Diana Kugel: Augment the advising system

When I arrived back to campus before the start of school this year, I couldn’t help thinking how different everything felt from my freshmen move-in, which was only one short year ago. I knew where to get my ResNet equipment (and where to go when it didn’t work), where to pick up packages and I didn’t have to waste two perfectly good hours of my Sunday afternoon wandering about campus with a map clutched tightly in my hand, trying to locate the classes I would have to go to the following day.

In hindsight, I wouldn’t trade those freshman days of trying to figure out which way to go to get from the SMPA building to the Elliott School for anything. Exploring and discovering campus and the city is something that no new GW student should ever be deprived of. However, that same hindsight also puts into focus one crucial aspect of college life that my peers and I could have used more guidance in: academic advising.

When most students enter college, they have never before been faced with so many options and opportunities in the academic arena. In many high school curriculums, the most important choice students have to make is whether to take Spanish or French as a foreign language. Therefore, for almost all incoming GW students, the chance to choose from hundreds of classes and dozens of areas in which to major or minor, is overwhelming to say the least.

Looking back at my first time registering for classes, I marvel at the fact that I even managed to sign up for one correct class. The only guidance that was offered was a tutorial posted on Blackboard, titled “GW First Class.” It offered the basic list of General Curriculum Requirements and of the classes needed for majors and minors. Sounds fairly straightforward, right?

Not exactly. As anyone that has ever taken university classes knows, there are exceptions and exemptions galore when it comes to getting credit for classes. The program did the best it could for a computer program, but it still left dozens of questions unanswered. E-mailing my adviser did not really clear things up much, as the adviser often did not actually know the answer, but would instead instruct me to e-mail a host of other individuals.

I was hoping that the advising session at CI would give me time to sit down with an actual human being that knew the requirements and would be able to steer me in the right direction. Instead, I just received a print-out of the schedule that I had created, with one class highlighted meaning I could not take it, and a spiel about how fantastic the Columbian College is. We could certainly have done with one less barbeque or ice cream social in favor of some face-to-face time with a qualified adviser.

I would be somewhat hesitant to tell you about my scheduling problems, in the fear that you would think that I was simply incompetent, if I didn’t know that so many of you know exactly what I am talking about. Several freshmen that I met last year signed up for classes that were junior or senior level, and struggled with material all semester. Other people came to class the first day, only to be told by the professor that they did not meet the prerequisites and could not stay. I myself ended up talking two WID classes, both of which I enjoyed, but I could not get WID credit for them because I had not taken UW yet. Who knew? I do now.

From my first week of classes so far, I see that this year’s freshmen are as confused as my peers and I were last year. The number of freshmen that somehow ended up in classes that have four prerequisites is somewhat astonishing. It is hard to say whether the computer program, the advisers or the students themselves are at fault, but it is clear that something is amiss.

My adviser freshman year was a lovely woman, but she is a busy professor who does not have time to learn the intricacies of all of the departments and their requirements. It is true that I had not yet declared a major, but many would argue that the non-major adviser is all that much more important because he or she should be able to help you assess your skills and passions in order to choose an appropriate path of study. And while the GW First Class program was well designed, it is still just a program that could only offer so much guidance.

Freshman year is difficult and overwhelming enough as it is, what with being in a strange place with new people and adjusting to a completely different lifestyle. GW should do all it can in the way of providing enough qualified and informed advisers to make sure that the class registration process is one less thing that new Colonials need to lose sleep over.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in psychology, is a Hatchet contributing opinions editor.

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