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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Can advisors advise?

If you’re wondering what first-year would be enough of an idiot to sign up for a 300-level class, then congratulations, you’ve found that idiot. What did my advisor do? Absolutely nothing. Granted, I suppose it isn’t the advisor’s job to tell overly confident first-years who have only been in college for three months not to sign up for 300s. Nonetheless, a word of warning would have been nice. I would have greatly appreciated the knowledge that I was signing up for a pre-comps class, or better yet, have had that part explicitly emphasized to me. However, we discussed none of that. My advisor looked at my list of prospective classes and signed off on my decisions. When I asked her two days into the term if I could drop my class, she told me to wait it out and see how I did on the first few assignments. As of now I’m still in that class; it’s enjoyable, but I’m not excited to write a 20-page paper, no matter how much the teacher says they’re going to hold my hand through it. Speaking of papers, I’m also taking another political science class that happens to be writing-heavy, with each paper comprising 30% of my grade. While I love the class and the professor is wonderful, I didn’t know I’d be the only first-year or the only girl in that class, largely because the other first year girl dropped out of the class. In fact, I am the only first-year in both of my non-language requirement classes. The majority of the time I contribute in both classes, I feel remarkably stupid, especially in comparison to the upperclassmen who are majoring in the field or compsing on the class. 

What exactly is an advisor supposed to do? According to the Intro to Academic Advising page on the Carleton website, an academic advisor is supposed to “orient the student to educational opportunities at Carleton and facilitate active and thoughtful planning.” While this sounds great in theory, and is what should be expected of any advisor, it doesn’t quite work out if the advisors don’t actually advise. By advise, I mean clearly providing good planning strategies about what classes to take. A friend whom I was complaining to also discussed his gripes with his advisor: although the advisor discussed different ways to look at his schedule, how to fulfill his requirements and how to make his schedule fit his interests, he didn’t get a clear sense of direction from the meeting. An advisor is supposed to provide clear advice, not confuse their advisees even further. Although it can’t be expected for the advisor to know what goes on in every class at Carleton and how every professor grades, it would be nice for them to at least warn some of their more eager advisees, especially first-years, not to take multiple upper level courses for no reason. Better yet, they should ask the first-years why they want to take the classes they’ve chosen. 

If academic advisors aren’t actually advising, what are the alternatives? Obviously, reading the class descriptions before registration is always a good idea because having a general sense of how difficult a class and when it’s held is important. It also helps to ask people who’ve already taken the class you plan on signing up for or who’ve had the same professor. Previous students will always know how a professor teaches best because they’ve taken the class before in the recent past. You can also ask the professor themselves about the class, and they will likely be able to tell you details such as the type of coursework assigned and what exactly will be taught. Another useful tool is Rate My Professors (RMP). When using RMP, it’s more important to look at the comments and tags given by the raters than the actual rating itself. That said, an overwhelmingly positive rating doesn’t hurt, and a strongly negative rating is likely a red flag. When reading through the comments, look for ones that describe the workload of the class, expectations and teaching style. Also, take the comments written more than four years ago with a grain of salt. Teaching styles can drastically change over years, and the ones written a long time ago might be out of date. Choosing classes doesn’t have to be an event of catastrophic proportions if you take the proper precautions. Ask around and, most importantly, know what you want to get out of a class.

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