considering research of any kind, so even though I didn't do the hottest in their class, I figure it's at least worth it to write something to them. If nothing else they'll refer me to someone "better" (since I really don't share either of their research interests at all). They seemed really eager to help us with that though so I'm sure they'll be nice about it.

    Thanks a lot for replying..it did make me feel better :)
  5. May 17, 2010 #4
    Man, just don't do stuff like that. You really don't have the framework to measure worth, and some of the coolest sounding projects are downright trivial to people who know what's involved in them, so relax and get whatever you tackle done and you'll be fine.

    There are scholarships floating around for this sort of thing; see if any deadlines haven't passed.
  6. May 18, 2010 #5
    I agree with Story. It doesn't seem like you're in that bad of a spot. Given your summer job may not have been all you had hoped for you can still sell that you worked for an engineering office. I know plenty of people that don't have any type of work experience. Not to mention you have shown that you have great communication skills by studying in another country that doesn't even speak englinsh. I actually studied abroad and it provides some great talking points. And are you sure you can't get any credit for your university classes even though your university and the foreign one are partner schools? Generally, the reason why international schools become partners is to make it easier to transfer credits. The school I studied abroad at was not a "partner" with my home school but I was still given credit for my classes. I would certainly think you could get credit for Talk to the international affairs department at your school or your adviser, hopefully they can figure something out.

    btw, I would definitely try hard to find some type of research position, that's the type of thing that grad schools really look for.
    Hope that helps out and good luck!

    edit: I realized I didn't answer you original question about extending your undergrad. And my answer is probably not. I don't think you need an extra summer and there's no guarantee you'll be able to find that perfect summer job anyway.
  7. May 21, 2010 #6
    All right, thanks everyone..I guess I probably won't extend to a ninth or tenth semester, but the chance is always there.

    It's so hard not to though. Especially now since GPA's just came out for this past semester and mine was less than stellar (although other people I've talked to said that their cumulative GPA's went down quite a bit too). Most people have one pretty bad semester right? I can't let this happen next semester. I'm trying to blame it on other things like how I just don't particularly like systems programming or probability theory and that I will get better grades next year when I take graph theory and the theory of computation, but I'm not completely sure.

    Is it really that helpful though? I'm not taking any courses in math or CS there, just language and culture, and it's only for a summer. Do graduate schools like it when people have any kind of experience with foreign universities?

    Thanks again,
  8. May 22, 2010 #7
    I know, but it's not even worth it. I had one friend with a steller record get turned down by almost every school he applied, only started hearing back from one once he won an NSF, and ended up with an offer from a lab (at an Ivy) that came to present at our school. Meanwhile, I've got another friend with a seemingly less impressive record who got into a spectacular program. It's all so incredibly random and highly political. For the record, the guy who came across as less shiny actually knows his stuff much better.

    Yes, especially early on. So long as you improve, you should be fine. You also need to cope with classes/professors/teaching methods you don't like, as you'll always have those and can't use "I didn't like it" as an excuse for doing poorly.

    So, the grad school has a very small say in your admission. They check if you meet some baseline criteria, then pass your file off to the professors in your chosen department, and the professors choose their students. It may help you if the professor has strong ties to that foreign university and it may not matter much either way. You'll seriously lose your mind if you try to plan your career around what looks good for grad school, 'cause a good part of it is completely out of your hands.
  9. May 22, 2010 #8
    To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how grad schools look at foreign study. My guess is that it is not a major criteria, but if you're even with other students on other levels, it might be something to put you over the top. For what its worth, it can't hurt.
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