Columbian advising system should be reorganized by similar majors

As a freshman in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences last fall, I quickly learned that nearly all Columbian students collectively disdain the POD academic advising system. From those majoring in everything from political science to chemistry, students bond over their frustration with the rotating, impersonal advising system.

POD – Place of Discovery – is the Columbian advising system, broken down into three groups of students split up alphabetically by last name. Each POD is comprised of about five advisers. POD advisers typically do help freshmen create balanced schedules for their first semester, as most of them are knowledgeable about both the University General Education requirements and Columbian’s General Education Curriculum, known as G-PAC. But these advisers run into problems when students have specific questions about their majors or departments. It’s quite common that a given POD adviser doesn’t have enough information about a major to effectively assist the student because they are in charge of advising a huge range of students whose majors fall all across the academic spectrum.

Academic advising is supposed to be about helping students chart their path through college.

Students in Columbian deserve an advising system that is better qualified to assist them with their specific majors. Advisers shouldn’t be expected to know the ins and outs of all 56 majors within Columbian, but they must be able to adequately attend to student inquiries. Some schools within Columbian, like the School of Media and Public Affairs, offer additional advisers for students – but most departments don’t. If advisers were able to concentrate in a select few programs, it would not only benefit students, but make advisers’ jobs easier as well. This is why POD advisers should be broken down into groups based on similar majors and departments, rather than solely last names.

As a student majoring in English and creative writing, I’ve experienced how frustrating it is when an adviser dodges all questions about your major because they don’t have the answers. English isn’t one of the more popular majors at GW, and the combined English and creative writing program, which consists of an application process that students go through after at least four semesters, is even less common. I was aware of that fact when I scheduled a meeting with one of my POD advisers last spring, and yet I was still caught off guard to see just how ill-equipped my adviser was to answer even one of my questions about my major. My adviser might have been more helpful if I’d only had questions about the English major, but the program I am pursuing has its own application process and required courses, and my questions were about that specifically. This wasn’t necessarily the adviser’s fault, and it would be unfair to expect every POD adviser to be an expert in the wide array of departments that Columbian houses. However, there is a better solution to the system that is currently in place.

If the POD system were organized by similar majors and departments, as is the case at the College of Arts and Sciences at American University, there could be several advisers assigned to science and math, some to the social sciences and several to the humanities. Each group could consist of at least four or five advisers as the POD groups do now, but groups with exceptionally popular majors – like political science – would require more advisers to best assist students. Some current POD advisers are also professors in various departments, which can be very helpful to students in those programs. But currently, unless the student’s last name falls under the correct POD group, that student would likely never interact with an adviser who has extensive knowledge of their major.

What’s ironic about the structure of POD is that it was developed in 2015 in response to the ineffectiveness of Columbian’s previous academic advising system, in which students were assigned to one adviser as freshmen but could schedule appointments with any adviser. This system had its problems, but because it was more specified for each individual freshman, it actually seems like the generalized POD system is a step backward. Some schools and departments do offer advisers for a specific major, but it makes no sense for a history major in POD 1 to not have access to a Columbian adviser who teaches history just because that adviser happens to be in POD 3. That adviser would probably feel far more comfortable talking about course options with potential history or political science majors than with biological anthropology majors. While some have argued that the current POD system is too impersonal, the real problem is that students can’t get their major-specific questions answered.

Students deserve an academic advising system that they enjoy utilizing, not one that they bond over complaining about.

There should also be a group dedicated to undecided majors. These advisors would need more general knowledge of all the majors within Columbian in order to best advise students who aren’t sure what they want to study. Advisors in this group could focus on helping students figure out what they enjoy studying and direct them to the right advisors when they have a better idea. Many of the students I know who came into college undecided or changed their major during their first or second year mentioned that their advisors were not helpful in figuring out what their majors should be and why. However, if there had been a group of advisors who specialized in assisting undecided majors, this could have been different.

Academic advising is supposed to be about helping students chart their path through college, and each school’s system should be organized in a way that is most effective at achieving this. Students deserve an academic advising system that they enjoy utilizing, not one that they bond over complaining about. If the POD system allowed students to be matched up with advisers who understand their interests and goals, everyone involved would feel more supported and secure.

Natalie Prieb, a sophomore majoring in English and creative writing, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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