A Brief Guide to First-Year Advising

Introduction:  The Roles of the First-Year Advisor

The faculty of Williams College has committed itself to a primary role in advising its students. For this reason, the administrative structure of advising services at Williams is comparatively small. The Career Center helps extensively with the transition to post-baccalaureate life; the Dean’s Office, the Integrative Wellbeing Services, and the Chaplain’s Office help with more serious personal problems.  Links to these, and other resources can be found at the end of this handbook.  In the area of academic advising and planning, however, the faculty plays the leading role.

Williams has two formal academic advising structures. One is “major advising” performed by individual departments, a process that begins once students have identified their major field of study in the second semester of their sophomore year.  The other is the First-Year Academic Advising Program, which actually extends into the second semester of a student’s sophomore year.  The information below will help orient you in your job as a first-year advisor and is divided into two parts; the first consists of a roughly chronological description of pre-major advising, taking you from your initial match with advisees, through the declaration of major process that ends your role as a pre-major advisor.  The second part is a series of more detailed descriptions of resources, classes, and policies pertinent to the advising process.  At the end there is a summary document with contact information and an overview of academic requirements.

The advisor’s primary role is to offer academic advice, and student surveys suggest that students are most interested in receiving help with academic issues like choosing a major, choosing courses for the next term, or deciding where and when to study abroadHowever, students also express a strong desire for help with longer term goals like considering career options and applying to graduate school, and you may wish to think broadly about your role as a mentor in order to respond to and guide student interests.

One of the most important roles advisors can play is helping students learn to navigate the resources at the college.  You’ll likely find that your advisees have some questions that you can’t answer, and they may well be hesitant to approach other faculty or staff for assistance.  Guiding them in thinking through who to ask, and making a first phone call or introduction, will likely be among your most important steps.  The team of advisors your students develop in this way may include a wide range of people at the college, from faculty with expertise in curricular areas beyond your own, to library staff, Academic Resources, the Davis Center, Dean’s office, Health and Wellness Services, or Financial Aid.

While your primary advising role is academic, your connection with your advisees may well make you a first point of contact if they are struggling with any aspect of their lives.  If you find yourself concerned about a student’s well being for any reason, remember there are places to turn.  Encourage your advisee to talk with a dean or one of their Junior Advisors (JAs).  Don’t hesitate to call the Dean’s Office, Health and Wellness Services, Academic Resources, or Campus Safety and Security if you are worried about a student.  Contact information for these and other resource-people is listed at the end of this guide.  After hours, on call deans, psychological professionals, and emergency responders can always be reached by calling Campus Safety and Security at 597-4444.

This document lays out the key practical matters in preparing to be an advisor.  On the Dean of the Faculty’s First Year Advising webpage, there is additional information and tips on effective and supportive advising practices, including advising as teaching, ideas for good advising questions around the year, tips on being an effective mentor and building strong advising relationships with first-generation students.

  • Faculty are matched, to the greatest extent possible, with first-year advisees who share their interests. Students may change their advisor at any time, and sometimes seek out an advisor in their major department before they officially declare a major.  You and your advisees will receive a letter of introduction over the summer with mutual contact information, and your advisees’ names, hometowns, and academic interests.  You are encouraged to make contact with your advisees at this time, as they are preregistering for courses.  Many advisors find that using email to set a time for a phone conversation is most satisfactory.

  • The college offers several resources to prepare you for your advising role.  They include this handbook as well as the “choosing your first year courses” document, which includes advice from each department and program on course selection for first year students, as well as college distribution requirements.   First time advisors are also invited to an orientation session on the Wednesday before classes start, at 11:00 am.   All advisors attend a meeting at 12:00 pm that same day, at which you will receive an academic transcript for each of your advisees listing their scores on standardized tests, the results of any Williams placement exams they have taken, and the courses for which they are registered.  This meeting includes announcements by the registrar, as well as time to ask questions about any aspect of your advisees’ course selection.   If you have additional questions you may contact chairs of departments and programs (for specific curricular questions), the Registrar, or the Dean of the College.

