Ask an Advisor: Spring Enrollment

A Cross-College Advising Service (CCAS) advisor meets with a student during an advising session in Ogg Hall.
A student meets with an advisor at the Cross-College Advising Service (CCAS) for personalized academic and career advice. (Photo: Bryce Richter/UW–Madison)

Although spring seems far away, enrolling for spring classes is just around the corner. With more than 4,000 classes to choose from, this can be an overwhelming process for students. Advising offices will be flooded with students wanting to talk — and that’s a good thing, right?

Not necessarily, says Wren Singer, director of the UW’s Office of Undergraduate Advising.

It’s not ideal if students only see their advisor during the enrollment season, Singer says, and it’s a trend she is determined to change.

What to Expect from Advising

So why aren’t students seeing advisors more frequently outside of enrollment season, especially if the tuition they’ve already paid covers this service? For some students, it all comes down to expectations. Many students have misconceptions about what to expect from an advisor, and more importantly, what’s expected of them. Students who have just transitioned from high school may be anticipating “prescription advice,” or having their advisor tell them exactly what classes to take, what to major in, or what career path to follow.

There is also the mistaken belief that academic advising is limited to a quick check-in during enrollment periods. “Students should definitely touch base with their advisors during enrollment season,” Singer says, “but that’s just covering the basics.” She emphasizes that advising should be a more holistic experience that touches on academics, career paths, and involvement opportunities, and ultimately functions as a learning experience to help students make the most of their UW–Madison education.

Parents and families should check in with their students and encourage them to talk with an advisor about topics beyond course selection, including:

  • Leadership and involvement
  • Career exploration and preparation
  • Internships and campus jobs
  • Undergraduate research experiences
  • Study abroad programs
  • Student organizations
  • Academic support (tutoring, study groups, etc.)

How to Prepare

Students may also feel they had a subpar advising experience if they arrive at the session unprepared. In this scenario, much of the appointment time that should be spent having meaningful conversations is used up when advisors have to print off documents or answer basic questions that students could have researched on their own.

Share these tips so your student can get the most from advising appointments:

  • Set up an appointment well in advance of enrollment season (November & April)
  • Look for opportunities for workshops and group advising sessions
  • Review and bring your current DARS (degree audit reporting system) report, and jot down any questions
  • Create your ideal classlist, and select some alternative classes
  • Be prepared to talk about your academic, career, and life goals
  • Be willing to share your struggles and challenges, as well as your successes

When in Doubt, See Your Advisor

Parents and family members should resist the urge to serve as an academic advisor. They may be eager to help students plan a schedule as they recall how things worked when they were in school — and often, parents just want to be part of the process. However, higher education is constantly changing, and the rules and regulations at UW–Madison may vary greatly from what parents experienced.

“Too often, parents unintentionally mislead their students by giving them advice that worked for them when they were in college,” Singer says. This can be problematic for several reasons, she explains, including that the advice is outdated or it’s specific to a certain major, degree, or university. Advice such as, “You should major in this,” or “You should take these classes,” doesn’t leave room for students to work through the why or the how, and this kind of advice can keep students in a dependent mindset, relying on an authority figure to make decisions for them.

“Parents and families should absolutely have regular, engaging conversations with their students about their goals, courses, and experiences,” Singer encourages, “but they also need to make sure that students are forming a relationship with a professional advisor. I know the last thing a family member wants to do is give their student advice that leads them in the wrong direction.” Instead, Singer says, you can support students by encouraging them to connect with the advisors who have the most current information and can help students gather the experiences they’ll need after college.