Advising advice: Because some of us learned the hard way

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By Anna Landsverk

landsveran@mnstate.edu

After MSUM students collapse into post-midterm naps, the next brick wall still lies ahead: registering for classes.

That may seem like a relatively straightforward exercise for freshmen—knock out a couple LASC goals, take a major class or two, find a fun elective and make sure nothing interferes with Zumba or the lunch special at the Dragon Café.

However, when students hit their final years of college, they may realize that they have semesters or years more to go than expected, since they didn’t plan that far ahead. This can be especially true for students who add a double major, a minor or a certificate, or for those who switch programs halfway through their college careers.

Of course, advising is supposed to solve these kinds of issues and help prepare graduates for what lies ahead; the question is whether students and advisors are taking advantage of this opportunity.

Therefore, upperclassmen from several departments have offered up their advice for making the most of the advisor-advisee relationship. With these tips, students can graduate on-time or early, build networking connections and get more out of their college experience.

1. Make the first move

It’s important to take control of your advising journey. That means scheduling well ahead of the deadline and actually asking questions about classes, teachers and scheduling problems.

“If it wasn’t for me insisting and trying to work things out and double-dip with my courses, I probably wouldn’t be able to graduate on time with my double major and minor,” said Alheen Mahmud, a senior majoring in political science and economics.

She has worked with her advisor to get waivers for certain classes, meaning she won’t have to take as many classes in her majors to hit her graduation requirements.

2. Don’t expect your advisor to be a mind reader

“I have overheard or kind of guessed that advisors get frustrated when students don’t come in with a plan, or at least even just a vague idea of what they want to do next semester,” Mahmud said. “We’ve got to pull our own weight. Only I know what I have available time-wise as far as … work schedules or what I need done.”

If you have a job, talk with your advisor about how many hours you want to work and when, and realize they may suggest lessening your hours to fit the classes you need.

3. Plan ahead, and adjust those plans

Brittney Berthiaume, a graphic communications major seeking her second bachelor’s degree, heavily emphasized the role of planning. She always planned ahead while getting her first degree, but she was required to design a course schedule for her second degree before she could even apply to MSUM.

“Having that two-year plan actually planned out each semester—it can alter a little bit, but to be able to go back to that and say, ‘OK, what should I take next?’ It’s really easy,” Berthiaume said. “That’s been really helpful for me.”

She recommended freshmen modify their department’s four-year plan sheets so they have a roadmap for the next few years.

4. Make a personal connection

“I’ve never taken a class with (my advisor), but I’ve always had a sort of connection with him,” said Rahil Pereira, a junior majoring in economics and international studies. “I can just go in and speak to him because he knows me as a person, so he knows what my goals and aspirations are. I feel a lot of times that’s missing, because (for) a lot of students who don’t take classes with their advisors, their advisors don’t really have an idea  of what the student’s goals are and what the student wants to do with their degree so they can help them get there.”

Especially if you don’t have a class with your advisor, put in the effort to make a connection with your advisor and get comfortable with him or her. They will be more invested in helping you achieve your goals, and if something comes up, you will feel more comfortable approaching your advisor for help.

5. If you don’t click, switch

“When I first came here, I was originally a business management major,” said Adam Schutt, a junior and economics major. “My first school didn’t have economics, so I hadn’t even thought about it. And I think I switched to economics after I took my first micro(economics) class last year with Dr. Hanson. Ever since I switched to economics, I picked her as my advisor.”

Students can request a change of advisor form from the Registrar’s Office, and they can sometimes choose their advisor when switching into a new major.

6. Remember what comes next

When you forge a connection, advisors can be a great resource for graduate school, internships and career resources, as well as for what specific employers and graduate schools look for in their candidates.

“(My advisor) has talked to me a lot about finishing in the shortest amount of time but has also stressed taking particular classes that would help me get into the kinds of graduate schools I’m looking at,” Pereira said. “He’s also advised me on when I should be taking my GRE and other graduate school exams before graduation.”

7. Find an unofficial advisor

“I never had an anthropology advisor, but I had one anthropology professor in particular who I had classes with, and I would reach out to him on occasion,” said Mikaila Norman, a senior English integrated publishing major with minors in anthropology and book illustration. “In fact, just a couple weeks ago I met with him as if he were my major advisor, and he was very much … friendly and helpful and very easy to reach out to.”

Some of the most successful students with minors, certificates or double majors are those who find an unofficial advisor to help them choose their non-major classes and make everything work together.

8. Don’t take it for granted

“The nice thing about a school like MSUM is you can have a major, but you can cater that major and there’s something you can emphasize in,” Berthiaume said. “Not everyone takes all the exact same classes … For the advisor to actually understand your passions will help a long way (toward customizing the major).”

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