In this article Ranjani Shankar discusses the drawbacks of UCSD’s current academic advising system and argues for a better alternative.
I was talking to a graduate student about their experience asking for letters of recommendation and she asked me, “Do you have some kind of academic counselor who knows you well and has observed your academic career?” Her question hit me hard because only then did I realize that there were no faculty or staff members at UC San Diego who knew or understood my academic journey and the struggles I overcame throughout it. This would have been the role of my academic advisor, if I had had one. Instead, I have several academic advisors who only superficially know me and my academic history, and try to give me advice that usually turns out to be unhelpful. In addition to this impersonalization, the academic counseling experience at UCSD is unnecessarily divided which only adds more complexity to this process and wastes more of students’ time and energy. To make academic advising a truly helpful resource to students, major structural changes need to occur.
First off, having a separate academic counseling office for each major and minor we choose, along with one for our colleges is ridiculous — it involves too many people and locations of offices to navigate and choose from when looking for answers related to our academic plans. For example, these offices are often located on different corners of campus. Travelling to all of these locations to figure out your academic career is an ordeal that is essentially impracticable considering the limited hours each office is open. Additionally, students often ask questions to the wrong office just to be redirected to another office. This wastes students limited time after either waiting for a futile response from the Virtual Advising Center or making an unnecessary trip to the specific advising office between their already busy schedules. Not knowing which academic advising questions to ask which office adds a lot more confusion to the already convoluted process of academic planning.
Another negative aspect of academic advising is the holds that advising offices often have over classes that fulfill more than one requirement across departments. A hold is when an office locks in and holds a class that fulfills one of its own requirements. When you want the class to count toward another department’s requirement, you need to ask the first department to release the hold it has over the class and then contact the other department to pick up and use that class. This process is not at all straightforward as it could be as it requires several follow-up questions between different advising offices which simply wastes more time. Academic advising also doesn’t serve the purpose that its name suggests. This is because students generally do not go to academic counseling for advice on what classes to take. Consequently, choosing classes and planning schedules are generally done by students themselves. While some may prefer to go through the process of choosing classes and planning their academic journeys independently, others may need additional guidance, especially if they are undecided about their major or career path. Therefore, without this guidance from academic advisors, students make major life decisions like choosing their undergraduate major and their future career path without help and advice.
Moreover, when students do go to academic counseling for advice, the counselor spends almost half of the sessions very limited time looking at other counselors’ advice, their plans and previous versions of the degree audit. Given that every student has a unique academic history and future goals, this system does not allow a counselor to be well-versed enough to provide a student as an individual further academic advice. Simply put, an academic counselor looking at your academic history for five minutes of your 15-minute session cannot know you well enough to know what steps students should take, especially when making tough decisions about your major, minor, and specific general education requirements.
To address the problems listed above, the university should do a complete restructuring of the academic advising process. At the beginning of their college career, each student should be assigned one counselor to help them navigate their entire academic journey, including GE, major, and minor requirements. These individual counselors could have complete access to their students’ degree audits, allowing them to fix any and all issues that occur with their specific students’ audits. While some counselors would be assigned a certain number of students, there could also be counselors who are not assigned any students at all. They would be responsible for answering general questions that wouldn’t need to go to the specific counselor, both through VAC and through walk-in hours. This system would centralize the process of academic advising, cause less confusion among students, and allow academic advisors to understand students’ backgrounds well and act as an effective resource for them. An additional benefit this system has is that it would allow students to develop a relationship with their academic advisor, just like with a professor. This would give students the opportunity to ask a staff member who has seen them grow academically for a letter of recommendation and mentorship.
Some may argue that this new plan for academic advising would cost too much to implement, especially given the large amount of counselors that may need to be hired to realize it. However, due to the large number of academic counselors that already exist between the different colleges and academic departments, no major hiring would need to occur to establish this system. Thus, implementation would only entail some re-training and restructuring of the existing counselors. The re-training would also not be expensive as the counselors would already be trained for their previous advising positions.
UCSD administration must change the current academic counseling system because of its ineffectiveness, inefficiency, and general unworkability. Overhauling the system to provide individual academic advisors and eliminate major, minor, and college specific advising will require effort to coordinate and establish. However, the long-term benefits for students would far outweigh the short-term costs. Life might be like a box of chocolates, but your advising office shouldn’t be.
Picture by Geena L. Roberts.