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February 22, 2020

Fraught, then Fractured: The Advisor-Advisee Relationship

The administration must thoroughly address the high turnover rate in academic advising.

While academic advising is advertised as a resource for students, it has become a source of stress and dismay for many of us. Every student at the College is supposed to have a full-time academic advisor to help them navigate UChicago’s academics and their budding interests. However, in recent quarters, there has been a sharp rise in the turnover rate of these advisors. This development has left many students without advisors, or in an endless cycle of new ones that they are unable to develop strong bonds to. Within less than two years of enrollment in the College, many members of the Class of 2022 have had three academic advisors. I believe that this high turnover has led to the student body feeling frustrated and disillusioned with their academic advising resources.  

Every student in the College is assigned to an academic adviser, a full-time professional in the College Academic Advising Office who helps undergraduates pursue their academic interests and plan a program of study leading to a degree. Beyond academics, advisers also provide guidance on pursuits outside of the classroom and help students align their academic choices with emerging career goals. An essential component to ensuring that  advising runs smoothly is the development of lasting bonds between students and their advisors. However, with advisors coming and going at such a fast rate, students are unable to form these necessary, promised relationships. 

Several students have had multiple academic advisors throughout their time in the College. The advising department has been unable to fill these spots, and a few students I know have been without an advisor for months on end. Class of 2022 members in residence of Max Palevsky West saw their academic advisor promoted in November and four months later have yet to be assigned to a new advisor. The frequent turnover requires some advisors to take on extra students, and as a result, the attention that they are able to give each advisee decreases. Furthermore, when these spots are filled, new advisors are trained rapidly to keep up with displaced students, and thus lack sufficient knowledge of UChicago academics, as well as what exactly is expected of them. 

Students have inevitably had negative experiences when meeting with their advisors as a result; either their questions go unanswered, wrongly answered, or become more convoluted. Kyra Hill, a second-year in the College, has had three academic advisors over the past year and a half. She currently does not have an academic advisor, as her last one was promoted over the past winter break. She explains, “By the time I graduate I will have had at least three academic advisors. It has been very inconsistent for me academically because I have had to spend time getting to know the new advisors and explaining to them how I want to achieve academic success. At this point, it’s been more of a detriment than an aid.” 

Unlike many of my classmates, I have had the same academic advisor for the past two years. My advisor always takes notes during our meetings and offers excellent advice about majors, classes, and future career paths. Moreover, she knows me as more than a student, asking for updates on my family and RSO experiences. This relationship has served as an anchor, securing my knowledge of and comfort at UChicago. While I have luckily had the advising experience promised to UChicago students, many of my peers haven’t been so fortunate, and have been forced to seek help in other places. Some students have started turning to career advisors for assistance with class selection and planning for their academic future over their academic advisors. Gracie Limoncelli is a second-year college whose academic advisor was promoted over winter break and still does not have a new advisor. She explains, “I have found myself turning to my career advisor over my academic advisor. I know her better and I just felt that she gave a broader perspective on how the classes I chose would affect my career path.

Based on the pattern of advisor promotions, I believe that the problem of academic advising turnover comes down to the culture of the profession. The fault is not on the advisors for leaving. Many advisors have been promoted to deanships or higher positions at UChicago and other institutions. Nothing should stop them from seeking these opportunities to advance themselves and their career. However, advising cannot be an interim job. 

From my own experience, I’ve seen how the quality of academic advising only increases the longer advisors stay in the department. This enables advisors to learn and disseminate foundational knowledge of how the university works. For students to feel that academic advising is an accessible and useful resource, there should be a major overhaul of how academic advisors are trained and prepared for their job. But more importantly, for this training to be effective, advisors need to be around long enough to develop relationships with their advisees. The University must address why advisors frequently leave the post for other positions.

Brinda Rao is a second-year in the College. 

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