On first year advising
May 5, 2023
To the editors,
In the April 21, 2023 edition of the Bowdoin Orient, the Editorial Board included a piece contending that advising and registration for incoming students should remain in the two days leading up to the start of classes in the fall. While we heartily agree that our model of faculty advising is central to the Bowdoin education and should not be replaced, the extensive work that the Working Group on Pre-Major Advising completed in the 2021– 2022 academic year clearly demonstrates that many in our current and future student body need a different approach.
The Orient Editorial Board may include some members of the class of 2024, who were necessarily part of the summer 2020 emergency “pilot” registration process for first- year students. The working group debriefed most of the 26 volunteer faculty advisors from that summer, who each spoke to about 20 incoming students in one-hour Zoom meetings and often in shorter follow-up meetings. All of those faculty reported that the online meetings with new students felt very personal and much more relaxed than the status quo meetings held in the day or two before classes start. We have only anecdotal evidence from students who registered for their first college classes this way, but those students’ recollections of registration (in an otherwise very difficult summer) seemed to have been very positive.
In the process of its year-long research and discussions, the working group surveyed students and faculty at Bowdoin, interviewed staff and faculty at peer institutions and consulted best practices as outlined by the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education.
In synthesizing this information, we concluded that first year students on the whole would greatly benefit from an earlier registration for their first semester classes for the following reasons:
• Earlier access to courses can reduce the mental health challenges and excessive stress that our current method can exacerbate.
• Summer registration offers a more equitable approach for students. Students who arrive on campus with familiarity with higher education and how to navigate it are better positioned to seek and receive specific overrides and other exceptions to gain access to various courses. Given how short and compressed our current schedule is, students who arrive on campus without this can be severely disadvantaged.
• Summer registration foregrounds academics.
• By understanding course enrollment details earlier, departments and programs can possibly make adjustments in time for fall semester, better serving students’ curricular needs.
• Current students must purchase their course materials just before school starts, and many do not have them in time for classes. While the library and faculty prepare for this, it is an additional stressor on students, especially those who have limited means, as they are compelled to get their materials in a very short timeframe.
As we noted, we wholeheartedly agree that our faculty advising model is a unique and imperative part of the Bowdoin education. We would like to highlight that this change will only impact first year students’ first semester registration, and, as with any of these models, they will continue to receive advising throughout their time at Bowdoin. Ultimately, summer registration for new students will allow them to better develop a relationship with their assigned advisor without the intense pressure our current system induces.
Kristina Bethea Odejimi, Dean of Students (co-chair), and Karen Topp, Sr. Lecturer in Physics and Faculty Liaison for Advising (co-chair), on behalf of the 2021–2022 Working Group on Pre-Major Advising
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