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Editorial: Improving advising

As course selection approaches, students are again faced with the issue of academic advising. The courses students take at the University are integral to their Princeton experience. These important decisions are best made with knowledgeable and experienced advice, but such advice is not easily available. Though the University has some competent resources in the assigned faculty advisers, peer advisers through the residential colleges and contact information and databases such as Major Choices or course reviews, the Board believes that these resources fall short of their effectiveness due to their fragmentation, lack of publicity and near-sighted focus on just the next semester. We believe that increased training for faculty advisers and a focus on a long-term comprehensive path through Princeton academics, along with improved awareness of already available resources, will enhance the benefits of academic advising.

Faculty academic advisers for underclassmen are assigned at the beginning of freshman year to oversee course selection. These advisers are not necessarily in the same field as the student and often have limited familiarity with courses and professors beyond their own departments. Meetings are usually only once a semester and consist of a cursory glance at preventing an overburdened schedule and ensuring that distribution requirements and prerequisites are met before signing approval. The Board recognizes the difficulties involved in pairing student and faculty interests and sees the inconveniences of having underclassmen selecting their own advisers. The practicable improvement lies in equipping all the advisers with training necessary for knowledgeably proposing different possible academic paths.

Instead of limiting the focus to creating a tolerable next semester, students would be better served if advisers took an interest in helping them see longer-term options and expanding to consider the practical benefits and experience of courses in different fields. Many of the more diverse and interesting upper-level courses require certain prerequisites, and advisers could be more helpful in outlining steps necessary to take a potentially desired set of classes in a semester or two. Princeton has great courses in all departments, and being able to encourage students to taste the unique skills of different subjects would provide a more complete education. Training faculty advisers to be familiar with the prerequisites necessary for advancing in courses in other departments as well as knowing the varied benefits of different courses empower students to chart a path of more interesting, advanced and comprehensive options.

Some students informally find the guidance of older students, but not everyone has this convenience. The University does have several resources for students to reach out and connect with upperclassmen, such as lists on the Major Choices website and contacts of Peer Academic Advisers on residential college websites, but the fragmentation of these scattered listings and contacts weakens their benefits and does a disservice to the University’s efforts. Moreover, many students are simply not effectively made aware of these tools. Professors, preceptors, faculty advisers and even residential college advisers do not clearly or frequently promote these. For example, each residential college has a list of Peer Academic Advisers who are juniors and seniors willing to be a resource for other students. These advisers are from various departments, and the websites list the specific courses and programs they can advise on as well as how to get in contact with them. The Peer Academic Advisers should be consolidated into one searchable online resource.  The consolidation would make it more accessible and user-friendly for underclassman and also more available for upperclassmen that are not part of the residential college system. In the meantime, to spread awareness of these helpful yet fragmented tools, RCAs and faculty advisers should be instructed to show these options to their advisees.

Modifying the approach of faculty academic advisers and taking steps to publicize and make databases and resources more readily available would strengthen students’ academic paths and reaffirm the University’s comprehensive support of a truly engaging course of studies.

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