By KATIA SAVELYEVA
The life of a freshman at UMW centers around the institution of the freshman seminar (FSEM). The current advising system in place for freshmen sets FSEM professors as students’ primary academic advisors until they declare a major. Students can not declare until completing 28 credits or their first year.
This advising system has a significant flaw: few students choose their freshman seminars to align with their intended major. Many students choose to branch out and take FSEMs outside of their desired disciplines, while others select their FSEM based on residence halls.
Furthermore, freshmen admitted to the UMW Honors Program have limited choices. In the fall 2019 semester, only 10 honors FSEMs were offered out of the 64 total FSEM sections available.
For all their good intentions, the primary insight that FSEM professors can provide is a knowledge of their own discipline. These insights, though rich, are not always helpful to students who have a major or interest outside their advisors’ department.
Junior English major Rebecca Young started her freshman year taking a history-based FSEM for the sake of its honors designation.
“There were only three people in the class who were even vaguely interested in a history major and our professor had limited knowledge of every other discipline,” said Young. “For the majority of the class, our advising was just looking at what gen eds we had.”
Sophomore theatre major Olivia Harrington emphasized her desire to have received feedback on her plans.
“My first-year advisor was very sweet, but it was difficult because she didn’t know much about my prospective majors,” said Harrington. “She didn’t really offer any constructive advice, and I think that’s just because she wasn’t a theatre or a political science professor.”
“Right now I’m trying to seek guidance,” said freshman Liam Kiely, who hasn’t decided on a major yet. “My advisor was very helpful, but I wish we could have explored more options than just figuring out what classes to take next semester. I wish we had talked more about the long term.”
First-year students want more from their academic advising experience than basic insight into their general education requirements. Not everyone comes in with a concrete major in mind, but many have a basic sense of what area they would most like to explore.
These students would benefit from conversations with an advisor considering multiple options, and should be encouraged to actively consider their academic path outside of general education requirements.
The current advising system does have some benefits. It distributes the task of advising throughout the UMW faculty, ensures that students have advisors who know them personally and provides a solution for students who don’t know what exactly they plan to major in. Nevertheless, freshman advising as it stands does not provide students with all the resources they need.
It would benefit first-year students if more academic departments hosted detailed information sessions, and if professors who taught introduction classes made a habit of welcoming questions about their department and the majors they offer.
Additionally, any professor teaching a freshman seminar should understand that advising – including advising outside of their comfort zone – is part of the duty to their students that they take on. This can entail providing information about majors and classes outside their disciplines, or knowing who to redirect advisees too when there are questions they cannot answer.
“I think a lot of the freshman advising experience is really just based on luck, as to whether or not your professor is very invested in your future,” said Kiely regarding his own generally positive experience. One way or another, we’d do well to lessen the role that luck plays in the equation.