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Sept. 5, 2012

How to Get the Most From Your College Adviser

1NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Students have a lot of decisions to make when they enter college—selecting courses, learning their way around campus, identifying essential resources. Without parents around to help navigate the new landscape, faculty advisers become a critical resource in students’ college success.

At Smith College, every student is assigned an adviser upon entering the college, who helps navigate students’ early academic paths. Once they declare a major, students typically seek a faculty adviser within their chosen discipline,
who helps them chart a course program,
selecting from among thousands of courses.

So, how can students best make use of that resource to meet their goals? First and foremost, be proactive, say Kate Queeney, associate professor of chemistry and faculty director for advising, and Jane Stangl, first-year class dean. Queeney and Stangl recently offered the following tips to first-year Smith students.

Get started by sharing information.

  • Write or tell your adviser about yourself.
  • Consider sharing with the adviser life circumstances that have the potential to affect your academic performance. For example, an illness in your family, or a diagnosed learning disability may be useful to share. Advisers don’t resolve such issues, but often they can direct you to resources that will help you deal with them.

Know what your adviser expects from you.

  • Find out how she or he wants to be contacted.
  • Inquire about what you should bring to the meeting.
  • Ask about the best way to contact your adviser when you want an appointment.

Take advantage of what your adviser has to offer.

  • Ask an adviser’s advice and recommendations. Doing so does not mean you must follow the advice, but it is always helpful to get opinions from a variety of perspectives. Advisers are, most often, also teachers, so their advice about how to navigate being a student is frequently based on experience.

Tell your adviser when things are not going well.

  • Your adviser is your advocate—she or he will help you find the resources you need to succeed.
  • Don’t wait to tell your adviser if you’re concerned about a class; she or he can be the most helpful early on in the semester.

Tell your adviser when things are going well.

  • Advisers like to hear about your successes so they have a good understanding about what you value.
  • Telling someone else about your successes—which may or may not have anything to do with coursework—is good practice for presenting yourself to the outside world.

Expect to get sent to other resources for some questions.

  • No one knows everything but your adviser is a great first contact when you don’t know where to go.
  • At Smith resources are everywhere. Each house has a designated student who is specifically trained to help with the advising process, as well as support centers such as the Spinelli Center for Quantitative Learning, the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching and Learning.

Send yourself elsewhere with your questions.

  • Lots of people on campus can give you good information and advice, so seek out that information.
  • Talk to professors who are teaching you—lots of unofficial advising happens during office hours.

Don’t wait for your adviser to initiate all contact.

  • Your adviser is supposed to contact you at specific times, but you should feel free to contact her or him in between those times when you have a question.
  • If your adviser can’t meet you immediately or gives you a limited time for a meeting, that’s fine; just let her or him know if you need more time later.
  • Just as you should expect your adviser to respond in a timely fashion to your email—24 to 48 hours is plenty timely for a non-emergency—you should do the same.

If your advising relationship isn’t working, do something about it.

  • Talk with your adviser about why it isn’t working and re-consider what you need out of an advising relationship. Don’t declare a major early just to get a new adviser.

How do you select the adviser in your major?

  • Attend the presentation of your intended major offered by that program or department; ask the Department Chair of your intended major for recommendations.
  • Ask juniors and seniors for suggestions and discuss your choice with a class dean.

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. One of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith enrolls 2,600 students from nearly every state and 62 other countries.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190

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