Special Guest Writer–Amber Sexton: Preparing for Medical School–What Should Be Your Major?

From a young age, I was entirely certain of the career path I wanted to pursue- medicine. While I totally understand that everyone reading this might not say the same, I know some of you have the same career aspirations as myself. So, for those of you with every intention of going to medical school, this is for you!

Let’s rewind almost four years to the summer before my matriculation here at the University of Kentucky. Though on the edge of huge change in my life, there were a few things I was very sure would remain constant as I began college, one of those being my passion for medicine. So I knew what my end goal was, but I still had one important decision to make.

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What should I major in?

You all faced the same question with lots of inward reflection and thought, I’m sure. For me, and I imagine for you as well, the decision was multi-faceted. Of course, my biggest concern was “what major/degree would help me most in applying to medical school?” I considered which major would be impressive to medical school admissions committees, which major would “diversify” me in an applicant pool, which major would best prep me for the MCAT (the standardized test required of all medical school applicants), and which major would be best to juggle alongside the prerequisite courses I planned to take.

With these questions I couldn’t answer, I sought advice from my older brother who, at the time, was a fourth year medical student preparing to begin residency. I applied his advice to my own journey. Now, as I prepare to graduate from UK and begin medical school in the fall, I will pass the same advice given to me to you:

Truthfully, with respect to admission to and preparation for medical school, it does not matter what major you choose.

Now, with a surplus of options, here are a few helpful things to consider when narrowing your choice:

  1. First and foremost, choose something you have genuine interest in studying. This subject will be something you immerse yourself in for four years. Don’t choose to major in electrical engineering if you hate math but you think it will impress a medical school admissions committee. Not only will you make it much harder to succeed in your coursework, but also you’ll make yourself absolutely miserable. The two things that will impress admissions committees are a great GPA and a great MCAT score. To bust the myth of biology and/or chemistry degrees: while some of you choosing to pursue medicine may have a genuine interest in studying biology and/or chemistry in depth, these two majors are not one-way tickets to medical school. So, don’t feel pressured to choose one of them as your major.
  2. Understand that there are specific prerequisite courses that medical schools require you take prior to beginning medical school. Though these are mostly consistent from school to school, you should check with each specific medical school you’re interested in to ensure you take what is necessary. If you choose a major other than biology, chemistry, etc., also remember that it is your responsibility to work those prereqs into your schedule. You’ll want to have the bulk of these prerequisites completed prior to sitting for the MCAT.
  3. Be prepared to explain why you chose your major. If you choose to major in theater and vocal performance, for example, yet you want to attend medical school, you should have strong reasons for why you chose this major and, of course, why you want to be a doctor. If you major in something rather atypical for pre-med students, interviewers at medical schools will almost always ask you about it. Don’t worry- they aren’t necessarily trying to grill you, they genuinely want to know you and your interests.

operation-afamerc-medschoolAs for me, I chose to pursue a degree in psychology. After taking one psychology class in high school, I became incredibly interested in studying psychology in depth. I believe that as a professional expected to treat humans, it’s absolutely imperative to somewhat understand their behaviors and motivations. I wholeheartedly believe that my degree in psychology will help me to become the best physician I can be.

Best of luck with all of your endeavors!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

The Importance of Grades

After teaching for almost 30 years, I have come to accept that not every student will earn a good grade in my courses—to me a good grade is an A or a B. This was a bit tough for me to deal with when I first started teaching, because I had naively assumed that everyone wanted to get a good grade. I had always “gone for the A” in college (even with a busy work schedule), why wouldn’t my students too. Some students may be in a real bind as far as good grades because their ability to devote time and effort into my courses is limited by job responsibilities, military service, or by personal difficulties (including mental issues). However, there are a number of students whose lack of motivation and willingness to give their maximum effort in my classes is driven by a view that grades are simply unimportant. This latter group of students includes those who think about “Cs for degrees” or may even feel that getting a D and just passing one of my courses is OK.

