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University emphasizes pre-major advising

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Before this year’s freshmen sign up for classes on Axess, they must first make sure they don’t have a hold on their account. Starting with the Class of 2014, undeclared students must meet at least once a quarter with their pre-major adviser. To ensure the plan’s adoption, students who neglect to meet with their advisers will face an enrollment hold that only their advisers can lift.

“The University believes it is important that undeclared students have the benefit of regular advice and guidance as they explore the curriculum and hone in on an area of disciplinary interest that will become their major,” wrote Dean of Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR) Julie Lythcott-Haims ’89 in an e-mail to The Daily.

Mandating quarterly advising meetings, though new for freshmen this year, was the norm until 2001, according to Lythcott-Haims. Undeclared students previously had to consult with an adviser before submitting a study list, a requirement that dropped when the University switched to the PeopleSoft-based enrollment system. The requirement has been reintroduced now that the system functionality has been reworked.

The regular meetings only apply to students who have yet to declare a major, after which the students are turned over to the advising structures within their major department. Students are responsible for scheduling their advising meetings, which are expected to take place within the first five weeks of each quarter.

At each of these meetings, the pre-major advisor, who takes on no more than eight incoming freshmen each year, does not “approve” course schedules, but instead is tasked with discussing the student’s academic interests and performance.

These pre-major advisers are volunteer faculty, staff and local alumni. Approximately one third of the 233 pre-major advisers are members of the Academic Council (faculty), one-third are academic staff, such as lecturers and researchers, and one-third are non-academic staff, according to Lythcott-Haims. Fewer than 10 are alumni.

Each freshman is matched to an adviser according to academic and intellectual interests expressed through the UAR summertime “Approaching Stanford” process.

“If a student speaks of specific disciplinary interests, we try to find them an adviser who is knowledgeable about those interests,” Lythcott-Haims said. “Of course, many students come in completely undecided.”

The pre-major adviser, along with the academic director, forms the two-person advising team for an incoming undergrad.

Pre-major advisers have a more broad understanding of University majors and departments, and are in place to “get to know the student and take the student under his or her wing until the student declares a major,” Lythcott-Haims said.

By contrast, academic directors, who work with around 450 freshmen and sophomores grouped by residential complex, are professional advisers who specialize in the curriculum, academic policies and requirements at Stanford.

“Both [advisers and academic directors] are equipped to advise and guide students, which means to a large extent asking a student good questions, and pointing the student toward the various opportunities and options at Stanford that will further and deepen the student’s interests,” she added.

This change in the advising structure is just one part of the improvements since the Freshman Dean’s Office was merged with UAR in winter of 2009. The reorganization, necessitated by budget constraints, reduced the units in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education to four from nine.

As a result, Lythcott-Haims, formerly the dean of freshmen, became the head of the University’s advising arm, the UAR office. She has since stressed the differing roles of ADs and pre-major advisers and the importance of pre-major advising, particularly for undeclared sophomores.