  • Your advisees will be expected to schedule initial meetings with you between 1:30 and 3:30 on the Wednesday before classes start.  The meeting should be as early as you and the student can arrange.  Your advisees will need the remainder of the day to research questions and sort out their class schedules so that they can be ready to start classes on Thursday.  Please plan to be available throughout the day for students who may need to return for additional advice. The purpose of these initial meetings is to establish contact between advisors and advisees, inform students of where their advisors' offices are, and discuss fall courses and the advising relationship.

    Many students will arrive at the first meeting with their advisor seeking advice on graduate school and professional development, or hoping to be told which classes they should take. This can be an opportunity to help students plan a fruitful trajectory that will allow them to meet their goals, but it can also be an excellent opening to discuss the values of a broad liberal arts education and a chance to push students to take classes outside their comfort zone.  You may also refer to the "choosing first year courses" document for more information on course requirements.

    While you discuss courses with your advisees, you may wish to keep several issues in mind that are particularly important for first year students:

    • All first year students are required to take a Quantitative Literacy and Reasoning Assessment during the summer.  Using test scores and other available data, quantitative skills advisors will identify and interview students who may need extra help in mathematics or in preparing for science courses. Results of this interview will appear on the academic transcript you will receive during Advisor Orientation; if your advisee has been asked to take mathematics 101 or 102, it is strongly recommended that they do so in their first year. If they have received a “provisional pass” they are not required to take any additional courses, but they may need help in choosing and completing the quantitative skills requirement.  For more information, or if your advisee has failed the Assessment and not yet had an interview with a skills advisor, contact Mihai Stoiciu or at x2428.
    • All students are required to fulfill the college writing requirement by taking two writing intensive courses (marked with a picture of a pencil in the course catalogue).  One of these courses must be completed by the end of the sophomore year, and the second by the end of the junior year.  It is highly recommended that students take one such course in their first year.
    • Optional placement tests: The college offers placement tests in the sciences, languages, and music, which are required to place out of introductory level courses.  More information on these tests can be found in the information for First Year Students.
    • Some departments offer courses specially geared toward first year students, which can be particularly rewarding as an entry into a discipline, or as a way to bolster mathematical or writing skills.

    The college offers two courses that you should be particularly aware of as regards to building students’ quantitative and writing skills - Mathematics 102, Foundations of Quantitative Skills (Fall only) and English 150, Seminar in Expository Writing (Spring only).  If an advisee scored below the cut-off point on the quantitative skills assessment test they will have already been informed that they need to take Math 102 before their first meeting with you.  English 150 is open enrollment, but is more directly focused on expository writing skills than other introductory English classes. Because self-assessment is the primary route to English 150, advisors might wish to suggest this course to students who they believe would benefit from work on basic writing skills.

    • It is a great idea to ask students about their long term goals.  Even if they don’t have any idea what they aspire to do after college, you’ll learn something about how your advisee views themself, and also to make it clear that you are happy to talk about long-term planning as well as immediate concerns. If your advisee is interested in engineering  or medicine, dentistry, or veterinary medicine you may wish to refer them to dedicated advisors in those fields, as graduate programs often require specific pre-requisites.  Please also see the more detailed sections at the end of this document on preparation for engineering and the health professions. Dedicated advisors are:

    Engineering: Professor Katharine Jensen (x2806)

    Health Professions: Rebecca Counter,(x2598)

    Education: Susan Engel, (x4522)

    Everything else: Don Kjelleren, Director of The Career Center (x2311) and Mike O'Connor, Associate Director and Director of the Career Discovery Program (x2311)

    • In thinking about your advisees’ schedules, determine whether they participate in athletics or demanding extra-curricular activities and find out which semester presents the largest extra-curricular burden.
  • After your initial meeting with your advisees, you will need to schedule at least three further meetings.  At these meetings you can check in on your advisees’ well-being as well as their academic progress.  You might ask them if they are comfortable with their time management, their extra-curricular activities, or their writing skills.  If you have any concerns about your advisees, don't hesitate to contact the Dean's Office at x4261.

