The strengths — and pitfalls — of Yale College advising
The News spoke to eight students and faculty members about how college and major advisers work across Yale College
Tenzin Jorden, Photography Editor
During his four years at Yale, Charlie Mayock-Bradley ’23 has had five advisers — a college adviser, a sophomore-year adviser, two directors of undergraduate studies and a thesis adviser.
As Yalies progress from year to year, they switch advisers to better accommodate their academic needs. Even with this system in place, many students find it difficult to navigate advising at Yale. According to the YCC fall survey, 49 percent of students described their first-year advising experience as “unacceptable” or “lacking.” Surveyants recommended matching advisors and advisees based on interest, enforcing regular contact and increased outreach.
“The advising system is a really cool way to meet older people involved with Yale but it seems to me that it’s very hit or miss,” Zoe Mohaupt ’25 wrote to the News. “From what I’ve heard, at best an advisor can be an interesting person to talk to about your interests and at worst they can totally ghost you.”
The News spoke to eight students and faculty members on how advising works across Yale College.
Every Yale College student is randomly assigned a college adviser for their first year through their residential college. These advisers can be faculty or staff pulled from across Yale College.
While college advisers may not share a student’s academic field, they can provide help with course selection and goals for the first year. Students are required to meet with advisers at the beginning of each term, but they can also set up additional meetings.
Goals of college advising include an introduction to the liberal arts model, how to navigate Yale, how to craft a good first-year course schedule and how to identify areas of interest as well as opportunities to branch out.
For students like Alexander McDonald ’26, having a college adviser was helpful in providing academic advice as well as help in adjusting to Yale. He has met with his adviser twice over the semester.
“My advisor helped provide an objective and concise explanation between two different majors/academic routes I was considering,” McDonald wrote to the News. “In doing so I felt as though I have much more knowledge on what future courses to take and what I should look for in each class.”
Other students, however, have found their first-year advising experiences misaligned with their academic goals.
Residential college advisers are only assigned to first-year students. They are volunteers that come from all over the university and are not necessarily faculty.
For Mohaupt, while she appreciates her adviser, she did not get the guidance she needed for her academics.
Mohaupt said that for the advising system to work better, Yale should “find advisors that want to actually advise and people who are genuinely able and apt to help students.”
College advisers receive training in August from the Yale College Dean’s Office to prepare them for their first time advising or as a refresher session for returning advisers. Sessions are led by Yale College deans and residential college deans. Residential college deans also hold information sessions for their affiliated college advisers before the first meeting of the fall semester.
The college advising program is also adapting to a more diverse undergraduate student body, according to Assistant Dean of Yale College Risa Sodi. Programs directed at advising students from varied backgrounds include First-Year Scholars at Yale program, the FGLI Community Initiative and the Academic Strategies Program.
Starting in students’ second semester, they can choose to either stay with their residential college adviser or choose a faculty member in Yale College to serve as their sophomore-year adviser. Students can stay with their college adviser for the first four semesters of enrollment.
According to Yale’s advising website, sophomore year advisers often come from students’ academic interests or prospective majors. Sophomore-year advisers must be faculty members, not just staff.
“I switched advisers because I had a professor in the Spanish department who I really got along with,” Mayock-Bradley said. “She had a really good understanding of the requirements for the Spanish certificate and the Spanish major, and also a good understanding of how I could fit that into the other requirements and electives that I was interested in sophomore year.”
But not everyone finds such an academic match as a first-year.
Ted Shepherd ’25, a YCC senator who has focused on advising, noted that 45% of students surveyed at the beginning of the year also felt disappointed in their sophomore-year advising.
He explained further that while faculty advisors often know much about their particular fields, they struggle to help students with general advising questions or inquiries that fall outside of their specific purview.
“It is clear that something needs to be done to revamp our advising system,” Shepherd wrote to the News. “To put it simply, we are concerned that there is too much advising depth and not enough advising breadth.”
When a student declares their major, though, advisorial depth becomes arguably more important than breadth.
Once students declare a major, which can happen any time after their first semester, their adviser automatically becomes the director of undergraduate studies for that department. The director of undergraduate studies is meant to help students navigate the department and understand the requirements of the major.
Daniel Prober, director of undergraduate studies for applied physics, said he helps students make a plan to understand the department requirements as well as set students up with research opportunities.
“My role is certainly to make sure that the academic requirements are met, that the class electives we require are mutually supportive of the research as much as they can be,” Prober said. “In my experience over about the last 10 years, that’s always been the case.”
Compared to college advisers, directors of undergraduate studies are better equipped to help with questions about specific major requirements.
Mayock-Bradley, who declared a double major in Spanish and Political Science, said his department directors helped him figure out his requirements.
“They are good at guiding students who have just started the major in terms of figuring out what requirements have you done and what requirements you have left to do,” Mayock-Bradley said. “They helped with guiding me on a track that I will have to still explore things in the major but also make sure I get everything done that I need to get done.”
In larger departments, a host of faculty advisers can help the DUS and ADUS advise students. Yale’s Computer Science department houses two designated faculty advisers, often associate professors, for freshmen/sophomores, three for juniors, and three for seniors. Some of these advisers host weekly office hours, and others can be contacted for an appointment. In such cases, the DUS is meant as a “backup for advice” if class advisors cannot be reached.
In their senior year, many students have to complete a senior paper, project or thesis to graduate for their majors. For theses or research projects, students pick an adviser in the department to guide them over the course of a semester or a year.
For applied physics and similar STEM fields, students do research at the end of their studies. Prober helps to assign students to research groups that best fit their interests.
“Every student has to do two terms of research,” Prober said. “In most cases, they’re meeting more than weekly with the senior graduate student or with one of the postdocs who is the immediate supervisor. And in terms of the students, that is very useful, because … they choose the research area based on what they think they want to do, or because they have a friend that was happy in their research group.”
For humanities majors, students typically write theses and choose an advisor to help with the progress.
Mayock-Bradley chose his thesis adviser based on similar research areas in gender and sexuality in American politics.
“This relationship is a little bit more casual than other academic relationships in that … her role is more to talk me through the research that I’m doing,” Mayock-Bradley said. “Our relationship is more based on having conversations and guiding me towards other specific sources and specific directions. I can talk about my research rather than just generally plan my academic calendar or academic schedule.”
Formal advising at Yale is also supplemented by other, less formal advisers that help students.
Mayock-Bradley mentioned that during his first year, when he did not meet his adviser until halfway through shopping period, he received advice from his first-year counselor (FroCo) and upperclassmen.
“I go to my FroCo more because I developed a closer relationship with them throughout my time here where I feel comfortable enough to reach out to them about personal situations outside of just Yale life,” Michelle Lee ’26 said. “I also think since they’re still a student they have more perspective on the way things work currently.”
The Teaching, Learning, and Advising Committee is reviewing the advising system particularly for students new to Yale, but also major advising, according to Sodi. The committee will present its report to Dean of Yale College Pericles Lewis next semester.
The summer peer advising program that the YCDO piloted in summer 2022 proved successful, and the University is looking to expand and enhance advising opportunities in summer 2023.
Yale offers 82 majors for the 2022-23 school year.