Tips and Resources for Navigating Spring Semester Transitions

IMG_7718As students and families reconnect over winter break, grades are published and students start planning for the Spring semester ahead. Based on recent conversations on the UMass Amherst Family to Family Facebook page here is a quick overview of 4 topics that parents/families and students may want to consider discussing at this point in the academic year.

Topic #1: Roommate and Housing Changes

It is not unusual for a roommate to move out due to a move off campus, study abroad, or any number of reasons.  Similarly, your student may opt to change rooms and residence halls or might decide to move off campus.  It can be confusing as to how these changes impact second semester room and board charges.  The Residential Life web page details the specifics but, a few rules of thumb are important to consider:

  • If your student gives late notice for a move off campus, there will be a fee even if the move is due to illness, study abroad or moving home. The longer you wait to notify the school, the higher the fee so don’t delay.
  • If your student is changing between rooms of the same rate there is no fee but, housing charges can go up if they move into premium housing such as the Commonwealth Honors, North Apartments, or break housing. Costs can also change if they move from a double to a single.

If the roommate left during fall semester, your student may have had a temporary single but, don’t expect things to stay that way unless your student is offered and pays an extra fee to retain the room as a single.  UMass Amherst welcome’s hundreds of mid-year transfer and first-year students as well as study abroad and domestic exchange students.  Expect that empty bed to be filled at the beginning of the semester.

Topic #2:  Class Registration Changes

Most students completed Spring class registrations during the fall but, some may want to make changes before the new semester begins. In some cases, students want a different time slot or are hoping a closed class opens a spot.   In other cases, if a student earned a C- or lower in a class, they may opt to re-take it for a higher grade to replace the original grade in their GPA calculations, although the original grade will stay on the record.

Whether or not your student is 100% happy with their current class listing, it is vital that they be registered for a minimum of 12 credits in order to retain full time student status.  Without that, they can lose some financial aid and risk losing their right to live in the residence halls unless special arrangements are made.

Students who what to make changes can log into SPIRE and search for available slots.  Slots will open up in many classes but may quickly be grabbed so it pays to keep checking.  It is recommended to use the SWAP feature in SPIRE in order to ensure that the student retains at least 12 credits at all times.  The add/drop period extends through the first two weeks of class but, students are responsible for all work in a class — even if they start late.

If students are planning to change majors or add minors or second majors and need specific classes that have restricted availability, the student should reach out to their departmental advisor to ask if they can be approved to register. Students also need to make sure there are no holds on their account and be aware that SPIRE will not authorize a change that results in scheduling conflicts.

Finally, it is important to note that SPIRE is to be used by students – not parents/family members!  Parents/families are encouraged to discuss options and tradeoffs and help their student consider if the selected mix of classes makes sense in terms of majors and workloads but, it is up to the student to do the heavy lifting!

Topic #3 Declaring or Changing Majors

Many students entered UMass Amherst with a declared major while others started on an exploratory track.  All students must declare a major by the end of sophomore year, however, some majors – particularly science, engineering and business – often have predefined course sequences that build over time so waiting until the end of sophomore year may require the student to stay on at the school for more than 4 years to complete all requirements.

If your student is struggling to make a decision, the UMass Amherst Career Services office provides access to a number of self-assessment tools  that can help students explore career options and better understand the education requirements needed.

Each College within the University has its own specific process for meeting with advisors and declaring majors so, it is important to check in with departmental advisors and get the paperwork done.  If the student wants to move into a restricted major such as engineering, business, or computer science, they will need to work closely with the department to demonstrate that they have successfully completed the predictor courses and then follow the major’s application process.

It is not unusual for a student to have to apply more than once into very competitive majors so understanding the process and staying in communication with the department is important.

Topic #4 Joining the Commonwealth Honors College

While a number of freshmen are invited to join the Commonwealth Honors College at the time they are accepted to the University, many other students join after they arrive on campus.  Honors College students represent all majors and most departments offer dedicated Honor’s advisors and Honors colloquiums associated with upper level classes.

Current UMass Amherst students are eligible to apply to the Commonwealth Honors College if they have completed one full-time semester of 12 or more graded credits and earned an overall GPA of 3.400 or above at UMass Amherst.  Admission is competitive so meeting minimum eligibility requirements does not guarantee admission. Applications are rated on a) the quality and content of answers to application questions, b) writing skills, and c) the strength of GPA. The current application cycle closes January 9th but applications will also be taken in May 2017.  Upper classmen can apply to pursue Departmental Honors or Multi-disciplinary Honors. First-Year students can apply for the full Honors Curriculum.

Submitted by Mary Turner, the mom of a recently graduated UMass Amherst Economics major, Class of 2016 and a UMass Amherst sophomore geology major, Class of 2019