    • First Year Warnings:   First year warnings are issued in late-October for fall semester and early April for spring semester.  If any of your advisees have received a first year warning, you will be notified by the Dean’s Office in October and should meet with the advisee to discuss their academic progress.
    • Spring Pre-Registration: You will meet with your advisees in late-October/early-November for spring pre-registration.  This is a time to discuss courses for the upcoming spring semester, as well as to review progress in fall courses and continue longer range academic planning. You should schedule meetings with all of your advisees shortly before or during registration period.
    • Fall Pre-Registration:  You will meet with your advisees again in late April/early May for fall preregistration.   Again, this is a time to discuss courses for the upcoming semester, as well as to review progress in spring courses and continue loner range academic planning.
    • Spring preregistration, Sophomore Year: You will meet with your advisees again in late October/early November of their sophomore year.  (You may, at this point, have additional advisees assigned whose initial first-year advisor is on leave.  If you are on leave, your advisees will be assigned to a new advisor.)  This is the last required ‘pre-major’ advising meeting, and is a time to discuss prospective majors and review progress on general academic requirements as well as to discuss courses for the upcoming spring semester.  Your advisees will declare a major in April of sophomore year, at which time their official advising will move to the department(s) or program(s) in which they are majoring.
    • The three preregistration advising meetings listed above are required meetings enforced by an advising hold.  Advisors are strongly encouraged to arrange additional informal meetings to check on advisees’ academic progress, and personal well-being.  Good times to consider are a couple of weeks into classes, around mid-term exams, and a week or so before finals.  There is no required advising during drop-add periods, but drop/add is an excellent time to review completed courses and help advisees settle their schedules.
  • Students may choose to change advisors for purely academic reasons; for example, many students know what they will major in from their freshman year, and want to be as well integrated into their home department as possible.  More problematic, if much rarer, are clashes over students' plans or personality conflicts.  If you encounter a problem that you think would be best solved by directing your advisee to another advisor, or if an advisee seems entirely resistant to advice and you are concerned that their plans are deeply flawed, contact the Dean's Office.

  • Students interested in engineering usually major in one of the sciences or mathematics at Williams, and then obtain a master’s degree or a doctorate from an engineering school. While the prerequisite courses vary from one engineering graduate program to another, all programs require a strong background in mathematics and science. We recommend the following Williams courses to prospective engineers:

    CHEM 151, (or 153 or 155)
    CHEM 256
    CSCI 134
    ECON 110
    MATH 130, 140, 150 (or 151)
    PHYS 210
    or MATH 209
    PHYS 141
    PHYS 142
    or PHYS 151
    PHYS 201
    PHYS 202
    Concepts of Chemistry
    Intro to Physical & Inorganic Chemistry
    Introduction to Computer Science
    Principles of Microeconomics
    Calculus I, II, and Multivariable
    Mathematical Methods for Scientists
    Differential Equation & Vector Calculus
    Particles and Waves
    Foundations of Modern Physics
    Seminar in Modern Physics
    Electricity and Magnetism
    Waves and Optics

    Particular fields of engineering may have additional recommended courses. It is important that prospective engineers begin taking the recommended courses during their first year at Williams.

    An alternative route to an engineering career is the 3-2 engineering program. A student can study at Williams for three years and then transfer to an engineering school for two more years of study. At the end of this program, the student earns both a B.A. from Williams and a B.S. in engineering. Students considering the 3-2 program should plan to complete the above-recommended courses in three years.  Professor Katharine Jensen (x2806), the pre-engineering advisor, will be happy to answer questions about course selections and about the various paths from a liberal arts education to an engineering career.

  • All medical, veterinary and dental schools require at least eight semesters of laboratory sciences, including two semesters of biology, four of chemistry, and two of physics.  Many schools also require courses in English, statistics, biochemistry, social sciences and mathematics.  Prerequisite programs can vary somewhat from program to program.  Pre-med students may complete an undergraduate major in any field of interest.

    If you have doubts about the preparation or ability of a pre-med advisee who is intent upon taking a full load of lab sciences in the first semester of their first-year, contact the Dean’s Office or the Health Professions Advisor to discuss the situation. A significant percentage of the first-year students who get in trouble early in their careers at Williams do so because of difficulties they encounter handling multiple lab science courses. At the same time, many students—including a number with relatively modest SATs and no AP science courses—are able to handle the pressures of taking a laboratory-intensive load in their first semester. So the best rule of thumb is to consult with others if you are concerned about a student’s course choices.

    The Health Professions Advisor is Barbara Fuller; you may contact her at x2598.

