Advising Guidelines, Recommendations and Resources

Providing meaningful academic guidance and mentoring to students is at the heart of good academic advising.  At Macalester College faculty members have the primary responsibility for advising students, although professional staff supports and assists faculty in important and substantive ways.  Faculty members who are new to advising are often anxious about this role because they assume mastery of information equals good advising.  Seasoned faculty members, however, have discovered advising is more of an art, than a science.  Yes, it is important for new faculty to learn and accurately communicate requirements, policies and procedures to their advisees.  However, information isn’t static; courses, majors, instructors and policies vary from year to year.  Students have different backgrounds, needs, interests and goals, and their sense of who they are and where they are headed will change over time.  Discernment and effective communication are, therefore, as critical to good advising as is having the “right” answers to your advisees’ questions.  The following process and content suggestions are intended to help guide you in developing your advising style.


Ask lots of questions. Because students have different backgrounds, needs, interests and goals, it is important to spend time early on asking a number of questions.  Where did they grow up?  What kind of high school did they attend?  What made them select a liberal arts college?  What majors are they considering?  Do they have any careers in mind?  Keeping notes in the advising file or in the DegreeWorks audit can help remind you of the answers and will enable you to see patterns and trends over time.

Don’t make assumptions. Because students have different backgrounds, needs, interests and goals, we can’t assume the way we experienced college will be the way they experience college.  Asking lots of questions can help ensure you are meeting the student’s needs and not what you imagine the student’s needs to be.  Of course, because students are still developing their ideas about the world and who they want to be in it, taking a questioning approach also serves to help them clarify their thinking.

Make sure you know what question is really being asked. Advisee questions can sometimes have a straightforward answer, but often there are other related issues that need to be addressed.  For example, if an advisee asks you for the date of the course withdrawal deadline, it would be insufficient to simply give the student that specific piece of information.  Instead, it is prudent to have a conversation with the student about the circumstances leading him or her to think about withdrawing.  Is the student having difficulty in more than one course?  Has the student talked with the course instructor?  Does the student have support from other campus resources?  What impact will withdrawing have on the student’s progress towards a degree?  Withdrawing might be a wise choice, but you won’t know that until you have a better understanding of the bigger picture.

Help students integrate academic and co-curricular interests. Academics are at the heart of the college experience, but it is not the only way in which learning takes place.  Surveys of undergraduates done at a variety of institutions reveal it is the integration of academic and co-curricular interests that lead students to have meaningful and successful college experiences.  Internships, faculty/student collaborative research projects, civic engagement activities, and involvement in on-campus groups (i.e. student organizations, athletics, music/theatre/dance performances), are examples of outside of the classroom learning experiences you can encourage your advisees to consider. 

Make referrals. Advising is a team endeavor.  You can’t possibly know the answer to every question your advisee will ask.  But you can know what offices handle different issues and be willing to pick up the phone and identify the appropriate person to whom you can send the student.  Modeling the process of finding an answer is also a very good teaching tool.  It demonstrates for students that knowledge is acquired and the steps they can take to access resources and gather information for themselves.    


Graduation requirements. Attention to your advisees’ progress toward degree should be one of the things you consider during pre-registration advising appointments.  The DegreeWorks Audit on 1600grand tracks a student’s progress on all degree requirements based on completed and in-progress courses.  When considering courses for the upcoming semester, the Schedule of Classes will include all attributes that apply to a course (divisional distribution, General Education, etc.).  If planning further into the future, the College Catalog is the best source for finding the divisional distribution designation (natural science, humanities, etc.) associated with a course and is the official word on major, minor and concentration requirements.  Departmental websites are also a good resource for students wanting more information about a particular field of study.  Good referrals include the Registrar’s Office and the Academic Programs Office. 