In my world, what is a bummer about the students who choose not to strive for high grades is that they probably can get good grades, but something is standing in their way. If these students think that grades are simply unimportant, are they correct? It is my opinion that these students, for the most part, are incorrect and that earning good grades in college is worth pursuing. Let me add that in taking this position I am not saying that having a higher GPA means you are a smarter person. Of course, many factors will impact your GPA over and above your intelligence.

good grades-booksLet me offer 4 points in support of my thinking that good grades matter:

1) If you want to pursue a doctoral or professional (MD, DDS, Nursing, PA, PT, or OT) degree good grades are critical. As I have talked about in other places (careersinpsych.com and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/careers-in-psych), these programs are only taking the best of the best. Thus, your college grade point average (GPA) carries a lot of weight. It is possible to have a relatively low GPA offset by high scores on your entrance exam (e.g., GRE, MCAT, GMAT). However, selection committees (fair or not) will typically view a relatively low GPA in a negative light.

2) For certain jobs, especially high-paying jobs, good grades can be a “tie-breaker”. That is, if you have a 3.7 GPA and another job applicant has a 2.7 GPA, all things being equal, you will likely get selected for the job. Now I can hear some of you saying that “all things being equal” hurts my point because no job candidates are exactly the same. I agree. Nonetheless, grades are likely to be a part of the job selection equation, along with other characteristics like job skills, leadership qualities, ability to work with others, creativity and experience. My point is simply that grades can make the difference between candidates, and that it is better to have good grades than not. I will add one other point about certain jobs. Your GPA may be critical when you are looking for your first job out of college, but the value of your GPA may diminish over time–work experience may then carry the day.

3) If you get good grades in what are perceived as tough courses, this can work to your advantage. This does not mean that everyone should be taking a lot of difficult science and math courses in college. You just need to be aware that selection committees for graduate and professional school (possibly even certain jobs) will look at your transcript. Therefore, it won’t hurt that you took some science and math courses and did well in these courses. Keep in mind that those individuals making a decision about your future want to be sure that you were not taking a bunch of “bunny” courses to inflate your GPA.

goodgrades-arrows4) High grades can open up various opportunities for you in college. Let me give three quick examples. First, there are a number of scholarships that open up while you are in college. As you can imagine, these scholarships are not going to students with low GPAs. Second, it is typically the case that faculty will choose students with the highest grades to work in their lab or conduct other research. I am one of these faculty members. I look for the brightest and most motivated students to join my lab; high grades help me determine which students to select. Is it possible that I have missed a “diamond in the rough”—a student with high potential but low grades? Of course, but I feel over the years high grades have been a good indicator of productive research assistants. Finally, when it comes times to securing letters of recommendation you will probably have a better chance of having a faculty member write you a letter if you have done well in school. Moreover, the stronger your academic record, the better your letter.

In closing, I want to reiterate that grades are not everything. You may have qualities (e.g., leadership skills, creativity) that can overcome poor grades. In addition, I do not want to discount the importance of networking or experience in helping you move forward with your career. Finally, good grades require a lot of time and effort. The cost of high grades may be a loss of some sleep and social time. Still, in the end I feel the benefits of good grades outweigh the cost. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Low Grades? Here’s What You Should You Do

In my almost 30 years of teaching I am sorry to say that almost every class (especially the large classes I have taught) has had at least one student who failed the course or did really poorly. This is a real drag because it is almost always the case that this student could have avoided failing if he or she had taken some important early action.

Before getting to what action you should take if you are doing poorly, let me first say that as a faculty member there is only so much I can do to move a student forward in my classes. Thus, how you do in a class is mostly up to you. For example, if you decide (for whatever reason) not to study you are likely not going to do well. Or if you think that you can blow off class, the chances of catching up and getting on top of class material is slim. I will add that you can always take a chance and see what happens if you do not study or stop going to class, but I find it hard to believe that you really want to play these odds.

bubblesheet-986935_1280With the above in mind, what should you do if you find that you are really struggling in a class? Here are several pieces of advice:

1) Be realistic about your situation. It is critical that you understand that there is a problem, and that it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. The option of waiting is typically not going to work for you. Too often I have had students who are doing poorly, and think that things will just turn around on the next exam. In most cases, things do not turn around and these students continue to fall further behind.

