academics header
 

Advice on Advising and Being Advised at Hampshire

Submitted by: Carol Trosset, Director of Institutional Research

This report is based on insights drawn from several separate survey and interview studies with Hampshire students and faculty within the past five years. It is organized according to different dimensions of the advising relationship, and includes student and faculty points of view. Students and faculty should read both perspectives in order to understand how to fulfill their own roles in the most effective way.

Helping the student develop a program of study and choose classes

The effectiveness of the advisor in helping students with their academic program is the most important component of student satisfaction with advising. Two patterns emerge: (a) while nearly all faculty and students consider these discussions important, large numbers of students have not had them, and (b) while many faculty describe successful advising as working with students who already have a well-formed interest, many students say they need help in formulating that interest and learning how to pursue it.

Things students find helpful:

  • Advisor and student look through the course catalog together, searching for interesting courses
  • Advisor helps the students clarify their interests and figure out how to pursue them
  • Advisor understands what the students are trying to do, sees what they need, and helps them find it
  • Advisor helps turn the student’s passion into a meaningful way of learning
  • Advisor gives students a broader point of view, shows rthem how other subjects might relate to that area of interest
  • Advisor refers students to other faculty members who work in the student’s area of interest

Things students find difficult:

  • When the advisor says “do whatever you want,” instead of providing guidance, or signs off on the student’s potential classes without discussion, opinions, or appearing to care what the student takes
  • When the advisor doesn’t really try to understand what the student wants to do
  • When the advisor talks students into things they don't want to do
  • When the advisor, despite answering all the questions that occurred to the student, fails to push the student to think beyond what that stuent is already doing

Things faculty find helpful:

  • Students are enthusiastic, and have ideas and goals about what they want to do
  • Students have many courses they want to take
  • Student wants help shaping a program
  • Student respects both disciplinary knowledge and faculty expertise

Things faculty find difficult:

  • Keeping track of the details of each student’s unique and complex story
  • Students want to “learn only what they love," to restrict study to a very narrow topic, are uninterested in other ideas and don't want to acquire an appropriate background for the desired topic
  • Student is directionless and disconnected, avoids responsibility, is unresponsive to advisor’s attempts to engage and support him/her
  • Student says there are no classes that look interesting
  • Student wants to be told what to take or what to be interested in
  • Student has vague or unrealistic goals for why to take a particular course

Logistics of navigating Hampshire and its procedures

Things students find helpful:

  • Student has read all the orientation information, asks lots of questions, and does all the recommended follow-up. This process is very complex but successful.
  • Advisor is a helpful adult figure who knows how the system works and explains it clearly, saying “This is what you need to do, and we can help.”
  • Advisor has the right forms on hand (for things like independent study), with explicit instructions for how to file them
  • If the advisor doesn’t know the answer, the advisor will say “let’s call advising and find out,” or finds out and gets back to the student promptly

Things students find difficult:

  • Advisor doesn’t seem to understand requirements and is not a reliable source of information
  • Advisor doesn’t know how to get answers to student’s questions, or promises to look for answers but doesn’t follow up
  • Advisor seems uninterested in the College system and its requirements, giving a general impression of “disinterest in the institution”
  • Advisor doesn’t realize that students don’t understand lots of things, or that disagreements between CASA and the advisor can lead to problems and delays for the student

Things faculty find difficult:

* Information from different sources can be inconsistent, and/or things change frequently and without warning.
* Keeping track of Div I requirements, which leaves insufficient time for substantive conversations
* When students don’t know much about the academic requirements
* Some students are misinformed and think that Hampshire has no requirements at all, misperceiving “alternative education” as the lack of all structure or limits
* When the student doesn’t really want solutions, but rather reassurance that not succeeding is okay, saying things like “I just can’t get my act together” or “Professor X hates me,” and clearly wanting to be told that this is okay and not the student’s fault
* When the student plays different faculty members against each other


Monitoring the student’s academic progress

Monitoring academic progress can simply mean making sure the student has fulfilled curricular requirements and filed divisional proposals, but it can also mean making sure the student is learning effectively, becoming a good writer, developing good study skills, etc. Being familiar with a student’s academic background can simply focus on identifying his/her areas of interest, or it can include noticing, for example, weak quantitative skills and encouraging the student to build stronger skills in that area.