Major/Minor selection. Some students will come to college with very clear ideas about majors and minors; others will be uncertain.  In both cases, they will look to you for guidance.  One anxiety students have about declaring is the fear they are locked in to that choice.  Assure them they are able to add and drop majors relatively easily and that most programs can be completed in two years or less.  There are exceptions, of course, especially in the sciences where the credit requirements are higher and the courses are sequenced.  But in general, Macalester majors are flexible enough to allow changes into the junior year.  For those who have clear ideas it is still important to ask why.  The subjects of study available at the student’s high school might have been quite limited compared to what we offer at Macalester, and fondness for a teacher, rather than the material itself, can sometimes influence a student’s plans.  Therefore, discussing strengths, weaknesses and goals is an important first step before looking at the curriculum.   Reviewing major requirements and course descriptions in the College Catalog is also a good way for students to confirm their interest in a field of study.  Additionally, in the Advising Handbook each department outlines its major requirements and suggests desirable or required course sequencing.  Good referrals include the chair or relevant faculty members in the planned area of study, as well as the Academic Programs Office and the Career Development Center, both of which can assist students who need extra help choosing a major or connecting major with career plans.

Career Planning. Some students come to Macalester with very clear ideas about careers and majors, but most students need help thinking about what they will do for a job after graduation and connecting major with career plans.  Probably the most important message you can communicate to your advisees is that there is rarely a direct connection between a liberal arts major and a job.  Liberal arts degrees provide students with broad transferable skills that enable them to go in many different directions.  Therefore, studying something they enjoy and excel at is what matters most.  However, it is also helpful for students to hear about what Macalester alums are doing and the kinds of outside the classroom activities with which these students were involved.  Faculty members are in a good position to impart this information to students, especially those who have been teaching at Macalester for a number of years.  Also, many departments host events each year that include alumni panels.  Finally, the Career Development Center’s mission is to help students connect their liberal arts education with their future goals; accordingly it is an important resource students should be encouraged to utilize.   

Study Abroad. Many students choose Macalester because of its focus on internationalism and its commitment to study abroad.  Over half of our students do in fact study in another country for a semester during their time at Macalester.  So it is important to speak with students early in their college careers about their study abroad desires so they can plan accordingly.  Some majors, particularly those with very structured course sequences, need to choose their courses strategically so they can study abroad and complete all their major requirements within four years.  Also, adequate language preparation for a program may require several semesters of study prior to departure; beginning these courses early is, therefore, important.  Further, since the “W” requirement must be completed before the senior year, students who study abroad typically complete the course before they depart so they can meet that deadline.  Finally, now that there is a single study abroad application deadline each year, all students need to be more planful and start the process earlier than was typically the case in the past.  Good referrals here include Study Abroad advisors (for program selection), department chairs (for major declaration and to secure course approval prior to submitting an application), the Registrar’s Office (for how courses might fulfill graduation requirements), and the Financial Aid Office (for questions about how study abroad might affect an award package).

National Scholarships. Every year dozens of Macalester students apply for nationally competitive scholarships, such as the Fulbright, Goldwater, Truman and Watson.  Those who win, and we do have winners, very often cite the mentoring they received early in their college career as a key to their success.  You can help in a variety of ways:  by encouraging strong students to consider these opportunities; by facilitating their involvement in research projects; by helping them to identify courses that will support their research; by encouraging them to seek out leadership opportunities, both on campus and in the community.  To be competitive for these awards students need to be academically strong and meaningfully involved in co-curricular activities.  Referring them to Academic Programs early in their college careers is also a good idea, as that office facilitates the nominating process for most national competitions.

Co-curricular Activities. Surveys of undergraduates done at a variety of institutions reveal it is the integration of academic and co-curricular experiences that lead students to have meaningful and successful college careers.  This is particularly true for Macalester students, who see themselves as change agents and value the opportunity to be involved on campus and in the wider community. Asking students about their outside the classroom activities is a good first step, as is encouraging them to seek out internships, faculty/student collaborative research projects, and civic engagement activities, as well as involvement in student organizations. Students welcome the opportunity to reflect with faculty what they are learning about and get ideas for courses and other academic opportunities that match their interests.