2) Determine the cause of your poor performance. There are a number of factors that may be leading to your difficulty in a class. I feel it is best to initially sit down on your own and assess what might be the problem. For example, are you doing poorly because you simply do not study enough? Remember, the unwritten rule of most faculty members is that you are expected to put in 3 hours of work for every 1 credit hour you are taking. Yes, that means 9 hours outside of class for a 3 credit-hour class! Other factors impacting your performance might include your (a) not going to class; (b) not understanding the material; (c) having too many obligations (number of courses, employment, relationships, family, activities); and (d) having mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety).

3) Determine if there are changes you can make on your own to improve your class situation. It would be nice and simple if you determine that you are not studying enough for a class, because then you might just have to study more. This is easier said than done, but at least you can work on a study schedule that can get you back on track (for tips on setting up a study schedule go to: https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/). Likewise, if you are not going to class, go to class!

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4) For some issues you will need help from others (aside from the instructor). This help can come in many forms. For example, if you are having trouble understanding the material, you could meet with other students to go over class notes. You might also want to get a tutor. At some schools tutors may be free and centrally located, but you might have to do a little searching to find a tutor who can help you out. In my experience, tutors are great and can often be a game changer as far as your performance in class. Another person who may be able to help you out is a graduate teaching assistant, if your class has one of these. You might also talk to your academic advisor to see if they can offer you some guidance, especially with regard to directing you toward certain resources (academic and otherwise) on campus. Finally, if you are having mental health concerns you will need to seek out a mental health clinic on campus to get professional help.

5) No matter what, you should talk to your Instructor. In my opinion, it is extremely important to touch base with your Instructor about your situation. Regardless of what you are thinking it is likely the case that your Instructor will be in your corner, and they ill do whatever they can to help you do better in the course. This might include going over material or giving you advice on how to study. The key is that if you say nothing, your Instructor (who will ultimately give you a grade) will be in the dark about your situation. Keep in mind, however, that you should avoid thinking that your Instructor is going to offer you extra credit or discard certain low grades—this is probably unlikely.

6) Consider dropping the course. Even if you do all of the above, you might still need to drop the course. You may be in a situation where the benefits of dropping the course (e.g., more time to devote to other classes) far exceed the cost of staying in the course (e.g., a failing grade). Check out my blog post about dropping a course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/?s=drop+course).

I hope this information helps you think about your situation when things are not going so well. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Dealing With Grades After Finals

Congratulations on finishing the semester! Of course, I hope things went well and that you are satisfied with all of your grades. However, I know that there are going to be some of you who are not happy. I mean, not happy at all.

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As I see it, there are usually 4 types of unhappy students at the end of the semester. Student 1 is unhappy as the result of not performing as well as they expected. These are the students who expected to earn an A, but they got a C. Moreover, they realize that their performance did not warrant an A–their C actually reflects what they should have received.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 1: I am sorry to say that if you are like Student 1 there is not much you can do. Your grade reflects your performance. If you did not perform well, either because you thought the class was too hard or you did not put in enough effort, I do not see any way your grade is going to be changed. My best advice is to consider repeating the course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/03/21/is-repeating-a-course-a-good-idea-definitely/).

Student 2 is unhappy because they believe that their grade was incorrectly calculated based on the criteria presented in the syllabus. Remember, the importance of your syllabus. Not only does it make clear all of the rules of the class, but also it should specify exactly how grades are determined. If your syllabus says each exam is worth 25%, then each exam is worth 25%. Neither you nor your Instructor can change the rules at the end of the semester. If you calculate your grade and you see that Exam 1 was weighted 20% and Exam 3 was weighted only 10%, you have every right to be unhappy.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 2: If your grade was calculated incorrectly you should take action. This means:

1) Contact the Instructor immediately. Do not wait until you get back from break. The sooner you deal with this, the better. I’ll add that when I hear from a student right away I know this student is really concerned about their grade.

