Freshman advising a mixed bag

As shopping period comes to a close, students across campus trek up Science Hill and wander the labyrinthine corridors of the Hall of Graduate Studies to find their academic advisers. But for freshmen, the advising experience can come with far greater hurdles.

Before classes start, all freshmen are assigned to academic advisers who are tasked with advising and signing their schedules. Yale College Dean Mary Miller said residential college deans and masters solicit and train these advisers and assign them to small groups of students within each college. Though all advisers have access to a freshman advising website and handbook, disparities among individual residential college advising practices have prompted some students to raise concerns over academic guidance in the freshman year.

“How to make advising better in Yale College has remained a longstanding concern,” Miller said. “But at the same time, individual freshman advising by faculty members has long been a process organized inside the residential colleges.”

Risa Sodi GRD ’95, who became Yale’s first director of academic advising in August, said residential colleges have anywhere from 30 to 60 designated freshman academic advisers, and advising groups range in size from one student to five. Branford Master Betsy Bradley GRD ’96 said her college has approximately 25 freshman faculty advisers who take on four students each, while Pierson Master Stephen Davis GRD ’98 said his college had over 50 faculty advisers last year, each overseeing only two students.

Sodi said she thinks her new position will provide a central resource for the many dispersed advising systems in Yale College. Sodi said that she has spent her first month on the job familiarizing herself with the existing advising structures to identify areas in which the University can improve.

“I really want to get to know people better, to do a bit of a listening tour, to take in ideas from advisers and deans, faculty members and freshmen,” Sodi said. “Where do they see us going? What would they like to see happen?”

Julia Kim-Cohen, who has served as a freshman faculty adviser in Davenport, said different students expect different levels of involvement from their advisers. Though Kim-Cohen said she meets with all her advisees twice during shopping period and twice more throughout the semester, she said some students seek her out for additional help, while others prefer a more hands-off approach.

 

Sodi, a longtime freshman adviser in Timothy Dwight College, said advisers often come from fields outside students’ expressed area of interest, and provide general guidance and encourage students to spend their freshman year trying new things.

“Really, the role of the freshman adviser is to help the freshmen explore and give them permission, maybe, to challenge their perception of themselves,” Sodi said. “We really want to instill a dialogue between a student and adult about that student’s academic career.”

Students interviewed expressed mixed opinions about the freshman advising system.

Shikha Garg ’15 said she only saw her freshman adviser once, to sign her schedule.

But Walter Hsiang ’15 said his adviser helped connect him to another faculty member with whom he now works, adding that he met with his advisers multiple times throughout the year.

Still, Hsiang acknowledged that students have vastly different experiences with advising.

“The structure of advising is really hit-or-miss,” Hsiang said. “You could get someone really dedicated, but they could also be too busy.”

Several current freshmen interviewed said they would be more likely to turn to other sources of guidance beyond their freshman advisers, such as freshman counselors and older friends.

Emma Fredwall ’17 said her first instinct when she has a question about freshman year is to ask upperclassman friends.

“I think it makes more sense to go to talk to those whom you can really relate to, rather than someone who has been assigned to you,” Fredwall said.

Correction: Sept. 12

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Julia Kim-Cohen meets with her advisees twice a semester, when in fact she meets with them twice during shopping period and twice more throughout the semester. 

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