Advising at Macalester

Incoming first year students are advised by the instructors of their First Year Courses.  This arrangement means there is ample opportunity for students to receive advice and guidance on a whole range of issues.  Students new to Macalester need help understanding the purposes of a liberal arts education, navigating our curriculum and requirements, and reflecting on what they are learning from their experiences inside and outside the classroom.   Faculty advisors play a leading role in this process.

Each semester prior to pre-registration for the next term all students are required to meet with their faculty advisors.  These appointments are opportune times to formally take stock of a student’s progress towards graduation, but also to consider broader questions as well.   What follows are suggestions for what faculty advisors should keep in mind at various junctures in their advisees’ time at Mac.

Advising First Years

1)    Establish Advising Expectations.  Having a faculty academic advisor is a new experience for most students.  Unlike high school, where the curriculum was set and the guidance counselor dictated the options, students in college are responsible for choosing a major, selecting classes, and seeking help and assistance as needed.  Faculty advisors provide guidance and mentoring, but students must make their own decisions.  Establishing responsibilities and expectations early can help ensure the advising relationship is productive.

2)    Academic Plans.   Some students will come to college with very clear ideas about majors and minors; others will be uncertain.  In either case, experiences both inside and outside the classroom will inform their choices.  While we want first year students to fully explore our liberal arts curriculum, it is also helpful to know where they may be headed in order to make appropriate course recommendations.  This is especially true in the spring when students are planning for the fall semester of the sophomore year.

3)    Grades.  Adjusting to the academic workload of college is a challenge for many students.   The mid-point of the first semester is a good time to take stock of how a student is doing.  Students whose grades are weak (C’s or lower) should be encouraged to consult with the faculty members of those courses and to seek help from the MAX Center as well as other learning assistance support (i.e. preceptors, departmental tutors).  Additionally, the Office of Student Affairs and the Director of Academic Programs and Advising are good referrals, especially if there are non-academic factors affecting performance.  Finally, grades should be one factor to consider as students make choices about majors, minors and concentrations, and it is important to remember that beginning Fall 2018 students will need to earn a grade of C- or better in a course for it to meet any college wide graduation requirement (except for the FYC).

The mid-point of the semester may also be the moment to talk with students about the S/D/N grading option and withdrawing from courses.  The default grading option for most courses is A-NC, but students can elect to take up to one course per semester on the S/D/N basis.  Beginning in Fall 2018, the timing to select the S/D/N grading option will move to the middle of the semester (consult the academic calendar for the exact date).  This enables students more time to fully engage with a course before deciding if stress, course balance, or other factors might make changing to S/D/N a good option.  The Advising Guide to the S:SD:N Grading Option provides a detailed discussion of considerations, but it is important to keep in mind that only courses taken on the A-NC grade base can be used to meet major, minor and concentration requirements.  Students may take other graduation requirements on the S/D/N basis, but beginning Fall 2018, they must earn an “S” in the course for it to meet the requirement.  Withdrawing from a course is another option to consider, especially if a student’s chance of passing the course seems unlikely.  When a student withdraws the course remains on the transcript with a grade of “W”.  The “W” grade has no GPA impact and a handful of such grades on a transcript is not overly concerning, especially if the record is otherwise strong.  However, no credits are earned for withdrawn courses so it is important to discuss the impact withdrawing will have on timely graduation.

4)    Schedule considerations.

  1. If students are taking courses in a sequence (i.e. in math, language or science) then they should plan to take the next course in the sequence, unless they are not going to continue with it.  Remember students must demonstrate proficiency through Intermediate 2 to complete our second language requirement.
  2. Students are required to complete a course designated argumentative writing (WA) or writing as craft (WC) in their first semester.  In order to graduate students need to complete a total of three courses with writing designations.  At least one must be designated WA and no more than one may be designated WP (writing as practice).
  3. Show students how to access their DegreeWorks audit on 1600grand and discuss their progress on meeting requirements as they consider courses.
  4. First-year students will register last in the queue so students should have back-ups in case courses are full when their assigned time arrives.  Alternative sections of the same course, different courses in the same department or division, different courses that meet the same general education requirement, are all good strategies.  If all of the student’s options are full the day before their registration time, they may need to make another appointment to see you.  You may also send students with scheduling difficulties to Academic Programs and Advising.
  5. When planning for the spring semester of the first year, students should still be looking at 100 and 200 level courses, unless their placement in a course sequence (usually in a language) would put them in a 300-level course.  As students plan for the fall term, more advanced or specialized courses may be appropriate.

5)    Registration process.  Students will register on-line in 1600grand at an assigned day and time.   To access the system students need to enter a PIN you will provide.  You can access the PINs from your Advisee Listing on 1600grand.  Be sure to select the PIN for the appropriate term (spring PINs are 6-digits; fall PINs are 4-digits), before accessing the listing.  Detailed instructions and additional registration tips are available on the Registrar’s website under Class Schedules and Registration.

6)    Make notes reflecting your suggestions in a student’s paper advising file or in the DegreeWorks audit.  This will help you remember your recommendations when you meet with your advisee in subsequent semesters and it will help other faculty who are also advising the student.  A note of caution: notes in DegreeWorks can be seen by the student and by other faculty.  Don’t write anything in those notes you wouldn’t want others to see.

