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, as 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’s 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 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 to 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 performance), are examples of outside 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 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.  Department 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 Academic Programs and Advising.

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, the Advising Handbook outlines its department’s 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 and Advising and the Career Exploration office, 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, Career Exploration’s mission is to help students connect their liberal arts education with their future goals; accordingly it is an important resource students be encouraged to utilize.

Study Away.  Many students choose Macalester because of its focus on internationalism and its commitment to study away.  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 way 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 away 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 on is, therefore, important.  Finally, given that there is now 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 staff in the Center for Study Away, for program selection, department chairs, as students need to have a do-able 4-year plan for their intended major and secure course approval prior to submitting an application, the Registrar’s Office, who can advise on how courses might fulfill general distribution requirements, and the Financial Aid Office, for questions about how study away 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 and Advising 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 about what they are learning and get ideas for courses and other academic opportunities that match their interests.

Frequently asked questions

A student in my class is struggling with the material.  Beyond my assistance, what resources are available?
1) The MAX (Macalester Academic Excellence) Center, located in Kagin Commons, provides personalized tutoring across the curriculum and at all skill levels.  In addition, they help students with study skills, time management, and maximizing their learning styles.  Referrals with a specific goal or task in mind are ideal.  Students with disabilities who have been granted extra time on tests may arrange to use the testing rooms in the MAX Center.
2) Academic Programs and Advising:  The Director, located in Weyerhaeuser Hall, often meets with students experiencing academic difficulty.  She also convenes the Academic Standing Committee and is knowledgeable about academic standing policies and procedures.  /academicprograms/
3) Office of Student Affairs:  When you suspect there are non-academic issues affecting a student’s performance, this office (located in Weyerhaeuser Hall) is an excellent resource.  The staff work closely with the psychologists in our Health and Wellness Center and can assist with making referrals.

A student in my class has decided to withdraw from the course.  What steps must he follow?
During the add/drop period students may remove courses from their schedules via 1600grand, our electronic registration system.  After the drop/add deadline (noted in the academic calendar on the Registrar’s website), students need the instructor’s signature and must submit the appropriate form to the Registrar’s office (located in 77 Mac) to receive a grade of “W” for a course they are no longer going to attend.  Additional registration guidance is available on the Registrar’s website,

What steps must a student take in order to withdraw from college or take a leave of absence?
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 parent of a student in my course has contacted me about her performance.  What information, if any, am I allowed to share?  To whom should I refer such inquiries?
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 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.  It is often best to forward inquiries from parents to the Director of Academic Programs and Advising, who can determine if a release is on file and decide how best to address the situation.  Additional information about FERPA is available in the Student Handbook,, or from the Registrar,

I suspect a student in my course has cheated on an exam/plagiarized a paper.  What steps should I follow?
The Director of Academic Programs and Advising manages the college’s Academic Integrity process and is available to consult with faculty about such issues.  Department chairs are also good resources.  Our policies and processes are described in full here, /academicprograms/academicpolicies/academicintegrity/.  In short, when a faculty member suspects a student of cheating or of plagiarizing, they should consult with the student about the suspected violation.  After this consultation, if the matter appears to be a violation, the faculty member is responsible for gathering the pertinent and necessary information and reporting the violation to the Director.

A student in my course tells me he has a learning disability.  Should I provide an accommodation on that basis?
Disability Services coordinates services for students with disabilities.  Students should be registered with that office to receive accommodations.  However, it is fine to talk with students about their learning challenges and determine what types of strategies might be most effective in your course.  Faculty members are also welcome to contact the office to discuss how to provide the best support.  Additional information can be found here,

Where can I find the college’s graduation requirements?
The College Catalog,, details all graduation requirements.  It is also the official source for major, minor and concentration requirements and includes the divisional designation for departmental offerings. Individual department web pages also have good information about majors, minors and course sequencing.  Students are able to track their own progress toward meeting graduation requirements via their DegreeWorks audit on 1600grand.  A student’s official academic advisor provides guidance on course selection in light of the student’s interests and long-term plans.

Where can I send a student who needs more career advice than I feel able to provide?
The Career Exploration office offers various interest/skills/personality tests; counseling appointments; holds a major/minor fair each year; helps students connect career and major/minor/concentration interests; and assists with job search, resume writing, and interviewing.  They are located in Kagin Commons.

Where can I send a student who is interested in applying for nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships?
There are many ways in which graduating seniors, and in some cases recent graduates, can fund graduate study, independent research and travel, and internships.  The opportunities managed by Academic Programs and Advising are highly competitive and typically require institutional nomination.  It is wise for interested students to first review the relevant websites and then make an appointment with the Director.  The early fall deadlines for many competitions mean applications require time and attention over the summer.  /academicprograms/studentopportunities/scholarshipsfellowships/seniors/.

Where can I send a student to learn about internships? 
The Internship Program helps students find and receive credit for intentional, academically relevant learning experiences.  They are located in Kagin Commons along with the Career Exploration office.

Where can I send a student who is interested in connecting with local issues, community organizations and learning about the Twin Cities?
The Civic Engagement Center has extensive knowledge of opportunities and student leaders ready to help their peers become meaningfully involved.  In addition, the CEC professional staff can help faculty incorporate civic engagement into their courses.  They are located in Markim Hall.

Where should students begin their exploration of study away options?
The Center for Study Away, located in Markim Hall, regularly offers study away information sessions and is the best place for students to begin their search.  CSA staff is knowledgeable about study away policies, programs and timelines.  Once students have narrowed their options, they should talk with their academic advisors and the chairs of their intended major/minor departments.

I have a number of international students in my course.  Who can I talk with about how to best meet their needs?
International Student Programs, located in Kagin Commons, provides a wide-range of services for international students, including assistance with cross-cultural adjustment, immigration, and work in the U.S.   The ISP staff is happy to consult about the needs of international students.

I’m concerned about a student’s irregular attendance in my class.  Who should I contact?
The Office of Student Affairs, located in Weyerhaeuser Hall, helps with students in crisis.  You should contact them when you have concerns about irregular attendance or other issues with a student’s behavior/performance.

I have a question about submitting grades/granting a request for an incomplete/the academic calendar.  Who should I contact?
The Registrar’s Office, located in 77 Mac, handles everything regarding registration:  from developing the course schedule, to assigning rooms, to handling drops/adds/withdrawals, to processing grades.  They are very knowledgeable about academic policies and procedures and a good first place to call with questions related to the administration of your course.