Division of General Studies: Part 1

Hi all,

This semester will mark the end of  my first year as an advertising student. Before my junior year, I spent two years in DGS (Illinois’ designation for undecided students). While I’m happy with where I am, there are some things I wish I was aware of going in. I’ll be doing this in an easy-to-digest series, so here’s part one!

You don’t have to have a plan, but always be planning.

Don’t stress if you don’t know what you want to do. College is a great time not only to study what you love, but find out what you love! However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking for some kind of direction or theme in your life. Do you find yourself always helping people? Volunteering? Making videos? Itching to dance?

It’s important to know, because you need to do your research as soon as possible to avoid as many complications as possible. For instance, if you want to transfer to the College of Business, you need to have a competitive GPA (the admission rate for applicants with a GPA below a 3.61 is lower than 15%), you can only apply during a small window during the year, and having the right experience to back up your transfer application is important because business is very competitive to get into at Illinois. Additionally, while you only have to declare a major by your junior year like I did, for business, you must get in as a freshman. Do you research ASAP!

What kind of experience should you be looking for?

Leadership is pretty much universally appealing: It shows drive, passion, involvement, and intelligence. It’s hard to get leadership experience as a freshman, but if you practice your skills on your own, you can stand out in student organizations. For example, did you know the College of Media hosts our very own student award show, the Jammies? Students submit pieces in various categories of journalism, media and cinema, advertising, public relations and agricultural communications. Faculty and alumni then judge submissions, and winners receive a trophy and gift card at an awards show.


In general, working hard will help you stand out and taking the time to talk to student leaders after meetings will help your face seem familiar around the major. There’s plenty of students who just do the bare minimum of membership in clubs and disappear in the crowd; don’t be one of them. It’s not about sucking up or forcing yourself—it just shows you care.

Another example is in architecture. The program is very nuanced, and the path beyond undergrad is long and hard between required certifications, exams, long studio hours, and intern periods. You want to get started on classes and requirements as soon as you can. Taking required lower-level math classes, getting rid of your foreign language requirements by taking a language in high school for 3 years, and other things will help you be able to focus on major-specific courses.

Even if you don’t know for certain that this is the major for you, don’t be afraid to explore a general direction. Likely you can still graduate on time while taking a few miscellaneous classes. One thing that really helped me as a freshman was sitting in on high level courses of majors I was interested in; that really gave me a feel for the kind of people in the major, the professors, the language of the industry, and other things you won’t get in basic classes.

There’s also plenty of discovery programs. Illinois has a Discover Architecture program—I did it the summer of my junior year, and while it was pricey, it was a great experience and a nice introduction to the Illinois campus. It was intimidating though; others had some experience or could draw whereas my sketch books were filled with scribbles and I knew nothing. But I learned a lot about myself. I actually would be majoring in architecture right now if it weren’t for the terrible job outlook. My brother’s friend was nationally recognized as one of the best architecture students, but he hasn’t been able to find a job. Not to scare you, but sometimes other callings in life are a better fit. And just because it’s not your dream job doesn’t mean it can’t be fulfilling.

One of the UIUC architecture studio areas

That concludes Part 1: You don’t have to have a plan, but always be planning. I hope it was helpful! Comment below with what you want to hear, and I’ll see you next week with more!



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