In addition to new college facilities, the expanded freshman class of 2021 — the first class to occupy the new residential colleges — may be welcomed by a revamped advising system.
In planning for the new colleges, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway has begun to examine undergraduate advising with the hope of implementing improvements prior to the colleges’ opening. While the timeline is not set, Holloway said he hopes to have a plan for any changes to advising by the spring of 2016, so they may be implemented in phases before the new colleges open in the fall of 2017. The examination will involve collaboration between members of Holloway’s Working Group and Steering Committee — two committees planning for the new colleges — and the Committee on Teaching, Learning and Advising. These groups will meet with residential college deans, directors of undergraduate studies, staff of the Center for International and Professional Experience and also with students themselves to solicit recommendations to improve advising at Yale.
Holloway said while Yale’s current advising system is already good, there is always room for improvement. And with the student body set to increase by 15 percent over four years, advising resources could become strained.
“We […] hope to define and communicate better the goals of advising,” Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs for Yale College George Levesque said. “There is often a significant gap between what students expect from their adviser and what the adviser is able to provide, especially in freshman year.”
Of nine students interviewed, most said they had overall positive experiences with advising. But among those students, only one expressed substantial enthusiasm about her experience with her adviser. Most others said they did not form relationships with their advisers, and that they did not see them outside of getting their schedules signed.
Alyssa Chen ’18 said she has greatly enjoyed working with her adviser, adding that although the adviser is in chemistry, which will not be her major, his connections to professors in other STEM fields have been very helpful.
“It’s not good or bad,” Thomas Cusano ’18 said of his relationship with his adviser. “She’s nice and everything, [but] we just don’t share any interests.”
The review will cover advising students on both academic and habits of life issues, with a particular focus on pre-major advising.
Currently, freshmen advisers are drawn from the fellowship of each residential college, but individual residential college deans use different systems to assign advisers to freshmen, according to Risa Sodi, director of academic advising for Yale College.
Holloway said while this current system makes sense, it has sometimes proven uneven — some advisers pay more attention to their freshmen than others, and some colleges have more advisers than others. Additionally, the fellows of different colleges may be concentrated in different fields of study. If, for instance, most of a college’s advisers are in STEM fields, it could present issues for students interested in the humanities.
“We’re trying to match need with skill, and that’s a really tricky thing to do,” Holloway said.
But regardless, nearly three quarters of Yale students ultimately major in a field other than the one they indicated before matriculating.
Computer science professor Brian Scassellati, whose field is the seventh most popular major at Yale, said he has always been matched up with freshmen who share some aspect of his many interests. These relationships have always been positive, with many of his advisees going on to enroll in his classes or even work in his lab, he said.
Several advisers said overlapping academic interests are not crucial for a freshman advising relationship. English lecturer Rona Johnston Gordon, an adviser in Pierson, said she is not aware of any policy that ties freshmen to advisers with similar academic interests, but that her role is more focused on encouraging students to be adventurous in their class choices. Similarly, pharmacology professor Leonard Kaczmarek, a freshman adviser for Morse College, said he largely works with students interested in medical school, but that even when students do not share his interests, the advising relationship works well.
All five freshman advisers interviewed said they largely support Yale’s current advising system. Architecture lecturer Phil Bernstein, a Timothy Dwight adviser, said it is superior to the system at many schools, where advisers sometimes work with hundreds of students. On average, Yale advisers work with fewer than three students, Sodi said.
Still, Bernstein said the advising system could likely benefit from improved infrastructure and additional online resources. Other advisers noted that students sometimes do not take advantage of the potential to form close bonds with their advisers.
All Yale College students are required to have an academic adviser during their four years as undergraduates.