Resources by Topic Area

Academic Standing/Academic Difficulty: The Dean of Students and the Director of Academic Programs partner in providing support to students experiencing academic difficulty.  Both serve on the Academic Standing Review Committee, meet jointly with students on strict academic probation, and contact students following mid-term grade review.  Advisors should contact either office to consult about an issue with an advisee.  The Dean of Students also works closely with the psychologists in our Health and Wellness Center and can assist with making referrals. The MAX Center can assist students with time management and study skills, as well as tutoring in particular subjects,  The GPA guidelines the Academic Standing Committee uses when making decisions about probation and dismissal can be found under instructional policies in the College Catalog.

College Catalog: Current and past catalogs are available from the College Catalog link on the Registrar’s website. This is the official source for major, minor and degree requirements.  Individual department webpages also have good information about majors, minors and course sequencing. The catalog also includes the divisional designation for departmental offerings.

Course Registration/Adding, Dropping and Withdrawing from Courses: Each semester the Registrar sends out email reminders to faculty prior to the registration period (how to access PINS through 1600grand, deadlines, etc.) After pre-registration ends for the upcoming semester, students may not add or drop courses until the first day of the next semester. Changes at that point may be made in person or on 1600grand and instructor permission is required. The necessary forms are available in the Registrar’s Office. Registration information is available on the Registrar’s website,

FERPA: The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act gives enrolled college students, regardless of their age, the right to decide who has access to their academic records. This means that faculty members and staff should not be sharing specific information about a student with individuals outside of the college community or with other students. Students may sign a release of information that enables us to share information with named individuals, often parents; such releases are kept on file in the Registrar’s Office. FERPA does not constrain the sharing of information among college personnel, if they are considered to have a “need to know” in order to carry out their duties.  Additional information about FERPA is available in the Student Handbook, or from the Registrar.

Graduation Requirements: The College Catalog, details all graduation requirements. A student’s progress toward meeting the requirements is available via the DegreeWorks Audit on 1600grand.. 

Student with Disabilities: The Assistant Dean of Students coordinates services for students with disabilities; as such she is a good person to consult about how to support an advisee with disabilities. Additional information can be found at the Office of Student Affairs website,

Temporary Leaves and Permanent Withdrawals: Students who wish to take a semester or two off from Macalester or withdraw permanently from the College need to complete paperwork with the Student Affairs’ Office. The Dean of Students is responsible for reviewing and approving requests.

Key Offices and the Services they Provide to Students

Career Development Office, Kagin Commons, 651-696-6384. Offers various interest/skills/personality tests; counseling appointments; holds a major/minor fair each year; helps students connect career and majors interests; job search; resume writing; interviewing.

Dean of Students Office, 119 Weyerhaeuser, 651-696-6220.  Helps with students in crisis; behavioral issues; sexual assault and harassment; and accommodations for students with disabilities. The Student Handbook, which contains important information for students about campus life, is on its website. 

International Student Program,, Kagin Commons, 651-696-6078, provides a wide-range of services for international students, including assistance with cross-cultural adjustment, immigration, and working in the US.

Internship Program,, Kagin Commons, 651-696-6128. Helps students find and receive credit for intentional, academically relevant learning experiences.

MAX (Macalester Academic Excellence) Center,, Kagin Commons, X6121.  Helps students with  time management and study skills, as well as tutoring in a variety of subjects; assistance with writing papers in all classes and at all levels;  assistance with graduate school test preparation and applications for graduate school; tutor training.

Registrar’s Office, 77 Mac, X6200.  Questions on academic policies, procedures, and requirements; information on AP and IB credits; course lists for General Education requirements; academic calendar; course schedules; college catalog. The major plan of study is submitted to this office and students and faculty with questions should consult the staff with questions.