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Freshman Advising: It Takes a Village

The Advising Programs Office, which recently announced changes to the freshman advising system, is housed in the Smith Campus Center.
The Advising Programs Office, which recently announced changes to the freshman advising system, is housed in the Smith Campus Center. By Delano R. Franklin
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

This year, Harvard’s Advising Programs Office has directed Peer Advising Fellows to refrain from advising their freshmen on academic matters. The move comes as part of a larger effort to reform the freshman academic advising system, which has faced heavy criticism from the student body for its dramatically variable quality. Many PAFs have expressed their concern with this decision, feeling that this new restriction of their role may be detrimental to freshmen.

We agree with the APO that the advising system must be improved. Some freshman advisers are only loosely affiliated with the College and have little knowledge of undergraduate courses. Moreover, many freshmen may not have the necessary support to navigate the complex maze that is Harvard course selection. While we support the College’s efforts to solve this problem, we are concerned that getting rid of a valuable source of guidance is a step in the wrong direction that will disadvantage many freshmen.

Even if academic advisers were already showing improvement in their ability to help students select courses, this move would still be a mistake. If Harvard wants freshmen to utilize their academic advisers more, they should make them better. But even if that were achieved, barring freshmen from using PAFs for academic advice seems unnecessary and counterproductive. Every freshman has a different experience with the advising system. Some get their best academic advice from their PAFs, while others have a better experience with their advisers. Giving freshmen more options allows for the best chance at a solid connection with at least one source of guidance. The APO should aim to expand and bolster the advising support system, not shrink it.

We are heartened that all parties recognize the weakness of freshman academic advising, but freshmen are best served when they have many options for advice. Often the perspective of a fellow student can be more useful than even a great academic advisor because recent, first-hand experience has tremendous value. Many students develop strong personal relationships with their PAFs as well, which can serve as a great foundation for advising. While some academic advisers may be more knowledgeable about the Harvard system than others, allowing freshmen access to both PAFs and advisers allows them to receive the best of both areas of knowledge and experience.

We are also concerned that this change specifically disadvantages students who come to Harvard without a previously established network. While students with family or high school connections to Harvard can turn to an older student or alum they already know, students without the benefit of such connections will be much more limited in their ability to access genuine, candid insights from other students.

While we recognize that there may be concerns that some PAFs may offer biased or unreliable information to their mentees, we do not share this concern. Indeed, simply instituting a hard-and-fast prohibition on offering academic advice is a paternalistic insult both to PAFs’ ability to be objective and freshmen’s ability to be discerning about what advice is objective and what is not.

Welcoming freshmen into our community and providing them with the resources and the inside knowledge they need to flourish takes a village. The University should embrace that approach, providing students with more resources and trusting them to make their own decisions.

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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