It’s that time of year…

The school year is now upon us. In anticipation of the advising comments I will give undergraduates during office hours, I have seven tips I give all my undergraduate advisees in a new Advising section on my web page:

  1. Acquire skills that are hard to get outside school. Use university to tech up. For anyone interested in international development, I strongly suggest at least two semesters of statistics and two semesters of economics. Other technical skills may come in handy, depending on your interests: international law, tropical medicine, accounting, etc. Now, once you’ve teched up…
  2. Learn how to write well. Take writing seriously. Consider a course in creative, prose, journalism, or business writing. Read books on writing. You won’t regret it.
  3. Focus on the teacher, not the topic. You will learn more from great teachers than great syllabi.
  4. When in doubt, choose the path that keeps the most doors open. Stick to large majors, seek out the ones with more job options at the end, and get your core mathematics training.
  5. Minimize languages and management classes. Languages are hugely valuable, but better learned in immersion, during your summers and holidays. Business and management skills are critical, but classrooms are poor places to get these skills. Again, use your summers to work in an NGO or the private sector.
  6. Take some small classes with professors who can write recommendations. If you are uninterested in grants or grad school, this advice is less relevant. If either interests you, however, you will need at least three high quality recommendations.
  7. If you don’t have to write a senior essay, don’t. That’s my personal opinion, not department policy. I seldom see senior essays that I think were worth the investment, and I think students’ time would be better spent acquiring technical skills (see point 1). If you do have to write a senior essay, here are my advising requirements.

Any disagreements? Or sage course advice I’m missing?

Update: Based on some of the responses below (especially to 7) I’ve reconsidered and adjusted my advising page.