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Should I take an extra (extra) year?
May 16, 2014 11:27 PM   Subscribe

Please help me navigate the final stretch of undergrad. Mountain of details (for a relatively small decision) inside.

Background: This September I will be entering my fifth year of a mechanical engineering degree program in Canada. Most of my cohort has either just graduated (May 2014) or will be graduating in May 2015 (co-op program).

The complicating factor in my situation is that I want to take extra coursework for a minor in linguistics. (Long story short: took an intro course to satisfy arts requirements, went "holy crap this is what I have been thinking about and looking for my whole life", have subsequently taken several more courses and have been super engaged and done very well.)

Option 0 (no longer feasible): Take an extra four month term (Sept-Dec) to finish up requirements. Spend the intervening summer on co-op, save some money to hopefully cover most of my costs for the extra term. Graduation in January 2015. Unfortunately, this option has proved to be impossible due to course conflicts (unsurprisingly, the ME and LING departments do not go out of their way to accommodate each other's courses.)

Option 1 (take another full year): Take an extra two terms (Sept-May) and spread everything out. I have everything plotted out for the next academic year, but there is still uncertainty regarding conflicts in the year -- the idea is that it should be easier to make fit 3-4 courses per term compared to 5-6. Graduation in May 2016.

Option 2 (drop the minor): Just plow through all of my ME requirements and call it a day (with one extra course that I need to make up from last year). Graduation in May 2015.

Taking Option 2 would be the path of least resistance -- I already know that the course scheduling all works out, I grit my teeth and power through a heavy first term, and, barring any major catastrophes, I walk across the stage with all my classmates. If I take Option 1, there are some things to consider:

Money: I am currently ~16k in debt, having taken out government student loans for the first couple years and then managing to get by with extremely frugal living, parents willing to let me live rent-free, and money from co-op. By this September I should have saved enough to live on for the next eight months. At that point, unless I seriously luck out with next summer's co-op (or hold my nose and take some of that tar sands money) I will have to take out at least a few thousand more in loans to get me through to graduation.

Learning/Personal Development: Taking that intro linguistics class three years into my degree was the first time I genuinely felt excited by something I was learning. I've lost count of the times where I'll excitedly relay some fact that I learned in, like, phonology class to my friends who are willing to humour me. I understand that, assuming that I go into something at least tangentially ME-related post-graduation (whenever that may be), I will have very little chance of actually using any of the knowledge I have gained, but that doesn't really matter to me. All of that said, I'm not the sort of person who is self-motivated/disciplined enough without actual meatspace instructors/peers to help me keep on top of things, which sort of rules out things like MIT OCW (though I suppose I could give it another try).

The extra time: I don't know. A lot of people (particularly folks older than me) have been all, "You're going to spend the next 40 years of your life working, what's the rush?" and such, which, yeah, I hear that, but I hope they can appreciate that, from where I'm standing, it's just a bit of a bummer to watch all your friends move onto the next thing in their lives while you're still stuck doin' the same old thing. Which is something I would have had to deal with in Option 0 anyway, but for some reason one extra term seems a lot more bearable than One! Whole! Year!. Aughh.

Uncertainty: Okay, I am pretty bad at living with risk and uncertainty (as this whole AskMe, as well as the spreadsheet I have created with multiple possible paths and permutations of courses will attest to). There is a non-zero chance that this exact same thing (course conflicts) will happen next year, even with the reduced number of courses per term. Which would be pretty disappointing.

So, um, I guess my question is: what do you think of my options? Are there other factors to think about that I've missed? Tips on how to get administrators to bend the "zero course conflict" rule? (hah.) Thanks for reading.
posted by btfreek to Education (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you considered Option 3? Finishing your ME and getting a masters/PhD in speech science? You'd probably have to take some leveling courses to any place you are accepted, but you could apply your engineering learning and work with language. Just a thought.
posted by Brent Parker at 11:31 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Speech science is a blowing-up field. Mechanical engineering is also a blowing-up field. Where I work right now we would absolutely die for candidates who have expertise in these fields. Most definitely for interdisciplinary passion.

