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Give Students Better Advising

By Nancy RAINE Reyes

I slowly walked into my senior tutor's office, knowing that this would be a hard thing to do. I had done it before, but as a junior, I felt it was even more embarrassing and horrible then before. I mustered up all the courage I could, I cheered myself on and walked in the door. "May I, uh, do you mind if, let me see, I am thinking of...could you give me a change of concentration form please?" She gave it to me without a question. No sweat. Ah, third time must be a charm.

Yes, I am a junior. A junior, who just a few days ago was an English and French concentrator, but today I am just an English concentrator. Yes, I am a Harvard student, who in the spring of her junior year has decided to change her concentration just one more time. And the worst part about this whole thing is that I am not even sure that I have made the right decision--the decision that is going to make me the happiest.

I began my academic career here like so many other Harvard students. I thought I knew what I was going to concentrate in when I was just a sophomore in high school--when I thought that I was going to single-handedly save the world. I naively, I suppose, felt the way to save the world was to major in government. But, after sitting through Government 10 and a couple of other government classes my first year, I quickly lost the desire to save the world. I just wanted to understand and maybe if I was lucky, like the classes that I was in. General Education 105 enlightened me, and I realized that what I really wanted to do here was to study literature, all kinds of literature, and so I waltzed into my advisor's office and confidently asked for a change of concentration form.

But then something else happened. As I began to love my English classes, I also began to love a couple of the French classes I was taking as electives. Unwilling to lose my French and in order to learn more about French Studies, I now as a sophomore, decided that maybe it was best to double concentrate in English and French Studies. So I marched into my advisor's office and simply asked for a change of concentration form.

Now in my junior year, I'm still not happy. I am convinced that the French literature department cares only about themselves. Annoyed with all the dry but required courses I need to take, and frustrated with the fact that I have no more time in my schedule to take the fascinating English courses that I want to take, I have once again decided that a change is necessary. So I have filed change of concentration form number three. And I am just a bit tired of this.

The fact of the matter is that I am still not happy. Something has gone terribly wrong. I have come to the realization that it is not just because I am hard to please but because I feel like I have had no help along the way. Had I to do it all over again, I might not be an English concentrator. Maybe I would be a literature, comparative literature, or a history and literature concentrator. But it is a little too late for me. Unless I plan to stay here for another three years and pay one hundred thousand dollars, I will graduate as an English concentrator who, if I had more time here would get to know the secretary who hands out my favorite forms too well.

As a first-year, I remember my friends being overwhelmed with the million of choices Harvard offers. Certainly an aspect to be proud of, Harvard should make these opportunities even better for their students by ensuring that there is sufficient advising from the start. One advisor can't possibly have all the answers. Having a whole spectrum of issues to be concerned with, they have no expert knowledge in the academic field, and when you are trying to decide what major you would like to pursue, a little expert knowledge would not hurt.

Maybe this is Dean Lewis' intention in revitalizing the Committee on Advising and Counseling this spring, and this is undoubtedly a good thing. Academic department heads do need to become a little less snobby and a little more involved in academic advising--a system that I hope Lewis understands should extend far beyond just the first years, as students are bound to change their minds at least once or twice. Or maybe more.

Nancy Raine Reyes' column appears on alternate Saturdays.

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