Summary of Academic Requirements

  • You will declare your major during the spring of your sophomore year but you should think about majors when choosing your courses
    The catalog describes requirements for each major
    To be eligible for a major must have at least C- in each course in major taken in first and second year

  • A ten-person faculty committee that hears petitions to waive academic rules; also reviews student records after each term

  • Review the Advanced Placement Guide on the Registrar's website. AP CREDIT MAY NOT BE USED TOWARD THE 32 SEMESTER OR 4 WSP COURSES REQUIRED FOR GRADUATION OR TOWARD THE DISTRIBUTION REQUIREMENT.  With permission from the appropriate department or program, AP credit may be used for placement and/or toward major or concentration requirements.

  • You must take 4 regularly graded courses each semester
    Although not usually recommended for first-term students, you may take an extra course which will not count toward graduation; register for this extra course on a pass/fail basis at the beginning of the semester; at mid-term, you will receive a form which allows you to drop this extra course from your record, stay in it on a pass/fail basis, or change it to a regularly graded course so it will count in your average

  • During the first two years of study, students are limited in the number of courses they may take in one department or subject each semester as follows:
    a) First-year students may take no more than one course with the same course prefix, nor more than two in one department, in a semester.
    b) Sophomores may take no more than two courses with the same course prefix, nor more than three in one department, in a semester.
    c) Sophomores may take no more than three courses with the same course prefix, nor more than four in one department, during the full year.
    d) A student may take no more than a total of five courses with the same course prefix, nor more than eight in one department, during the first two years.
    e) Any exception to the above early concentration rule may be requested by a petition to the Committee on Academic Standing (C.A.S.) filed at the time of registration.  Petitions can be found here  http://web.williams.edu/Registrar/petitions/index.html

  • First-year students must receive 3 grades of C- or higher and no failures each semester and pass a Winter Study Project.
    Sophomores and above must receive 4 C- or higher grades each semester and pass a Winter Study Project.

  • All course changes must be made using SELFREG, the on-line registration system.
    Complete instructions provided at Registrar's Office web page.

  • Some courses are "year-long" and are hyphenated in catalog; must pass both semesters to get any credit.
    Your grades will be sent only to you; it is up to you to share them with others, including parents, as you see fit.

  • The Registrar’s Office web site includes an up-to-the-minute on-line catalog and handbook, academic calendars for three years, SELFREG documentation, the final exam schedule and much more.

Contact information and Resources:

Safety concerns: Campus Safety and Security are available 24/7/365. (Call for all after hours emergencies and to contact on-call members of psychological services, the health center, and the Dean’s Office): 597 -4444 or http://security.williams.edu/

General concerns about student well-being, academic issues, withdrawing from courses, or any advice about where to turn for help:
Dean’s Office: http://dean.williams.edu/  or call 597 -4171.  There is a Dean on Call 24/7/365.  After 4:30, reach us via Campus Safety and Security dispatch, at 413-597-4444.

Academic support:

Academic Resources: http://academicresources.williams.edu
Tutors for all programs/departments, Math Science Resource center, Study Skills workshops, disability support services (all services are free of charge).

Writing Workshop: http://writing-programs.williams.edu/writing-workshop/
Writing tutors and writing partners (all services are free of charge).

Accessible Education and Resources: http://academicresources.williams.edu/disabilities/

Academic information:

Choosing first year courses: http://new-ephs.williams.edu/academics/first-year-courses/
Information and contact people for each department and program.

Academic Calendars: http://web.williams.edu/Registrar/calendars/index.html

First days calendar: http://new-ephs.williams.edu/first-days/first-days/

Academic requirements and regulations: http://web.williams.edu/admin/registrar/catalog/academicinfo.html

Catalog: http://catalog.williams.edu/

Registrar’s office: http://web.williams.edu/admin/registrar/

Academic Opportunities:

Study Away:  http://study-away.williams.edu/

Fellowships: http://fellowships.williams.edu/

Office of Special Academic Programs: http://osap.williams.edu/

Other crucial resources for health, support, information, opportunity and planning:

Chaplains’ office: http://chaplain.williams.edu/

Davis Center (multicultural center): http://davis-center.williams.edu/

Psychological Counseling Services: http://health.williams.edu/counseling-services/

Health Center: http://health.williams.edu/

Career Center: http://careers.williams.edu/

Financial Aid Office: http://finaid.williams.edu/