It's hard to lose the social aspects of your cohort moving on before you. But if you have passion in these fields and you can pursue the dual degree with relatively low debt, please do. There awaits a world of opportunity for people with deep multidisciplinary expertise.
posted by SakuraK at 12:36 AM on May 17


You're an engineer and seem like a smart cookie, I wouldn't worry about the money -- do what makes you happy. I would try to find a departmental advocate -- a Director of Undergraduate Studies if they exist, a sympathetic Registrar representative, or a professor who thinks what you want to do is awesome. Many universities have them, and they may be able to put a plan in writing that will give you what you want without the uncertainty. You could also talk to the professor you expect to teach the class next year, maybe they can give you a heads-up that they will be on sabbatical, etc.

Good luck!
posted by tintexas at 2:46 AM on May 17


At least here in the US, a minor is pretty meaningless. It indicates that you have an interest in something outside your major, but you can easily say that you completed significant coursework in linguistics and for other people (employers), that's likely to be just as good. If you're just doing it for yourself, rather than focusing on completing the requirements for the minor, why not just take whatever other coursework you can squeeze in, graduate on time, and then continue your linguistics education with ME degree in hand? You could audit courses in your spare time or find other classroom learning opportunities. If you find that your work is taking you in a direction that requires you to have an actual linguistics degree, you could consider going back for a master's.
posted by chickenmagazine at 4:05 AM on May 17 [9 favorites]


I think you should go with Option 2. Sometime soon, your folks are going to want all their birds to successfully fly the nest, and have the house (and extra money) to themselves. Sometime soon, you need to enter the workforce and start a career, start paying down that debt, and maybe even start a family of your own. Six years for a Bachelors degree is just too long. Finish up quickly and get on with the next stage of your life.
posted by Houstonian at 5:33 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


The money isn't mainly tuition, it's opportunity cost. You will forever be one year behind in work experience and salary earned; your last year of salary is probably pretty high. Teachers are nice, but I'd just get the syllabus on the courses and read the materials in my free time.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:39 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to point out the existence of the field of computational linguistics, which you may be interested in.
posted by deathpanels at 6:30 AM on May 17


In my experience, minors are pretty useless, unless you're using it to fulfill prerequisites for a graduate program. If you want to do a linguistics career, look into the specific educational requirements and follow that path. A handful of vaguely-related courses in undergrad won't mean much to an employer. If I were you I'd focus really hard on getting some real life experience with the linguistics stuff (can you do it for co-op? or volunteering if you have to, or at a bare minimum talking to people in the field) because often careers look nothing like the coursework.

I'd strongly suggest option 2. Paying thousands of dollars more and investing another year of your life (and missing salary for that year) to take classes that are essentially for fun isn't a wise strategy for someone already in debt.

IF you look into the career path and it turns out a minor will actually allow you to enter the field, or give you prerequisites for grad school, disregard everything I just said.
posted by randomnity at 8:34 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


To me, debt is a bigger and more solid life-disadvantage than the ephemeral life-advantage of having a minor. Finish your degree as soon as possible then feel free to pursue linguistics afterwards in your own time, audit classes, etc. Don't go into debt for it unless you're going to get a degree out of it.
If a job listing calls for some linguistics, you note in your resume that you studied linguistics while at university, and have continued studying it since then.
posted by anonymisc at 12:44 PM on May 17


Can you get two degrees? In my uni its just course requirements and 30 hours above the 1st degree (mine was 128 credits and 158 cumulative) my course requirements for the second fit in perfectly. However I planned it from the get go and chose all my course s carefully. I also had special scheduling privileges which helped. Employers seem to like that I have two degrees.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:33 PM on May 17


Nobody cares about your minor except for you. How much will you care about it ten years from now?
posted by oceanjesse at 2:46 PM on May 17


Thanks to everyone who's responded so far -- especially those injecting some much-needed pragmatism into my plans. After some thought, I agree that taking an extra year and extra debt for what is essentially just "fun" is probably not a good idea. I think that for now I'll go with Option 2, work for a bit and then revisit this in a few years with an eye to graduate studies, depending on how I feel then (the idea of auditing classes never occurred to me, somehow!) There'll be a bit of a sad moment when I go to inform the administration I'm dropping the minor, but I'm sure I'll feel much better come next spring :)
posted by btfreek at 6:07 PM on May 17


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