Things students find helpful:

* Advisor shows an interest in the student’s progress in all classes
* Advisor challenges the student, within the context of the student’s goals
* Advisor and student develop a plan for what the student will do next, and then the advisor follows up, asking whether the student did this and how it went.

Things students find difficult:

* When, despite having great conversations, the advisor does not seem invested in or supportive of the student making academic progress

Summer and post-graduate plans

Things students find helpful:

* Raising the issue of planning for Div III while the student is still in Div I
* Advisor shows an interest in the student’s plans for the future, providing substantial information and discussion in response to the student’s questions
* Exploring how Hampshire can help with a student’s 5-year goals
* Working together to map out a student’s future in detail, “even though it feels like an un-Hampshire conversation”

Availability

Hampshire students and faculty surveyed are unanimous in believing it is important that an advisor be accessible to advisees who need help. How much time is enough? Hampshire students meet with their advisors more often, and for more time, than students at many other institutions. Students and advisors at Hampshire often report (in surveys and anecdotally), however, that they do not have enough time to meet. This leads students to feel they do not get enough attention, while advisors become frustrated when students do not respect time limits.

Things students find helpful:

* The advisor seems happy to spend time to discuss whatever the student finds important.
* The advisor emphasizes that advisees should come talk anytime they need anything.

Things students find difficult:

* The advisor is inaccessible without major effort on the part of the student.
* The advisor misses meetings.
* The advisor allows only 10-15 minutes for a meeting.

Things faculty find difficult:

* The student doesn’t recognize that there are necessary time limits on meetings, and/or doesn’t respond to cues indicating that a meeting needs to end.

Who Should Take the Initiative

There is confusion and disagreement about who holds responsibility for initiating contact. Faculty often feel it should be the student’s responsibility, while many students are disappointed that the faculty don’t reach out or invite contact. First-year students who met regularly with their advisors while enrolled in the tutorial class sometimes report feeling as if the advisor “vanished” during spring semester. Division III students sometimes report thinking that they should figure out difficult things for themselves before seeing their advisors, while at the same time the advisors report a tendency to assume that if a Div III student doesn’t come to them it means that all is going well.

It appears that, depending on the student, either too much or too little attention can be bad. Some students want to be warned away from potential danger while others interpret this as being babied. Advisors report difficulty in finding the right balance between being tolerant/flexible and cracking down on bad behavior. It seems very important for the student and the advisor to agree on and understand what is involved in both roles.

Creating a Positive Atmosphere

Things students find helpful:

* Advisor sees students not just as part of the job but as people who the advisor will help guide through college
* Advisor is honest, authentic, and a good listener
* Advisor truly seems to have the student’s best interests at heart

Things students find difficult:

* When the advisor doesn’t pay attention during meetings
* When the advisor doesn’t directly answer the student’s questions
* When the advisor makes the student feel stupid for having asked a question
* When the advisor is visibly uninterested in advising (sometimes explicitly stating this)
* Cookie-cutter meetings where the advisor asks only basic standard questions, doesn’t reach out and chat at all

Things faculty find difficult:

* When the student is rude (often in email messages) and doesn’t make the advisor feel respected as a person.

Non-academic issues and challenges

Many students like it when the advisor encourages the student’s involvement in extra-curricular activities, and most faculty consider this an appropriate dimension of advising.

A more contentious issue has to do with perceptions of a “personal” dimension to the advising relationship. About a third of students, and a quarter of the faculty, feel it is appropriate for students to seek the advisor’s help with personal problems. Many faculty are uncomfortable when this happens, however, and feel it is an inappropriate use of the advising relationship. Many faculty also feel that they do not have the necessary expertise to assist with this sort of problem.

 

 

  • Student wants help shaping a program
    • Student respects both disciplinary knowledge and faculty expertise
  •  

     

     

     
     

    © 2014 Hampshire College 893 West Street Amherst, MA 01002 . 413.549.4600