With college-decision season only a few months away, Dartmouth students are about to be faced with the task of trying to encourage prospective students to come to Hanover. While there is much excitement over this process, as exhibited at Dartmouth’s accepted students weekend, called Dimensions, there are also a lot of tough questions that will be asked of us and about our experiences. One of the most difficult questions that we may face is “what is your least favorite thing about Dartmouth?”
Earlier this week, this question was posed to me by a professor who was hoping to gain insight into a student’s perspective on the effectiveness of various administrative policies. He admitted that while professors understood the purposes behind many policies, particularly those that facilitate student-faculty interactions, he did not have a firm grasp on the actual impact of many of them.
Having been asked about my least favorite aspect of Dartmouth before, both at home and on campus, I responded almost instantly, “The freshman advising system.” The advising system is a problem that seems to persist through the years. Gaps in pre-major advising have been filled by the pre-major advising guide, which is distributed to sophomores during the fall. But there has been little done to lend effective help to freshmen seeking advice during their first weeks on campus.
The First-Year Residential Experience places students into freshmen-only dormitories, where they live alongside a number of undergraduate advisors. But this program often has very limited impact in terms of advising, since UGAs usually share academic and extracurricular interests with only a few of the residents on their floor. The administration has tried to resolve this gap by assigning advisors to all incoming freshmen in their academic area of interest. But as many Dartmouth students have experienced, this system is not much more effective than FYRE. Though the faculty do an amazing job of being inviting and accommodating for first-years, many freshmen fall through the cracks.
In response to this, Student Assembly has unveiled a plan to pair each freshman up with an upperclassman mentor. If implemented successfully, this program could go a long way toward solving the issues that have plagued freshman advising here at Dartmouth. Freshmen would likely be less intimidated to talk with students only a few years older than themselves and would hopefully find that their hours and background match up better with that of the student mentor.
While the Assembly experiments with this new mentoring program, it is upperclassmen’s responsibility to offer informal advice to the College’s youngest members. From my own experience and from discussions with other students, it seems that some of the best advising that goes on at Dartmouth is informal, oftentimes after club meetings or in a dining hall. Dartmouth students need honest and pointed advice, which can be difficult to get from a professor or a mentor with whom you have been paired. For that reason, despite past and current efforts on behalf of the administration, advising at Dartmouth will only be most effective if upperclassmen take an active role in offering advice and support to our younger peers.
Whether it is through a high school connection, DOC First-Year Trips or a club that you share in common, we all need to encourage freshmen to ask us about classes or really anything that they need to know about Dartmouth. The Assembly’s plan is great in that it will offer a more approachable mentor for students. But the best advice that I have received is from those who can identify with me and with whom I share a certain chemistry. It may be effective for the Assembly to give each freshman multiple upperclassmen matches to whom they can turn for advice. But until the Assembly, with the support of the Dean of the College’s office, can match the effectiveness of informal advising with a more formalized system, we need to all chip in our own ways to ensure that freshmen get the advice they need. We need to ensure that no one’s least favorite thing about Dartmouth is the lack of advice that they have received.