Two-pronged advising system helps students navigate academic life from the start

Stanford freshmen come from all walks of life, but they all share one thing in common: they “were the very best thing where they were,” Julie Lythcott-Haims, dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising, told the Faculty Senate last week.

“So when they think about advising, they think, no, no, no, I’ve got this,” Lythcott-Haims said, during a presentation at the Nov. 10 meeting.

“They did what it took to excel, to exceed expectations in high school, often alone, or without recognizing the assistance around them, so they think, I’ve got this. I don’t need advising. Or maybe they recognize that advising is valuable, but they don’t think they need to hear anything from anyone older than 24.”

Over time, Lythcott-Haims said, students will find mentors at Stanford, and find their way to the amazing and varied opportunities available to undergraduates.

“But because advice and guidance are so essential from the outset, and because many of our students are reluctant to go out and get that advice and guidance, we assign two advisers right from the outset, over the summer before they arrive at Stanford,” she said, referring to academic directors and pre-major advisers.

Academic directors are full-time advisers with PhDs – people who have chosen undergraduate academic advising as a profession – whose offices are located in frosh and sophomore residence halls. Currently, Stanford has eight academic directors. Each one is responsible for advising 450 students.

“We need to create more academic director positions to lower that ratio,” Lythcott-Haims said. “A ratio of one academic director to 450 students is not good enough.  Our peers that have similar roles – like the directors of studies at Princeton – have a ratio of 1 to 250. We are asking too much of our academic directors. And survey data shows that students often leave their academic director’s office because there’s a line out their door. So students know academic directors exist, and they are trying to utilize the resources, and we can’t offer enough of it.”

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