AcademicAdvising
Photo: Chase Sutton

In 2014, nearly half of Penn students indicated in a survey that they were dissatisfied with pre-major advising and close to a third indicated that they were dissatisfied with their major advisors. The results of this survey prompted the College Office to work with the Dean's Advisory Board to improve the system in 2015, but three years on, student accounts suggest that advising experiences continue to vary.

Nursing senior Mariah Webb said she has never met her academic advisor. During her freshman year, she spoke once with her advisor over the phone, but since then has only been able to reach her by email because she is an online teacher who is based in New Jersey. 

Wharton freshman Will Castner, a new student representative in the Undergraduate Assembly, said he did not receive information from his cohort advisor about registration prior to the start of the fall semester and  had to rely on information provided by other cohort members. 

Last semester, College senior Miru Osuga reached out to her academic advisor to raise her course limit by half a credit. Her adviser did not respond to her emails, so she visited him in person, upon which she was informed that she was no longer his advisee. He forwarded her onto a major advisor who ultimately did not have the power to change her schedule either.

“I guess the biggest problem for me was that I really did not get any academic support from these spaces,” Osuga said. “We have so many advisers but their roles are not necessary super clear, which means that the student do not know either. It’s not really advising, it’s administrating.” 

But other students have had more positive experiences. College junior Caitlin Howell, who is currently on a leave of absence, said she regularly corresponds with her academic advisor about her mental health, academics, and post-graduation plans.

“Penn can feel very impersonal, and it definitely feels like the administration kind of doesn’t care about individual students,” Howell said. “But he’s one of the only people that I have communicated with at Penn that I felt that actually cared about my well-being.” 

Senior Director of Wharton Advising Scott Romeika said he recognizes that students' exposure to the advising system can often vary. 

“I’m sure there is some disconnect somewhere. I do not know to what extent or if there is any pattern to that,” he said. 

Recently, members of the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education administered a survey to undergraduate students to better understand experiences with the current advising system. Depending on the results of the SCUE survey, members of the Undergraduate Assembly plan to lobby for administrative change. 

“Where we see a disconnect is a matter of communication between advisors and students in terms of what advisors think students want and what students actually want,” said Jay Shah, UA vice president and College junior. “There are tons of ways to solve that problem so the more people we have thinking about that problem the more possible solutions we can get.”

Dean of Freshmen and Director of Academic Advising for the College, Janet Tighe, initially declined a request for comment, explaining that her schedule was busy as a result of advance registration. She responded to a second request for comment on Nov. 6 at 8:29 a.m., offering to speak at 8:30 a.m., but did not respond to further messages asking for other availabilities. 

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