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Students scramble for advisor appointments

Kathleen McDonnell | Tuesday, April 11, 2006

As students scramble to put together class schedules for the fall semester, some advising offices on campus are so swamped that advisors are forced to turn away students seeking guidance before they register for classes next week.

While the undergraduate advising office in the College of Arts and Letters had openings earlier this month, Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Letters Ava Preacher said scheduling has become increasingly difficult since so many students are struggling to squeeze in last-minute meetings with their advisors.

“Our priority is seeing students, so we try to see everyone who walks through the door,” Preacher said. “There are only four of us in the office, though, so if we get a rush of students, we may simply run out of time to see them.”

About 45 percent of non-freshman undergraduates have majors in the College of Arts and Letters. Advisors try to pack every student into their schedules, but the large number of requests sometimes makes this impossible, Preacher said.

The University’s award-winning First Year of Studies (FYS) program has been ranked one of the best in the nation – pairing each first year student with an advisor and requiring regular meetings throughout the year to keep students on track. Notre Dame has one of the highest retention rates in the nation, as 97 percent of first year students come back for their sophomore year.

But after freshman year, students must find new advisors in their respective colleges and adjust to a new and varied set of resources.

“I remember them not telling us we needed to declare our majors in order to get into classes, then it was two crazy days trying to get that done and make sure I was fulfilling requirements,” said sophomore English major Jenni Fong.

But Fong said after she made the adjustment from FYS, she has not had any serious problems with advising.

Though students often have multiple advisors available within their respective colleges, some upperclassmen still return to their FYS advisor.

“I do see some [older] students, especially if I had a good relationship with them,” FYS advisor Mel Tardy said. “But we try and trust the other advisors with upperclassmen – it is better to go to the department [of the student’s major] because they know the particular classes and the new developments.”

Upperclassmen advisors primarily focus on helping students choose classes and finalize their fields of interest, Tardy said. Because they each have so many students to assist, advisors after freshman year do not call students to meet on a regular basis like in FYS.

In the College of Arts and Letters, students can visit the assistant deans to obtain information on University and college requirements as well as “an overview of how all the pieces fit together,” Preacher said. They also have major and minor program advisors, but each department determines its own structure – some have one director, some have multiple faculty advisors.

The wide degree of latitude in class selection for Arts and Letters majors usually means more students in the advising office right before registration, Preacher said.

“Many students come to us because they have more than one major or a major and a minor, or a major and supplementary major, and so forth, and are not sure how all their courses will be counted,” Preacher said. “But we’d like students to come to us not just for accounting purposes … but for developmental purposes – what are their goals in building their curriculum?”

In the Mendoza College of Business, advisors are available at both the department and college level. Students can choose to meet with any of the five undergraduate advisors sophomore year, and they can choose to switch to a specific department advisor during their junior year.

Upperclassmen in all colleges can meet with an advisor as often as they choose – the extent of the relationship is left up to the individual student, undergraduate business advisor Doug Hemphill said.

Hemphill said some 4.0 students never walk into the office with questions, while other strong students come in twice per month.

“One thing that makes this work pretty special is the personal relationships,” Hemphill said. “You can talk about [a] student’s ideas for a particular program, or about what they want to do with their lives after graduation.”

Advisors in the College of Business have two main purposes, Hemphill said. They make sure students understand the requirements for graduation, and they try to show students the possibilities and opportunities the University offers.

“Nobody can see all that Notre Dame has to offer,” Hemphill said. “But if we talk about ideas that we have seen or come up with, the student has more to choose from. We don’t want anybody to walk out the door after graduation saying ‘I wish I’d known about that option, I would have done that.’

“We want everyone to take advantage of the opportunities here.”

Nearly half of business requirements must be fulfilled outside of the College of Business, Hemphill said. So business students often need advice similar to the kind Arts and Letters majors seek – advice like picking up a second major or selecting Arts and Letters classes that will complement their area of interest.

For students in the University’s other colleges – Science, Architecture and Engineering – more extensive major requirements reduce the amount of choices students have. As a result, individual advising is not always needed.

The School of Architecture has just one advisor, Father Richard Bullene, to whom students report sophomore year through their fifth year. Bullene said architecture students, like business students, have a varied response to the advising system.

“Some students just want the PIN and I need to use it to force them to sit down and go over progress towards degree completion,” Bullene said. “Others seek out advice on possibilities for minors and second majors, on career issues, particular study options, etcetera.”

For students in the College of Science like senior biology major Mike Tallarico, the choosing may be relatively easy when looking to schedule classes. Tallarico said he only visits his advisor to add or drop classes or for mandatory meetings.

“For the most part advisors can answer my questions, but I usually do not have much to ask,” Tallarico said. “They are helpful but if a student is self-sufficient he or she should not really have to go to the advisor.”

Engineering students face a similar situation. Freshman Jean Whitney, an aerospace and mechanical engineering major, does not plan to seek much advice before choosing classes, since she has few choices.

“Most of my classes are set as an engineer,” Whitney said. “This semester I only got to choose which University seminar I took and what I wanted to do in [physical education class]. I think this does make an engineering advisor less necessary for freshmen and sophomore years.”

Preacher said advisors at Notre Dame try to be problem solvers.

“I like to say that our office specializes in the art of the possible,” Preacher said.