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I. Academic Advising

A. Role of Advisers

Every Vassar faculty member has a responsibility to the college to participate in both general and departmental advising.  At Vassar, the traditional role of the faculty adviser is that of educator rather than overseer—as an informed consultant, not a director of students’ academic programs.  In this relationship, both students and faculty have clear responsibilities.  Students are expected to take the initiative in seeking advice from members of the faculty. They are responsible for keeping advisers informed about their academic progress and for seeking the approval of the adviser when planning or changing programs of study.  In signing the various special forms—the field of concentration card; the pre-registration, registration and change of registration forms; the non recorded option form; the Correlate Sequence declaration form; and any petitions to the Committee on Leaves and Privileges—advisers act for the college in stipulating both that the student’s program is in accord with faculty legislation and that the student is making orderly progress towards the degree.  Thus, in addition to knowledge of the general and specific curricular elements set forth in the Catalogue, the Adviser’s Handbook, and the Schedule of Classes, faculty advisers should be familiar with a student’s academic record and plan of study.  All advisers have electronic access to their advisees’ records as well as copies of any correspondence from the relevant faculty committees concerning their advisees’ academic progress. 

The advising system is under the general supervision of the dean of studies and the dean of first-year students.


B. Pre-Major Advisers

The pre-major adviser is an experienced member of the faculty or occasionally the administration who has been asked to serve as a general adviser to no more than 12 students from the time of their arrival at Vassar until they declare a field of concentration or are admitted into the independent program.  The main duties of the pre-major adviser are to help the student plan a program for the freshman year, to be available for consultation throughout the course of the year and, if the student has not declared a field of concentration, to help in the planning for the sophomore year in the spring.  The pre-major adviser is continued in the sophomore year until a concentration is declared.  When questions or problems outside an adviser’s field of general competence arise, an important part of the pre-major adviser’s job is to refer students to other resources, including faculty members of other departments and programs, the learning and teaching center, the counseling service, the Office of Community-Engaged Learning, pre-professional advisers and the deans’ offices.   

At a required meeting before the freshman arrive; all pre-major advisers receive the names of their advisees along with their high school records and entrance scores.  Most students will have pre-registered by mail before arriving on campus.  Advisers will have individual appointments with each of their advisees before final registration, at which time they will plan the first semester’s work and discuss future academic goals.  Advisers should at this point be certain that each student’s plan includes at least the one required semester of work in a Freshmen Writing Seminar.  They should also remind students of the college’s requirement of a one-semester course in quantitative analysis to be taken during the first two years of study and the foreign language basic proficiency requirement.  Advisers should be prepared to discuss the student’s interests and needs, strengths and weaknesses as reflected in the high school records, tests and entrance scores, and possible plans for a field of concentration and a vocation.  In general, freshman should be advised not to limit their course selections too narrowly and to plan ahead by electing prerequisites for upper-level courses in which they are interested.  A general plan of learning should be discussed which may reflect several interests.  Whenever possible, alternative plans should be considered, so that focus upon a single crucial course or sequence is lessened.  Freshmen will register immediately after these conferences.  It may be necessary to see advisees a number of times in the first two weeks of classes before their programs are settled for the term; thereafter, the frequency of meetings is determined by the needs of the student and the inclination of the adviser.  All changes in freshmen programs must have the approval of the adviser.


C. Election and Change of Concentration

A student may elect a major field of concentration or curricular program at any time until the end of the second year of study or the mid-point of their work in the college by filing the appropriate form with the Registrar.   

A student may change major field or curricular program in the junior year with the permission of the new department or program and the dean of studies.  This change must be filed with the registrar.


D. The Departmental Adviser

A student who has declared a field of concentration is assigned a departmental or program adviser by the chair of the department or program concerned or by the chair of advisers in that department or program.  This adviser is responsible for giving general advice to advisees about the structure of the major program, the various alternatives available for meeting major requirements, recommended courses in allied fields, and so on.  The adviser assists the student in drawing up the four-year program on the field of concentration card.  Three copies are signed by the adviser; one is kept for the department, one is filed with the dean of studies office, and the other is kept by the student.  Each copy should be revised by the student in consultation with the departmental adviser as subsequent course changes modify the original plan.  Although students are primarily responsible for their own programs, the adviser must also make sure that the student is meeting the curricular requirements of the department or program and of the college.  Particular attention should be paid to the 50% maximum in the field of concentration, the 25% minimum outside the division of concentration, the 4 unit NRO maximum, the 5 unit ungraded maximum.

Any changes after a student has registered must be approved by the adviser before the change can be made.  “Drop/Add” forms from the Office of the Registrar require the signature of the adviser.

