Advising Better Advisors

Harvard College needs a more flexible freshman advising system.

With Harvard Law School overhauling its advising and mentorship programs, it is fitting that we examine the College’s own programs, in particular its freshmen advising programs. Before freshmen even step foot on Harvard’s campus to begin their first year, they are matched with a peer advising fellow and an academic advisor as their core advising system. These matches are made on the basis of student responses to general questionnaires. However, there is extreme variance in the satisfaction freshmen have with their advisors. Because of this, we encourage Harvard College administrators to adopt a more flexible advising system, particularly for freshmen.

The aforementioned matching is based on questionnaires freshmen complete the summer before they arrive at the College. After the first year, the crux of the student advising system shifts to concentration advisors, with sophomores briefly dependent on sophomore advisors within their Houses before declaring their concentrations officially come November. The discrepancies within College advising, then, lies largely in the first-year experience.

Some freshmen begin college with a clear understanding of the academic and professional interests they intend to pursue. For these students, we suggest that they be matched with advisors who are qualified with knowledge of that field or career. Others come in with only vague, transient thoughts of what they want to pursue in college and beyond. Students in this position should be able to be matched with advisors based on their incoming interests. However, the College should make it much easier for freshmen in both positions to switch advisors, especially academic advisors, at any point in the first year should their interests change.

Additionally, academic advisors should have a better understanding of the undergraduate course system, especially courses first years may take. If advisors do not have experience in their advisees’ desired field of study, they should be able to point them to resources and individuals who can better inform and guide them. PAFs should also clearly present themselves as academic support systems to their advisees. While many academic advisors did not attend Harvard for their undergraduate education, every PAF is also a Harvard College student, and should establish a baseline of familiarity for their advisees with how to navigate Harvard as an institute of higher education, not just as a social space.

That said, we do want to remind freshmen that you can seek help navigating Harvard beyond the PAF and academic advisor you are assigned. You can create opportunities by joining clubs, emailing professors, and contacting older students to get the advice you need, especially if your existing advising system does not meet your needs.

All in all, freshmen year is when students’ academic careers are the most in flux and the advising systems they rely on must be similarly flexible. Harvard should look to be able to quickly adapt to freshmen’s changing needs and interests, efficiently answering questions and providing guidance to help them along their formative year at the College.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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