2) If possible, contact the Instructor face to face. Of course, this may be impossible if you get your final grade after you have left campus.

3) Get all your facts together and be prepared to present a convincing case. Make sure you double-check your calculations to be sure that there was a mistake. It would probably do you well to have another person look over the calculations to be sure you did them correctly. When you actually communicate with your Instructor I feel you should be ready to go through your calculations in a very systematic fashion to show them where mistakes were made.

4) MOST IMPORTANT! Be civil. No matter how you contact your Instructor, do so in a way where you are courteous, polite and respectful. You will get nowhere with your Instructor (except asked to end the conversation!) if you raise your voice, do not give your Instructor a chance to speak, or use foul language. Be calm, and let the facts guide the conversation. Let me add that you might think that you cannot be rude in an email—think again. I am amazed by the rudeness I see in an emails sent to me.

Student 3 is unhappy because they feel that certain graded components (e.g., assignments, reaction papers, exams) that comprised their overall grade were graded too low.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 3: Same as for Student 2, except you will need to have some way of presenting a case for why you were graded unfairly. This can be quite difficult, especially with graded components that are more subjective (e.g., an essay exam). I feel you have every right to ask your Instructor to justify your grade by making clear exactly why a certain amount of points were deducted. What might help your case is if your Instructor gave out a grading rubric that you can use to justify why you thought you should not have lost certain points.

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Student 4 is unhappy because they feel that somehow their grade does not reflect their performance and effort in the class. This is the student who just missed out on the next highest grade. A “silver medalist” like this is caught between wishing they had tried just a bit more in the class and hoping that their Instructor might offer them the few points they need to obtain a higher grade.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 4: If you are Student 4 this is a really tricky situation that must be approached very strategically. As above, contact the Instructor immediately, try to meet with the Instructor face to face, and be civil. Keep in mind that you should not be “begging” for a grade. Based on my own 29 years of experience and my discussions with faculty colleagues, this type of behavior simply will not work; if anything, begging will lead an Instructor to stop the discussion and make clear that there is no chance of additional points. My view is that if this is you, be prepared have some case to make. For example, you might have grades that show a steady increase through the semester, thereby showing a greater mastery of the material. I will caution you that if you state that your grade must be raised because you will lose a scholarship or be put on probation is typically not going to sway a lot of faculty.

I hope it is not you who is unhappy after the semester. But, as I described above, if it is you remember that there are ways to increase your chances of ending up with a better grade. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

Thanksgiving Break Is Over: Are You Ready?

Thanksgiving Break is just about over and a big question remains for the final stretch of the semester: Are you Ready? Almost all of you probably left campus to go home and be with family and friends for a few days or even up to a week, but the fact remains that the semester is not over. For some of you on the quarter system there may just be Dead Week and then finals, but for the vast majority of students on a regular semester schedule there are still two full weeks of the semester and then will come final exams.

collegelibrary-1697314_1280I realize many of you have already dealt with issues of returning from Thanksgiving Break, but there are a number of freshmen for whom this is new territory. Here is some advice for both rookies and college veterans:

1) BE FOCUSED. There is only a short time left in the semester, but it is critical time. Many classes have projects and papers due, and of course final exams loom in the near future. Although your time at home during break was relaxing and you probably did not think too much about college, when you get back to campus it is time to put maximum effort into finishing strong.

2) BE PLANFUL. With so little time left until the end of the semester you need to plan everything out. Don’t get caught forgetting when things are due and how you are going to manage your time (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/). It is going to be pretty intense right up until the semester is over and you must be prepared. My advice is to take 30 minutes and sit down with a calendar. Write in all due dates for papers and projects, and then indicate when are your finals. Finally, figure out when you are going to be able to work on everything—both time to write and time to study. Without getting this all figured out right now, you might struggle to get everything done.

3) BE POSITIVE. Keep a positive attitude and remember that (like college students before you) you will get everything done. There will be times where you throw up your hands and wonder how you will accomplish everything. However, if you can follow my advice above (be focused and be planful) you will be amazed at how successful you will be at finishing everything. Remember, the days you were off should have allowed you to catch up on sleep, relax, and get rid of a lot of stress. Hopefully, this means you are coming back to campus in a better state of mind than when you left several days ago.