The pre-major adviser helps to relate the overall curricular opportunities of the college to the individual student; the departmental or program adviser serves to interpret the more specialized curricula of departments or programs to the student in order to develop a broad but individualized program.  Both advisers should also aid the student in pursuing a comprehensive program in liberal education.


E. The Independent Program Adviser

Any member of the faculty may serve as an adviser in the Independent Program.   Each student wishing to enter this program meets with the director of the independent program and then designs a course of study in consultation with a member of the faculty who will agree to serve as the student’s adviser.  In most cases it is preferable, in the judgment of the student and the committee, that the student have more than one adviser.  The advisers must approve the student’s written program proposal and the student’s field of concentration card by signing both of them before they are submitted to the Faculty Committee on the Independent Program for its approval.  The committee will approve the advisers, or recommend alternatives if appropriate.  Upon acceptance by the committee, advisers assume the responsibility of advising students until they graduate.  All changes in the program must also be approved by the committee.  As is the case with other students, permission for academic leaves or general academic privileges for students in the Independent Program is granted by the Committee on Leaves and Privileges.  Advisers are responsible for overseeing a student’s fulfillment of not only the requirements of the Independent Program, but also those other requirements necessary to obtain the Vassar degree.  These include:  34 units, no more than 17 units in the courses of any one department, 8 1/2 units in courses outside the curricular division in which most of the student’s work is concentrated, and the college’s requirements on residence, NRO, ungraded work and transfer credit.  It is, of course, also the responsibility of the student to formulate and follow a program of study that meets these requirements.

In the senior year the student designs a senior project in consultation with the advisers.  The written proposal for the senior project, approved and signed by the advisers, must then be submitted to the Independent Program Committee for approval.  The advisers supervise the work on this project and grade it upon its completion.

The acceptance of a student into the independent program and the student’s success within this program should result from the cooperation of the student, the advisers, and the committee.  It is, quite naturally, the student who is most responsible for the definition of a program and its fulfillment.  But the student must have guidance and advice and advisers have a major role in establishing and maintaining the quality of the student’s program.

For further information the adviser should consult the “Requirements, Guidelines, and Procedures” issued by the Committee on the Independent Program, which is available in the Independent Program Office.


F. Correlate Sequence Advising

Each department and program offering a correlate sequence specifies in the Catalogue the requirements and the procedure for declaration.  Ordinarily, students should begin by consulting the department or program chair.  Students will then often be assigned to a particular faculty member for further guidance. 


G. Advising of Students in Special Categories

  1. Transfer Students

    Each transfer student meets with one of the class deans on arrival at the college.  Students wishing to enter the Independent Program will be referred to an adviser in the dean of studies office and to faculty members who might be willing to serve as advisers; they should also consult with the director of the independent program sophomores and juniors will be referred to departmental or program advisers whenever possible.

    Departmental advisers who encounter special problems regarding transfer students are urged to send the students to the Office of the Dean of Studies for advice.  A frequent question is that of transfer or credit from other institutions.  Determinations of which courses and how much credit can be transferred to Vassar are made by the assistant to the dean of studies.  No more than 17 units from other schools is allowed.  Questions about the suitability of courses at other institutions as prerequisites for upper-level courses at Vassar must be answered by the department involved. 

  2. Exchange and Visiting Students

    The dean of studies office advises both Vassar students who wish to go on an exchange program and students from other colleges who are at Vassar as exchange or visiting students.  The program of a Vassar student wishing to go on exchange or academic leave must have the approval of the student’s academic adviser and the Committee on Leaves and Privileges. 

  3. Special Students

    Students who are not matriculated at Vassar are advised by the adviser to special students in the Office of the Dean of Studies.  Special students are referred to appropriate departmental advisers as necessary.


H. Advising for Special Programs

  1. Teacher Preparation

    Students with a special interest in certification for pre-school and elementary teaching grades should consult the director of elementary education in the education department.  For secondary school teaching in English, languages, social sciences, mathematics and natural sciences, students should consult the director of secondary education.  The two programs of study vary and each area has distinct requirements that must be met to obtain New York State certification.  Therefore, students should be urged by their advisers to consult the appropriate director during the first semester of the freshman year.

  2. Junior Year Abroad

    Students wishing to study abroad on Vassar College programs, approved programs of other colleges, or universities, or independently should consult the assistant dean of studies/director of international programs to discuss their plans.  They should first, however, become familiar with the written material for study abroad available in the reading room of the Office of the Dean of Studies.  In general, they should discuss the possibilities with their departmental advisers and then make application by the announced deadline at the end of the first semester.  Students should begin planning for study abroad during the freshmen year and should be aware of language requirements and the dates of mandatory informational meetings during the fall semester.

