Decoding the DARS: How I graduated a year early

The hardest part is over. You’ve applied, been accepted, and are ready to begin life as a Bobcat. Aside from all the excitement of giving your dorm room that personal touch, bonding with your roommate over  your newfound independence, and binge eating during that first trip to the dining hall, you suddenly realize that you’re here to obtain a degree. Enter the Degree Audit Reporting System, or DARS, and welcome to the Bible of your college career.

DARS Cheat Sheet. Use this to help decode what each symbol on the stars means.
DARS Cheat Sheet. Use this to help decode what each symbol on the stars means.

According to Ohio University, your DARS report is the official tool for tracking your academic progress, which analyzes degree requirements for a major, minor, or certificate according to the catalog year in which you entered the program. DARS reports are the printed results of the analysis. The DARS report displays the courses from which you must select in order to complete degree requirements, and it shows how the completed courses apply toward those requirements. In in simpler terms, the DARS is a report that tracks your progress to graduation based on the academic track you’ve chosen to embark on.

I’m going to explain the DARS step by step, because whether we like it or not, this little document full of random course titles and confusing phrases is the key to graduating. Uncover what those requirements mean, which options best fit you, and how to successfully turn each section from red to green.

  1. Locate the DARS 

 

2. University Requirements

 

3. Tiers

 

4. Course Requirements

 

5. In Progress Classes

 

6. Course Offerings

 

7. Free Electives 

 

8. Course Record

 

9. What-If DARS 

 

Go ahead and take a deep breath. You are now on your way to becoming a master of the DARS. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to your advisor, set up a time to meet, and relish in the comfort of knowing how to stay on track to graduation.

 

Recap: Advice From Advisors 

  1. Read your DARS carefully. Take time to sit down and read through your entire DARS.
  2. Plus (+) and minus (-) symbols appear next to each section on your DARS and provide a guide as to what you have completed and what you still need to complete before you can earn your degree.
  3. Also, pay attention under each area where it says NEEDS.  This is telling you exactly what you still need to complete, whether it’s a specific course or set of courses, or a certain number of credit hours.
  4. It’s always important to email your academic advisor if you have questions.  You can find your academic advisor in two places: 1) In your MyOhio Student Center portal and 2) on the left side of the first page of your DARS, located just beneath your GPA.
  5. If you need an appointment with your academic advisor, always be prepared for your appointment.  Print and bring a copy of your DARS if you can, come with a list of your questions and concerns and bring a paper and pen to write down the information your advisor gives you.
  6. Use the course catalog to look up required classes for every major, minor and certificate.  This is also a great way to check requisites for classes, so you can be sure you’re eligible to enroll in the class yourself.

 

Other Resources

Ohio University offers advising help in the Allen Center on the fourth floor of Baker Center Monday–Thursday, 8 a.m.–7 p.m and Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Other majors also offer walk-in advising during a specific block of time once a week, no appointment necessary. Check with your advisor for details.

 

 

How I finished my major in two years

Although college is set to be four years, more and more students are graduating late, often because of a lack of guidance. When I looked at my major requirements, I noticed the high amount of general education requirements (or gen eds if you will) needed to graduate. Additionally, a good number of the electives that I wanted to take required me to take prerequisites (pre-recs) that I had no use for.

The DARS system can be tricky to figure out, and it might be risky to take certain classes, but it’s not impossible to graduate early. By working the system, I was not only able to be on track to graduate a year early, but I was also able to finish my major sequence by the end of my Sophomore year, taking classes I wanted to on the side as well. I’ve found a few tips and tricks you can use to take the classes you want, ignore the ones you don’t, and possibly graduate a year early. But before you learn how to beat the system, you have several important steps to take:

 

  1. Set up a spreadsheet of your class requirements.

 

I know this seems like overkill, but by putting all the classes I needed in a spreadsheet, I was able to figure out what classes I needed to take when, and even if a class I needed was full, I was able to quickly figure out what I could substitute.

Now, it doesn’t need to be color-coded or filled with various tabs, but breaking down classes by categories (i.e. Ged-Eds, Electives, Major Requirements) helps create a balanced schedule, learn the pre-recs of each class, and help re-build semesters if you decide to add or drop a minor or certificate.

 

  1. Get Green Slips

 

The fastest way to get into any class is to get a green slip. Green slips are pieces of paper that an instructor can sign so you can attend their class. Professors at OU are willing to sign you into their class, if you can make a good case. For example, I wanted to take a 4000-Level Journalism class that had a pre-requisite. Since I had experience in journalism, I decided to contact the professor to explain to her how I had a good case. Even though it was a 4000-level class, I was still able to a pass.

 

  1. Talk to Upperclassmen

 

Other people in your major have probably figured out ways to work through classes, and they won’t be shy to share. Talking to upperclassmen not only helped me figure out which classes and professors to take, but also that I could test out of certain classes.

 

  1. Check which classes you can test out of or substitute

 

Besides Advanced Placement credits, there are possible ways students can get out of classes. For example, Scripps students that are required to take Principles of Reasoning (PHIL 1200) can waive that requirement with a math credit. There are also tests to exempt you from classes, such as the Composition Exemption Exams, which can waive your Freshman and Junior Composition requirement.

Some of your requirements can also be substituted. This is especially true with minors. For my Journalism minor, I was exempt from all but one class, so I could specialize in whichever classes I wanted. This just requires confronting advisors and department heads about the requirements for the degrees.

 

  1. Look at online classes

 

Online classes are the easiest way to schedule in classes, especially gen-eds. Almost every gen-ed requirement can be taken online, including your Tier III. This is a great way to take a class that seems like a burden, but beware – taking an online class can cause you to forget about the assignments. Otherwise, it’s a great way to finish some work during syllabus week.