Advising Sophomores

While many of the advising conversations begun in the first year will continue into the sophomore year, some topics take on greater weight.

1)    Major Declaration and Study Away:  Sophomores are required to declare a major before they register for the first semester of their junior year.  Typically this happens in the spring, but students with advanced standing may need to do this in the fall.  Additionally, students who intend to study away must submit a four-year plan, which requires a clear idea of majors, minors, etc.  The study away deadline is now in early December instead of February.  All this means advising appointments with sophomores will be more focused on selecting majors, minors and concentrations.

2)    Switching Advisors:  Some students will keep their FYC advisor throughout their time at Mac, but often students will switch to a new advisor when they declare a major.  You can help your advisees think about who to ask and ease their transition to this new person.  Keeping good advising notes is one way to ensure the new advisor is aware of ideas and plans you’ve discussed.  It is also not uncommon for former advisees to stay in touch and ask for advice even though their official advisor is in another department.

3)    Develop a four-semester plan:  If your advisee declares a major in your department, then you can begin planning for the remaining semesters at Mac.  While the specific times courses will be offered won’t be known until the Schedule of Classes goes live, students can identify course sequences in the major/minor/concentration, think about which faculty members’ teaching and research interests align with their own goals, and determine when might be an ideal time to take any remaining college-wide requirements.  It is prudent to review this plan and update it each semester until the student graduates.

Advising Juniors

The junior year is the time for students to think more seriously about what they want to do after graduation and make sure they have experiences relevant to that goal.  Faculty play an important role in preparing students for what comes after Mac, in concert with staff in key offices on campus whose missions are to assist students with this transition.

1)    Careers.  It is increasingly common for students to seek jobs after graduation, instead of immediately going to graduate school.   The Career Development Center (CDC) is the central office on campus that can help students think about their interests, jobs, and how to prepare for employment after Mac.  Internships are great ways for students to determine if a field is a good fit, to make contacts and to develop skills to highlight on a resume.  The Internship Program works with students who want to receive academic credit for unpaid experiences, although short-term, non-credit bearing internships can also be valuable, especially early in the college career.  Having several internships, with increasing responsibilities, is ideal.  Networking with alumni is also important to career development and many departments host events to facilitate these connections.  Additionally, the Alumni Office can help students make contact with alumni in many different fields.  Finally student employment, both on and off-campus, can be an important component of a successful job search.  Building relationships with supervisors, who can later serve as references, is as important as the skills students develop from these part-time jobs.

2)    Graduate School.  Mentoring students who are graduate-school bound is a role with which most faculty advisors feel quite comfortable, especially when the advisee is going into a similar field.  By the junior year competitive candidates are engaging in independent study, research or creative activities appropriate to the fields they plan to enter.  Completing an honors project is an ideal way to demonstrate the ability to do graduate level work.  Most departments have a spring deadline for applying to do an honors project in the senior year so students need to identify projects and make plans early in the junior year.  Most students will also take entrance exams in the spring of the junior year or the following summer, if they plan to attend graduate school immediately following graduation.  Identifying what tests are necessary and the dates they are offered needs to be part of a student’s plan.  Identifying faculty who will write recommendations on behalf of the student is also something to consider, as is giving them guidance on how to ask for these letters.  A general set of tips is available on the Academic Programs website.  Students who need to deepen relationships with faculty in their desired field may want to consider choosing courses that will allow them to do so.  The junior year is also the time to start considering national scholarships.  Most of these competitions have deadlines in September or October of the senior year, which means students need to contact the Academic Programs Office in spring of the junior year in order to develop a strong application.

3)    The junior year is an ideal time for students to consider their progress on the College’s Student Learning Outcomes.  They may want to select courses or participate in activities that will, for example, enhance their ability to communicate effectively, make informed choices or engage the community.

Advising Seniors

The post-Mac conversations begun in the junior year will continue, and intensify, in the senior year.  In addition, you want to ensure your advisees are on track to graduate in May.

1)    A Declaration of Intent to Graduate form needs to be submitted to the Registrar by the beginning of the student’s final year. Doing so ensures your advisee will receive important information about commencement and related graduation deadlines.

2)    Review progress on graduation requirements.  A student’s DegreeWorks audit captures college-wide requirements, as well as majors, minors and concentrations.  If substitutions have been made then those updates must be submitted to the Registrar.   The Registrar’s staff also reviews a student’s record once the Intent to Graduate form has been received.  Notices regarding any missing requirements will be sent to the student.  It is prudent to check that a student’s fall registration (and spring plan) includes what a student needs to graduate.  While a student who is within eight of the 128 credits required for a degree may participate in commencement, they will not officially graduate or receive a diploma until all requirements have been met.

3)    Stay Connected.  Your relationship with your advisees doesn’t end at graduation.  In fact, young alums will often need letters of recommendation and advice for several years after they leave Macalester.  Accordingly, it is wise to keep electronic copies of letters for at least five (if not ten!) years.  Staying connected also helps in building the alumni network your current advisees need.