    The Hispanic Studies, French, and Italian departments, and the Africana Studies Program support Vassar study abroad programs in Madrid, Paris, Bologna, and St. Petersburg, respectively.  A faculty member of each department or program serves as Vassar liaison with these programs.  This faculty member should be consulted by students wishing to apply for this program.  The student should also consult the assistant dean of studies /director of international programs and follow the same procedure as other students wishing to spend the year abroad.

    Sophomores must declare a field of concentration and work out a major program before submitting an application for Junior Year Abroad.  Students considering an Independent Major are advised to begin this process early.

  3. Self-Instructional Language Program

    Any student wishing to study the self-instructed languages offered at Vassar on tape should consult the faculty member in charge of the program.  The languages offered are subject to change.

  4. Community-Engaged Learning (Field Work)

    Community-Engaged Learning makes it possible for students to examine the way the theories and the practical experiences of a particular discipline interact.  It provides opportunities for observation and participation which are not available in the classroom.  Depending on their academic interests, students are placed in a variety of organizations and agencies in the local community and elsewhere.  The general supervision of Community-Engaged Learning rests with the Community-Engaged Learning Committee, a subcommittee of the Committee on Curricular Policy.  Although the Community-Engaged Learning staff provides students with information about opportunities for Community Engaged Learning and supervises placements, it is the individual student’s faculty Community-Engaged Learning adviser who evaluates the merit of the proposed Community-Engaged Learning and decides upon the academic requirements for the awarding of credit. 

    Faculty should only sponsor Community-Engaged Learning that seems to them to have significant academic value. Unless the Community-Engaged Learning experience is part of a well-defined semester-away program or will be qualitatively different from work previously done in the placement, students receive no more than one unit of credit for the same placement. To receive 1/2 unit of credit, the student is expected to complete at least 40 hours of experiential work (in the field) and complete at least 30 hours of academic work; to receive one unit of credit, the student is expected to complete at least 80 hours of experiential work (in the field) and 60 hours hours of academic work, 80 hours should be completed.

    Faculty members supervising Community-Engaged Learning projects assume responsibility for the following:

    • To assess how the Community-Engaged Learning placement will contribute to the student’s academic program and whether the student’s academic background will enable them to learn from the experience.  Generally, Community-Engaged Learning students have prerequisites or co-requisites in the faculty member’s department.

    • To assist the student in developing an academic framework for the field experience, which normally will include an appropriate bibliography and a written statement from the student outlining the intellectual purpose of the Community-Engaged Learning placement.

    • To require certain academic work to be completed by the student in order to receive Community-Engaged Learning credit. This work includes, at a minimum:

      1. Regular maintenance of a journal recording field experiences.

      2. Periodic conferences in which the faculty supervisor and student meet to discuss the field experience and its relationship to other components of the Community-Engaged Learning project.

      3. A final “integrative exercise” that requires students to reflect on the field experience and its contribution to their education, such as a written or oral report or paper integrating the field observations with theory, readings, or additional research.

      4. (Individual departments, programs, and faculty members are free to impose additional requirements as appropriate.)

    To evaluate the student’s performance, taking into consideration not only the student’s academic work but also the organization’s evaluation of the student.  Since a major component of Community-Engaged Learning is the experience in the field, students do not receive credit based solely on their academic work (this distinguishes Community-Engaged Learning from Independent Study).  Community-Engaged Learning is graded Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory.

    The same basic criteria apply to summer Community-Engaged Learning. Although periodic conferences to discuss the field experience need not be held during the summer, faculty members should see that provisions are made for what they consider to be adequate consultation between supervisor and student.  Credit is not given for placements of less than six weeks and normally does not exceed one unit.  Because of the importance of student-supervisor consultation and of establishing an academic framework for the field experience, students must consult with their supervisors and register for summer Community-Engaged Learning by June 1.  Only in exceptional cases will students be permitted to register after this date. Students wishing to do Community-Engaged Learning for credit or volunteer work in the community should be referred to the Director of Community-Engaged Learning. 

  5. Pre-Medical Preparation

    Students who are considering going to medical school should be referred to the Pre-Medical Advisory Committee at the earliest opportunity.  An assistant in the Dean of Studies office serves as liaison to the committee.

  6. Pre-Law

    Students wishing more information on the requirements of law schools or who have questions about the best preparation for law school should be referred to the pre-law advisor in the dean of studies office.


I. Resources for Advisers

The dean of studies, the dean of first-year students, class advisers, the director of disability services, the adviser to special students and the director of the ALANA Center stand ready to advise advisers whenever necessary.  In addition, the staff of the learning and teaching center can be of great help with students who are experiencing difficulties due to slow reading, poor mathematical preparation, inadequate comprehension, or poor study and writing skills.