Helping Students Academically
Your advisee says, "I've decided to be a ______ major."
This is a moment for celebration, of course, but it is also a moment to have your advisee talk about this decision. You might:
- ask about what the student finds compelling about the major.
- look at a list of courses in the major: which ones look interesting? why?
- ask if they have talked to students or professors in the major.
- ask them to talk about any doubts they have.
If they have not declared, they will need to:
- complete a declaration of major form (available in the Registrar)
- find a new advisor within their major by talking to the departmental chair or secretary. Some departments assign advisors, while others allow some choice.
Your advisee says, "I don't know what to major in."
Obviously, this is not a problem you can solve for your advisee, but you can encourage them to talk about potential directions:
- encourage exploration, particularly early on: remind students that many majors require only 30-36 credits, and they will need 123 credits to graduate.
- ask them to describe some task that they enjoy. What kind of work is this? what kind of majors or careers might involve similar sorts of work?
There are two main resources on campus for this purpose:
- The Center for Vocational Reflection (CVR) offers students opportunities to talk about their talents, their ambitions and their interests in a broad sense. The CVR seeks to help students find themselves and their purposes, and its programs often stress reflection or self-exploration.
- The Career Center has a more focused aim: it helps students to understand and explore particular career options, shows relationships between various majors and careers, and gives students opportunities to experiment with these options through internships. The Career Center also can use career inventories and surveys to help students reflect about their interests.
Your advisee is performing poorly in his/her intended major.
The first step, as if often is, is to ask questions and listen carefully:
- have they talked with their professors?
- what appeals to them about this major? when did they decide it was their major? why?
- have they had trouble focusing or studying? how do they study? how do they read?
Then you and the advisee need to think about the root cause of the problem:
- is the student underprepared? is it possible to overcome this?
- is the student motivated to succeed in this major? are there other appealing options?
- is the student having trouble adapting to college academic life in general?
Finally, make some plans to improve the situation:
- have the student arrange a meeting with a professor in the field. You might contact his/her professor, too, if feedback from that direction would help.
- tutoring is available in many fields: contact the department about this possibility. The student might also consider the Career Center, the CVR, or the RWC.
- establish a study routine, and maintain contact with the student in the weeks and months after your meeting.
Your advisee receives a PUG or is put on academic probation.
In both of these cases, you want to make contact with the advisee: try to set up a meeting as soon as you can:
- since PUGs come out just after midterm, you can often talk about them during pre-registration meetings. Probation, since it is announced at the beginning of terms, would require a separate meeting.
When you meet, the first step is to diagnose the problem by asking questions:
- start with basics: are you attending class? are you turning in assignments? how much sleep do you get? are you doing the reading?
- look for patterns: is this just one class or one term? or is it more consistent?
- be careful of answers that are too easy: "I just need to try harder" is often an earnest sentiment, but doesn't deal with underlying problems (underpreparation, failure to understand college expectations, depression, lack of direction, etc...).
Make a plan for future success:
- establish a study routine, suggest some new study strategies, and then maintain contact with the student to encourage the student to stick to these.
- encourage the student to utilize resources. If study skills are a problem, consider signing up for ENG 111 in the RWC (you can call Virginia Johnson or Farah Marklevits to set up an appointment); if preparation or comprehension is a problem, consider a tutor. If motivation is giving the student problems, recommend the CVR or Career Center; if social problems are interfering with academics, encourage them to utilize the Counseling Center.
Your advisee complains about the academic program ("I don't like my teacher," or "The LSFY classes are a waste of time."), or has trouble focusing on school:
Try to locate the source of the problem:
- is student committing sufficient time to the program? Is s/he struggling?
- are there some genuine personality conflicts? Don't assume immediately that the student is just being lazy or troublesome.
- how does the college academic world differ from his/her high school experience?
- have they talked to their professors?
Then you can talk about changing current circumstances:
- establish with the student a plan for organizing their time and effort in the remainder of the term. Ask the student to keep you up-to-date on this effort.
- would the student benefit from ENG 111, the RWC's one-credit course on time-management, college expectations, and study skills? Sometimes students can sign up for this course later in the term (contact Virginia Johnson), or it may be useful for the next term.
- at times it makes sense to drop a course, either to end an unproductive situation or to free up more time in the student's life. Be sure to consider such things as maintaining normal progress (27 credits in the first year), avoiding an underload (less than 8 credits a term), and requirements.