When thinking about what to look for in a college experience, the location, the social atmosphere and the reputation of the faculty may immediately come to mind. However, one very important aspect of the college experience is often overlooked during the evaluation process—the college advising system. The role of the college advisor is to help students identify emerging interests and then take advantage of resources on campus to meet their goals. Here are three components to look for in college advising.
1. Access to career planning from freshman year. As you make progress towards your degree, you should also make progress towards your future career. Your academic advisor can discuss your emerging academic interests and how they might relate to career choices and graduate or professional school. The career center and its affiliates such as the service learning and fellowships offices should be available to you from freshman year and your advisor should be familiar with their resources. Such centers help students build resumes, and find internships, research or other experiential learning opportunities.
Assumption College, located in Worcester, MA, offers the (Career and Lifelong Learning) program beginning in the first year, which helps students identify academic and career options, build a portfolio and connect with a mentor at the school.
2. Advisors who take a personal interest in you. Many colleges ask students to complete a questionnaire that is then passed on to their first year advisor. Bowdoin College even sends the advisor a copy of the student’s admissions essay. In this way, the advisor has some background on the student before the first meeting.
The advisor should ask questions that attempt to connect your personal goals to your future plans. They can help you make course choices, determine appropriate extracurricular activities and clarify any unclear school policies or expectations. When considering a college, find out how often students and advisors typically meet during a semester and if advising is optional or required.
Once you have established a relationship with your advisor in your freshman year, make sure you don’t fall prey to the “sophomore slump.” As a freshman you will receive more attention from your college of choice as you transition to campus. Recent research shows that sophomores have often been neglected when it comes to advising even though sophomore year is typically the time when students choose a major. For this reason, many colleges such as Lewis & Clark have created an advising program specifically to meet sophomore needs.
3. Schools with faculty members who are willing to mentor students. Collaboration is a crucial component of any relationship. Learning to develop connections with faculty members will serve you in numerous ways: they can help you become engaged in what you are learning, advise you in selecting a major or concentration, refer you to research and fellowship opportunities or serve as a thesis or independent study advisor.
However, fostering a bond with a faculty mentor takes work. It should not just be about what they can do for you. A true collaboration means you are giving something back to the mentor by being an engaged and genuinely interested student.
Josh Berg, a freshman at the University of Southern California, emphasizes participating in class as a way of connecting with a professor:
“With smaller classes you typically bond with the teacher in class as they often provide feedback as well as encourage group discussion in class,” said Josh.
Josh reciprocates by letting his instructors know when he is confused about class material. When you attend a school that advocates teacher/student connections, your instructors may not only act as an advisor but also use your critique to improve the learning outcomes in their courses.
But remember, a mentor is not always the student’s assigned advisor. Sometimes students need to seek out their own—usually a favorite professor. When visiting campus, be sure to ask how common it is for faculty members to mentor students in research and projects.
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