The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

The College Office is located in 120 Claudia Cohen Hall. Credit: Max Mester

The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with Penn's director of academic advising to gain insight into how the College matches first-year students with their pre-major advisors.

Director of Academic Advising in the College of Arts and Sciences Carolyn Ureña told the DP about the considerations that inform pre-major advisor matching, a process she described as "holistic." Ureña said pre-major advisors attend admissions committee meetings to learn more about the incoming class of students and to gain a sense of who each student is.

“We have a team in our office of advisors, who individually match every incoming student to their advisor,” Ureña said. “So it’s not just where you’re from, but maybe places you’ve lived and feel comfortable.”

Ureña joined Penn in 2020 as the Assistant Dean for Advising for the College, and she was later appointed Director of Academic Advising for the College in 2023. She serves as a pre-major advisor and was a key figure in implementing the matching process the College uses today. 

Before the matching takes place, all pre-major advisors fill out a survey with a range of questions. Ureña spoke about several commonalities used in the matching process, including disciplinary connections, hobbies, and “all kinds of quirky information on both sides."

Ureña was a key figure in creating her favorite question: asking pre-major advisors about the places they’ve called home.

“We do an initial match and then we want to go back and make sure that each cohort that every advisor has is diverse as well," Ureña said.

Since joining the pre-major advising team at the College, Ureña has witnessed the team involved in the matching process grow. She said that the College's "philosophy has remained consistent" throughout technology changes in the matching point, adding that advising "sees students as whole people, not just as numbers."  

"We see them not just as students in the sense of people who want to study things, but actually parts of communities, people who have bigger goals, [and] other interests that we want to know about so that we can help connect them to resources," she continued. 

Adam Sherr, a former University registrar and academic advisor in the School of Nursing for 14 years, spoke to the DP about his experience as a pre-major advisor. Sherr began advising his first cohort with the Class of 2019 and has been advising students since. 

Sherr, who was a student at Penn before the pre-major advisor matching process was established, described challenges with having an advisor whose experiences did not match his own. As a result of the matching program, this is no longer the case, and he often advises FGLI students, athletes, and Mayor's Scholars who share his background. 

He explained that he advises with the goal of being “the advisor that I think I would have needed as a 17-year-old first-year student from the city of Philadelphia." 

“Coming to Penn where there's 2,500 people, I felt like a number. So it's not just about academics,” he explained.

The College's matching system is combined with a long-term training program for pre-major advisors throughout the year. The training focuses on curriculum knowledge, advising for STEM, drop deadlines, and how to support the wellness of students. 

“No matter how busy I am, advising doesn't seem like a job because it is my fill my cup activity,” Sherr said. “This allows me to keep talking to students and reminding me why I'm in higher education.”

College sophomore and DP opinion columnist Sose Hovannisian, who recently declared her major, shared details about her positive experience with her pre-major advisor.

“She is the most caring and compassionate person I have met at Penn, and she single-handedly put me on a track for a happy and successful four years," Hovannisian said.

College sophomore Jaxson Nield described his experience with pre-major advisors as "neutral." 

“She put me on a more difficult track for biology unnecessarily without giving me options," he said. 

Ureña said that the College team is interested in more student feedback about pre-major advising, outside of the anecdotal feedback they often receive. 

“Over time [the College] would want to ask more students, more formally, what their experience is with the match process,” she said.