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Advising at Vanderbilt

Posted by on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 in Academic Advising, Academic Life, Information for Incoming Students.

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”  Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune

Every time I give an information session for families visiting our campus, I begin by asking all of the students to introduce themselves.  I ask for their names, hometowns, intended majors, and to remember what they wanted to be when they were five years old.  It’s a good ice breaker that gets the brain moving and puts everyone at ease, but it’s also an attempt to subtly convey an important point:

If you know what you want to do with your life, that’s wonderful.  But remember that we wanted to be princesses and cowboys and superheroes just over a decade ago, and for most of us those ambitions have drastically changed.  Chances are they will continue to drastically change as time goes on.

Flowers on Campus
Beautiful flowers on Vanderbilt's campus (Photo / Lauren Holland)

For those of you stressing out over your career goals and life plans, I have two sources of comfort: 1) you do not have to decide everything now, and 2) you do not have to decide anything alone.  Vanderbilt provides an extensive network of support for its undergraduate students as they navigate their college experience, from selecting a major to completing their liberal arts requirements to making plans for the post-Vanderbilt future.

If you apply to the College of Arts and Science, you have the option of indicating an intended major.  We may use this indication as context for evaluating your application, but it is not required, nor is it binding in any way.  In fact, A&S students cannot declare their majors until after their freshman year.  Until that point, they will be assigned a pre-major advisor through CASPAR (College of Arts and Science Pre-Major Academic Advising Resource Center).  Every first year student will be assigned to one of ten pre-major advisors will who be available for guidance in selecting courses for the freshman and sophomore year, completing the AXLE (core curriculum) requirements, and eventually selecting a major.

Once you have selected your major, you will then select your major advisor.  That’s right, I said select.  Students have the opportunity to choose a department faculty member with whom they have already developed an academic relationship.  That faculty member will then take over the advising reigns and guide their advisees through the timely completion of their major requirements and any other academic pursuits the students decide to take on.  Every student must meet with his or her advisor at least once a semester, but all are encouraged to take even further advantage of these remarkable resources.

For students who wish to pursue a pre-professional track within Arts and Science, additional advisors are available in the areas of health (through the Health Professions Advisory Office), law, and architecture.  These faculty members will work in conjunction with major advisors to provide profession-specific guidance.

The School of Engineering also appoints an initial faculty advisor to each entering undergraduate.  Students have until the end of their first year to specify one of the eight available engineering majors, at which point a change in advisor will be made if necessary.  As with Arts and Science, the School of Engineering requires students to meet with their advisors at the beginning of every registration period; these faculty members provide guidance in building class schedules, navigating academic changes and detours, and creating post-graduate plans.

Students who apply to the Peabody College of Education and Human Development or the Blair School of Music must indicate a chosen major on their applications for admission.  Because of the small size of the incoming Blair class, all rising freshmen will be advised by the Head of Academic Advising during the summer registration period.  Once students arrive on campus, they will be assigned a faculty advisor within their respective majors.  Because Blair does not serve a graduate school population, these advisors, along with all School of Music professors, will be focused solely on the education and guidance of our 200 undergraduate music students.

The advising system works very similarly in Peabody College; students will be advised during summer registration by the Director of Undergraduate Studies and assigned a faculty advisor on the first day of class.  Because incoming Peabody and Blair students have already selected their majors, no pre-major advising is necessary.  If a student decides to change majors or add an area of study within Peabody College, another advisor in that area will be assigned.

When students ask how helpful the advising system is at Vanderbilt, I always respond the same way: you will get as much out of it as you put in.  In fact, this motto holds true for all of the academic resources available to our undergraduate students: The Writing Studio, tutoring services, Center for Student Professional Development, Global Education Office, etc.  To take complete advantage of the advising system would mean receiving regular input on your academic and professional journey from published authors, groundbreaking researchers, patented inventors, accomplished musicians, licensed teachers and administrators, medical professionals, and proven experts in every field you choose to explore.

No matter which path you choose to take during your time at Vanderbilt, a few things are certain: others have taken this path before, there will be bumps along the way, and those who have survived these bumps will be here to guide you through.

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