Good luck as you head back to college and finish the semester!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Dealing With A Death While In College

What could be worse? You’re in the middle of the semester, and suddenly you find out that someone you know has died. Of course, you will be in shock and very sad. What makes everything more difficult is that at some point you have to make some big decisions about how to deal with this death amid everything going on with school. I hope to offer you some pointers about this, so that if you are hit with the news of a death you are better prepared to manage things. Keep in mind that these are tough issues to discuss:

1) You will likely need to consider your relationship to the deceased. Is it one of your parents, a grandparent, relative, or a friend? The importance of this question is tied to the degree that you feel you are obligated or want to be involved with things like the funeral as well as seeing and comforting others. For example, if one of the parents died you are going to want to leave immediately to go home. The last thing in your mind is school and whether you have some reading to do or need to take an exam. However, for certain relatives or people you know you might not feel as pressed to drop everything. In fact, you might decide that you do not want to attend the funeral, or that you may attend the funeral but plan on returning right away to campus.

death-cemetary2) At some point it would be best to contact your Instructors or someone from your school. With regard to the former, a quick email is probably enough to let your Instructors understand your situation. If you are able to tell them when you might return that is helpful. But, it may be the case that all you can do is tell each of them about the death, and that you will be in touch with them as soon as possible. With regard to contacting a school official, I have had students do this on several occasions. This can be a good strategy if you want to avoid having to contact multiple Instructors. An email to the Dean of Students or another administrator about your situation will make sure that all of your Instructors are informed of you absence from class or any other activities on campus.

3) As crazy as it may seem, you need to be prepared to show documentation of the death. I know, isn’t it bad enough you must deal with the death and now you have to supply a funeral notice or obituary? I agree, and I do not ask this of my own students. However, I have heard of a number of faculty members who in their quest to document all absences require this information from their students. I should add that I have heard about this more in cases of deaths of friends and somewhat distant relatives. Although you might find being asked for proof of the death to be offensive, the academic rules of your school typically allows an Instructor to ask for this information.

4) Related to #3, it would probably be useful for you to find out what are the rules of your school regarding excused absences. For example, your school may only allow an excused absence when there is a death in your immediate family. This would not include certain relatives or other important people in your life, such as friends. I know this sounds unfair, but you will have to do your best to deal with these rules. For example, you will need to talk to each of your Instructors and see where they stand with regard to the rules about excused absences. If an Instructor plays hardball and refuses to excuse you for work you missed (i.e., gives you a 0 on this work), you will have to decide whether to talk to others about your situation (e.g., the Chairperson of your Department, your Dean, the University Ombudsperson). Talking to another person may help you, but be prepared that these others may simply say that the Instructor of a class has final say on grading issues.

5) If you are allowed to make up work because your Instructor excused your absences due to the death, try to deal with this work as soon as possible. I know this may be difficult because your head just isn’t into it. Still, if possible, get this work done so you can get back on track and not fall too far behind. I will add that if you really are having a difficult time getting back to your studies you might considering withdrawing from school for a semester. This would a very difficult decision, but for your own mental health and to avoid receiving low grades because you just were not ready for school after the death a withdrawal may be the best alternative. This course of action would delay you only a bit, and you could come back the next semester stronger than ever. Finding out about this option will likely require you talking to an academic advisor or even the school Registrar.

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6) Do not be afraid to seek counseling to help you deal with the grief of losing a loved one. Regardless of who died, you will likely be affected in many ways. The effects may include difficulty in concentrating and sadness. Remember that a person who is aware that they need help in dealing with a difficult situation is showing strength, not weakness. There are likely to be resources on your campus that are available to you as far as helping you deal with this loss. These typically include a counseling center or other mental health professionals. You do not have to deal with your grief alone—others are there in your corner.

