Advising Must Be Accessible
Yes, shopping period is finally over. It was officially over on Wednesday, February 8, 1995 and was marked symbolically by the turning in of study cards. And so many students are now officially and happily enrolled in their four or five classes and know exactly what they are doing this semester.
But still there are others who found hardly any comfort, much less help, in the shopping period system, and remain ambivalent about which courses they will take this spring semester, and where they are going for the rest of their academic career.
Perhaps these students mistakenly left the responsbility of choosing the appropriate classes to the magic of shopping period and were thus disappointed at the result. But students have also expressed another serious concern. While suffering through the painful procedure of choosing classes, some students have felt alone. They feel that no one is really there to help them and answer their questions.
They ask: Is this the right class? Does it count for my major? What classes do count for my major? Many of these questions remain unanswered and constitute the main reason why some students are still ambiguous about what courses they will be enrolled in this semester.
Into whose hands does this tedious responsibility fall? Who should be answering these vital questions? It seems that if students are complaining about a lack of concentration advising, then department advisors and tutors need to take action.
Although department and concentration advising does exist, it is clear from the ambiguity of students that their existence isn't really known and valued. Some students still don't know who their concentration advisor is. Department advisors and tutors need to make their existence and their purpose more known to concentrators, because many students are not taking advantage of a good resource.
There are several ways of attacking this problem. One way is by increasing office hours. Many professors and tutors offer only a couple of hours once a week for students to come in and discuss their problems. As much as it is understood that professors and tutors are busy people, they have an important responsibility to their students which a couple of office hours a week fails to meet.
Another way for department advisors to help students is by having one-on-one appointments with each student to discuss their schedules and their course options. While it is understandable that some concentrations are so popular and have hundreds of students in them, it is not inconceivable to offer advising to each of those students. If it means hiring more tutors or holding longer office hours, then it should be done.
And lastly, if personal advising for each student becomes a task that is too difficult to handle, then there should be more correspondence between the department heads and their students. If students received more mail about who is who and who does what within the department, then they could be more aware of who to go to for help.
So while the semester has started for some, many still remain in the dark about what courses to enroll in this spring and what classes to take next year and the year after that. And many of these students will attempt to find answers on their own, ignorant of the important and valuable resources available at their own concentration buildings.
Students will eventually enroll in classes and everything will be cosmetically cured until this vicious cycle begins agains next semester, and students realize that they could have taken a course for concentration credit while the one which they did take doesn't count for anything and wasn't a good idea anyway. But since no one explained the options to them while they were brooding over which classes to take, it is the students who suffer.
To avoid these concerns in the future, the departments at Harvard should finally forge a commitment to making their untapped expertise more available to students.
Nancy Raine Reyes' column appears on alternate Saturdays.