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Mandated academic advising: a tedious formality

Why this misguided practice needs to go

By Gideon Shrier

Contributing Writer

UMBC has required academic advising for years – but does the policy make sense?

In theory, academic advising allows a student to discuss their progress towards their goals with a trusted mentor. They bond, the student asks questions, the advisor answers them and both come out of the process satisfied.

The reality of the situation isn’t usually so impressive. While there are definitely people who benefit from advising sessions, most simply confirm their schedules with their adviser, get cleared to register and leave. They gain nothing but the permission to enroll in classes they already knew they wanted to take.

Many students take the latter approach. Andrew Ide, an English major in his senior year, said, “meetings for me are less than ten minutes, and I don’t get anything out of the experience.” He said he usually already knows what classes he plans to take, but he realizes that this isn’t the case for everyone. He does wish that he had an advisor who was genuinely interested in his future, but he has yet to meet one.

In the same vein, Nicole Gosnell, a highly motivated and successful psychology major in her senior year, said, “It’s more necessary for some people than others. It can be a hassle for people who know what they’re doing.” A student with a clear and informed conception of what they want to do with their education has little need of advising and shouldn’t be constrained by students with a murkier undergraduate experience.

Linda Baker, a psychology professor and adviser, provided strong counterarguments. “For those who aren’t keeping track of their progress, these meetings are important in helping them plan their schedule appropriately. For those students who do keep up on where they stand and what they still need, more time during the advising sessions can focus on longer term academic and career plans,” Baker said.

Baker went on to say that advising is even more important for upperclassmen than it is for underclassmen, as a mistake is more costly in the later years of undergrad. She’s right about that, and right about the idea that an advising session could potentially be helpful in planning for the future.

However, both she and the administration are missing an important point: the student should be able to choose to attend an advising session (or not) before registering, even if that means they might make a mistake.

The main purpose of undergraduate education is to foster critical thinking skills, independence and intellectual growth. The sort of hand-holding behind mandated academic advising stands in stark opposition to this principle. The policy implies that students can’t be trusted to successfully register on their own.

At the very least, the administration should confer a degree of trust to upperclassmen, who have had years of experience dealing with the registration process. To do otherwise shows a lack of faith in their capacity to make informed choices and recover from mistakes.