Does Undergraduate Advising Lack Luster?

Navigating the myriad twists and turns of Stanford’s academic life can be challenging. This is where Stanford’s undergraduate advising program is supposed to help.

Vice Provost Elam claims that “Stanford is in a good place in terms of advising…,” but many students do not share his enthusiasm for the program.

Some find that there is a disconnect in the student-advisor relationship. “I would appreciate if my academic advisors didn’t have to ask what my schedule is this quarter,” said Will Watson ’14.

Most of the help Watson has received this year has been from his pre-major advisor, but he said that his advisor was not helpful in choosing classes or majors, or in helping him figure out what he wanted from college.

However, there are many who have had a positive experience with Stanford’s advising program.

“The academic advisors I’ve asked for help have been great,” said Akwasi Abrefah ’13. “The Earth Systems student advisor had the best resources available to handout to me and [best] helped me organize my academic course….”

Though Abrefah admitted that his pre-major advisor had not helped steer his academic career, he placed some of the blame on himself. “I didn’t understand what specific role my advisor was supposed to play,” he said. Abrefah also noted that he probably does not use his pre-major advisor enough.

The wide variety of student opinions are in concurrence with a survey conducted by the ASSU. In the survey, a majority of the 332 student participants rated their academic advising experience a “three out of five.”

In the survey, students were asked to select which advising resources they found most helpful. Among the more popular responses were online resources, friends, residential staff, and academic directors.

The accessibility of advising resources is a major determinant of how useful students find them. Personal relationships seem to be a crucial factor in determining to  whom students turn for advice, which explains why students turn to friends and residential staff members.

Vice Provost Elam noted the benefits of formal advising as opposed to residentially-centered advising alone. “Advice from professionals, and other advisors, with expertise either in Stanford systems or in a particular discipline, are best,” he said. Peer advice is often more subjective in nature.

Elam also said that he is “putting a great deal of effort into strengthening both pre-major advising and the academic director program.”  Now, students must meet meet with an advisor each quarter until they declare a major.

“This has been a very successful way of ensuring that freshmen get advice and guidance on a regular basis,” said Elam.  “We will also be reviewing our plan for pre-major advisor training and for ways in which pre-major advisors interface with questions of course planning and majors.”

Academic Director Larry Lagerstrom offered his opinion on the merits of professional advising. “Students should get advice from more than one source,” he said. “At least one should be a University advisor who is knowledgeable not only about current requirements but also about the wealth of options and opportunities that may not be widely known.”

Lagerstrom said that approximately 75 percent of freshmen and over 50 percent of sophomores seek advice from their Academic Directors.

However, the advice from professional advisors can be faulty.  As one student who wished to remain anonymous stated, “My advisor gave me misinformation about what the math requirements were for pre-med.” She needed to talk to several different advisors before finally receiving the correct answer.

Can a student find his own way without advising resources? Lagerstrom offered a response.

“If ‘finding their way’ means satisfying the basic requirements to graduate, the answer is yes…,” he said. “But if ‘finding one’s way’ means identifying one’s intellectual home and passion and then designing a course of study and related activities that are both fulfilling in the present and helpful for the future, then the answer is probably no.  Any student will benefit by taking advantage of the advising resources that Stanford offers.”

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