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The Advising System at Dartmouth

The academic advising system at Dartmouth aims to give students the ability and the resources to make intelligent and intentional academic choices that suit their own (often evolving) intellectual goals. The community of Dartmouth faculty, administrators, and staff understand one their key responsibilities to be the advising of students.

The advising system consists of a host of different resources and people that students will access at different points during their academic careers. The system is decentralized by design. The enormous range of available opportunities means that no single person has mastery of all the possible paths or options; for example, a student should seek advice about possible internships from a different source than advice about what classes to take in any given term. Thus, students won't have a single advisor throughout their entire time at Dartmouth, though at any given time they may rely on the advice of a individual person (faculty member, administrator, peer advisor) to a greater or lesser extent. As a student moves through Dartmouth, the nature of the advice a students needs changes dramatically, and with these changes so do the appropriate advice-networks. Academic advising works best when a student appreciates his or her own role in understanding the questions they have and taking the initiative to seek the advice they need.

The First Year (First-years)

The first year is generally a time of exploration for students. The Dartmouth curriculum offers over 1600 courses of a variety and scope completely unimaginable at the high-school level. Students at this stage are encouraged to explore, pursue intellectual instincts, and make sure to fulfill first-year requirements. Although some majors do require an earlier start (for example, Engineering and other sciences), most majors can in fact be begun only in the second year, and a student is encouraged to explore options. An entering student is assigned an academic advisor from the faculty who will help the student in electing courses for the first year and serve as a resource for answering questions about how Dartmouth works (such as: how do I ask a faculty for a letter of recommendation? what is an NRO?). Students do not need a signature or permission from their academic advisor to register for or drop classes, and should remember that their academic decisions are ultimately their own. As students begin to explore academic offerings and focus their own interests, students generally gravitate to faculty with whom they share intellectual interests or have other things in common. This is a natural evolution and should be encouraged, and a student may find that s/he outgrows the usefulness of the assigned first-year advisor as the year moves on. Students have other resources at this stage as well: the Deans of Undergraduate Students, the Academic Skills office, the staff in the Office of the Registrar, the counselors in Career Services, the Graduate Assistants who live in their residence halls. The web also provides a wealth of information. Students will often rely on advice from friends and older peers, including their assigned UGAs (Undergraduate Advisors) and the DOSCs (Deans Office Student Consultants). These sources of information and advice are useful and valued, though students should seek multiple perspectives and are encouraged to beware relying solely on information from peers.

The Second Year (Sophomores)

In the second year, the student is asked to identify their major course of study. This is often a period during which students readjust their initial intentions for study. Only 25% of students (both at Dartmouth and nationwide) end up majoring in the subject they intended to upon matriculation. Moreover, because of Dartmouth's flexibility in the definition of majors (majors, modified majors, special majors, double majors, minors), students often face the challenge not only of deciding what they want to major in, but how to mix-and-match courses of study to their own particular intellectual and post-graduate goals. This is also complicated by Dartmouth's unique “D-Plan” and its wide array of off-campus study options. At the same time, these decisions, though not irreversible, will nevertheless focus and constrain a student's subsequent academic plans in a way that contrasts starkly with the freedom to explore from the wide array of courses in the first year. Therefore, this is sometimes a time of indecision and anxiety for students, because course selection and major selection often feels as if it has larger implications for personal identity and professional goals.

In this period some students may continue to consult with their advisor or other faculty from their first year, though a student has no single officially assigned advisor. This is by design, since, as experience indicates, any single “assigned” advisor is unlikely to provide the full perspective that the student requires at the stage. This does not mean that a student doesn't need advice, but more that advice is going to come from a series of different sources; a student should be encouraged to develop specific advising relationships with faculty and staff that suits his or her individual needs and interests. This can be a robust system, but it requires students to take the responsibility and initiative for their own academic direction. Usually students will talk with faculty in departments they are considering majoring in, and departments have guidelines about how individual students request advising at this stage. All faculty understand one of their core roles is advising students, and generally take great pleasure in shepherding students into their own field. Other resources, as in the first year, includes the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, Departmental Administrators, Career Services, Academic Skills, Graduate Assistants, Community Directors, DOSCs (Deans Office Student Consultants) and older students. From a purely informational perspective, most of the particulars needed to plan a major are available on-line (in the ORC and different departmental websites). That said, the challenge at this stage is not usually “what courses do I take to fulfill this or that requirement?” but rather, “What do I want to major in, and how does that relate to who I am and what direction I want my life to take?”

The Third Year (Juniors)

Once a student identifies a major (or multiple majors), his or her academic direction becomes clearer and more focused. Course selection and para-curricular decisions are often clearer because the specific requirements of a major will structure many curricular and scheduling choices. At this stage, a student usually gets an academic advisor within the department they have declared in (or multiple advisors if a student declares multiple majors). Questions at this stage are often about finishing the requirements of the major, engaging in research, whether or not to do a thesis, how to integrate non-major course in their study, and so forth. Departments advise majors in different ways. In some departments the chair or the vice chair functions as the principal advisor. In other departments, all faculty serve as major advisors. Often this means that the major advisor must approve and sign-off on a student's academic plans, though a student might find the guidance of another or other members of the faculty equally or more useful. Students preparing to write a senior thesis, for instance, may find a particular faculty member to be the most helpful voice of experience and guidance. In all cases, a student can and should distinguish between the official advisor and unofficial advisors. They may need a department chair, for instance, to sign their major card and yet find the most useful direction comes from a member of the faculty they know from a class they've taken. Students have often made important connections with faculty with whom they have studied, and these will serve as the source of much direction.

The Fourth Year (Seniors)

This pattern will continue into a student's final year. At this juncture, students are working to complete their major(s) and the general education requirements (distributive requirements, and so forth). Some are working on an honors thesis. Many are thinking about what to do after graduation. Faculty will serve as advisors in different capacities at this stage, perhaps advising a student in independent research or directing students about graduate work in their own field. As students focus on their post-graduate plans, they may find the counselors in Career Services helpful. In all cases, the successful advising experience relies on student initiative and student engagement with their own intellectual process and the faculty and administrators who can advise and guide them. One of the strengths of Dartmouth's campus is the close and individual relationship that students can have with members of the faculty and the non- “cookie cutter” academic experience that Dartmouth's many academic opportunities provide. But the very multiplicity and variability of the many potential academic experiences can be destabilizing for students. In line with a tradition of liberal education, Dartmouth's goal is to foster a spirit of individual learning and a community of inquiry, and this works best when students are actively engaged in their own learning process.

Last Updated: 9/4/13