A survey conducted by Asst. Sociology Prof. Josipa Roska found that 60 percent of undeclared students were satisfied with the quality of advising, compared to 80 percent of students who had declared a major. In response to concerns about the existing advising program, the University is considering designating certain faculty members specifically as advisors and engaging with students prior to orientation programs.
Roska and her research team conducted a survey on advising at the University over the past year. According to the survey, more students who had declared a major were satisfied with the quality of advising compared to those who had not yet declared. The findings showed that less than half of students surveyed in the College of Arts and Sciences felt that their pre-major advisor was knowledgeable regarding major requirements, and that 60 percent of undeclared felt satisfied with the quality of advising — compared to 80 percent of students who had already declared.
First-year College student Samantha Upson has known she wanted to go into medicine since she was little, but when she came to the University, her academic advisor was a Philosophy professor. When Upson went to consult with them about her schedule last semester, she waited in a long line for her advisor to remind her which general education requirements she still needed to fulfill.
Currently, first-year students are randomly assigned to a general academic advisor when they matriculate to the University. After they declare a major during their second year, they are reassigned to a major-specific advisor in their department.
Upson’s advisor doesn’t know her name, according to Upson, and the advisor told Upson they would remove the mandatory advising hold on Upson’s Student Information System account without the advising meeting, if Upson wanted.
“I think it would be really nice to have that consistent relationship [with your advisor] — that you saw them regularly, rather than once a semester,” Upson said.
Per Sarita Mehta, outgoing student member of the Board of Visitors and fourth-year College student, the University is planning a number of initiatives to improve the advising system — from crafting an online software platform as a central resource for advisors to to designating certain faculty for whom advising is their primary responsibility and improving the orientation experience for incoming first years.
“There will be people whose specific primary job is an advisor, as opposed to the model now, and so [we’re] hoping that that kind of helps mitigate a lot of the problems with different faculty caring less or more about advising and having relevant knowledge to what you're interested in,” Mehta said.
Provost Ian Baucom has also created a new position — associate provost for undergraduate education — which Roksa will fulfill. In her new role, Roska will be in charge of leading efforts to improve advising based on survey results. According to Mehta, Roska will spend the remainder of the year working on the online software platform — although Mehta emphasized that administrators are more concerned with the “deliberateness and thoughtfulness” of the platform rather than its timeliness.
Fourth-year College student Margaret Brehm is majoring in psychology and despite her interest in the subject, was paired with an advisor in the philosophy department during her first two years at the University.
“I felt like my advisor [before declaring a major] was kind of trying to hurry me in and out the door, in that she would just sign the form to release the hold on SIS,” Brehm said. “It felt like my advisor really wasn't able to give me any additional information that I couldn't get from just Googling myself, and I felt like if I weren't really proactive on figuring out differences between majors and making sure I was on track, then nobody was really there to ensure that for me.”
Looking back on the past four years, Brehm regrets not receiving more academic guidance her first and second year. She says that if she had had someone to talk to about her career and academic aspirations, she may have found out about the psychology department’s accelerated masters program in psychology research methods in time to complete her undergraduate degree in three years and finish the masters program by the end of her fourth year.
“Since I really had nobody in my corner that was related to psychology for the first two years of college, nobody was able to steer me in that direction, and I just had never heard of [the program],” Brehm said. “And by the time I found out about it from my own research, not even from an advisor, it was too late for me to add that into my college schedule.”
Brie Gertler, vice provost for academic affairs, noted that the University is working on reimagining the advising system for undergraduate students — including designating certain faculty members for whom advising is their central responsibility.
“The task force has recommended that each student who has not yet declared a major have an advisor for whom advising is a primary responsibility, rather than an ‘extra’ added onto [a professor’s] already full plate,” Gertler said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “The Provost’s Office will be working with the schools to determine how to best ensure that pre-major advisors in each school have the support that they need and are well-acquainted with the wide range of academic, career and personal resources available to students.”
Brehm also expressed frustration about the lack of guidance when choosing classes at first-year orientation programs.
“When you first sign up at orientation for your classes, you really don't get advising at all there,” Brehm said. “It's a real shame that advising was not better at orientation, when kids are literally signing up for classes for the first time and don't know what classes to take at all.”
Gertler said that the University is planning changes for orientation programming — typically held in various sessions through July and August — to better support students.
“Planning for this summer’s orientation is well underway, but we are continuing to think creatively about how we can better utilize the summer,” Gertler said. “I expect that in coming years we will see more opportunities for students to engage with U.Va. long before they arrive on Grounds.”
Upson has tried to be proactive about finding academic and professional advising from different sources. She met with Pre-Health Advisors in the Career Center last semester to figure out what she needed to do to get into medical school and has scheduled a meeting with her Association Dean to learn more about scholarship assistance. Brehm also says that her most useful guidance has come from being proactive and seeking out advice from her professors and mentors.
“It seems like even for a proactive student, it's just like hurdle after hurdle of bureaucratic processes that don't make sense, but that you have to go through because there's nobody to help you and advocate for you,” Brehm said.
Nonetheless, Brehm has mixed feelings about the University’s new initiatives.
“I think having people whose primary task is advising would really improve the system,” Brehm said. “So I think it's definitely a stride in the right direction. But I would also like to hear more about what their plans are to improve orientation because that does seem a little vague.”
Mehta notes that students with opinions and suggestions about advising should reach out to herself or her successor, third-year Architecture student Lily Roberts.
“If students have had bad experiences or have something they think would be really helpful… definitely share that because this is a flux time where we're thinking about the best way to do this,” Mehta said. “And so input is super, super valuable.”