In closing, I hope you do not have to face the issue of death while you are in college. If you do, I hope the points I raised above will help you better understand the issues that you will face, and that the impact of this loss will be minimized as far as your college career.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

 

Special Guest Writer—Anthony Dotson (Director, University of Kentucky Veterans Resource Center): Soldier to Student – Good Luck!

Nationally, our student veterans are not being successful in attaining their academic goals. Early reports in 2010 put dropout rates at close to 88%. More recent “research” attempts to downplay the severity of the issue and claims that the majority of student veterans are indeed graduating. The majority is defined as a very narrow 51.7%. Not exactly a number worth celebrating. The reality is that student veterans are lagging behind their non-veteran counterparts on campus for several reasons, some related to transition issues and others related to the failure of DoD and the VA to adequately inform and protect those who serve.

soldier-departing-service-uniform-40820So before you decide to leave the military and put that hard earned education benefit to use, you should educate yourself and learn the lessons from those who have gone before you.

  1. Make sure college is really what you want to do. Not everyone has to go to college in order to be successful. I know that is shocking information and runs contrary to main stream media but the reality is that half of last year’s college graduates are under-employed. Meaning that they are working in jobs that do not require their degree. The trades are actually hurting for people right now. Heck, my HVAC guy makes far more money than I do, and I have two masters degrees!
  2. Choose the right form of higher education to meet your academic preparedness and your academic potential. There is a wide variety of higher education to choose from and they are not all created equal. Some focus on access and taking education to the people and thus have less stringent enrollment standards while others are very selective in who they admit. And unfortunately, there are others that are simply out to make money. I encourage you to enroll into the best school you can get admitted to.
  3. Online education sounds easy, but has a poor track record in actually graduating student veterans. Always ask about retention and graduation rates regardless of the type of higher education you select. The very best retention and graduation rates are in Private Universities followed by 4yr State Universities. It doesn’t mean you can’t be successful at the others, but you should know your odds going in. Another number to consider are loan default rates. If their graduates are defaulting, that means that they are not obtaining employment significant enough to pay off their debt.
  4. Don’t count on your Military Credit. Unless you are in the Air Force, your military credit will not likely move you any closer to your degree. While most schools “accept” military credit, in reality they simply recognize it as credit and will put in on your transcript as General Education credit. This type of credit does not count towards your electives or your degree requirements. In addition, too much of this type of credit on your transcript can actually work against you when it comes to financial aid. Look for military credit policies that only take the credit that will be applied towards your degree. You don’t need the fluff. And if you are wondering, the Air Force has the largest accredited community college in the country. Well played Air Force….well played.
  5. Know what Veteran and Military Friendly really means. Many schools want your GI Bill money and will go to great lengths to earn the title “veteran friendly”. Sadly, they may not be as friendly as their ranking or title implies. These titles are determined in most cases by the responses to survey questions. These surveys are created by folks who have never transitioned from the military to higher education so they include questions that sound good but have little to nothing to do with being veteran friendly. An example might be; “What percentage of the student body are veterans?”   The implication here is that the larger the number, the more veteran friendly the campus is. When in reality, they could be a very small school located outside the gates of a military installation. You can define veteran friendly however you like, I tend to define it as; “Student veteran success as measured by graduation rates.” After all, if they are not graduating, it doesn’t really matter how many veterans they have or how big their veterans’ center is.
  6. Finally, save some money. The transition out of the military may be a smooth one for many, but I assure you that life in the civilian world is not cheap. On top of that, the VA is not likely to pay you as promptly as you would like. Many student veterans struggle with finances early in the transition because they were “expecting” the VA to pay on time like DoD. The reality is that, that payment is often later than expected or needed. Having a reserve of 3 months’ rent will help you withstand the challenges with the VA. When you are looking at schools, see what they have in the way of emergency financial support.

solierpost-personwithpenbook-132922You have served your country honorably, now it is time to reap the benefits of a college education. Don’t throw that benefit away at a school that is not accredited, or one that has a poor track record of graduating students. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. If it sounds easy, beware! Obtaining a college degree is not supposed to be easy. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.