General Advising Issues and Information
In the past, students have expressed a wide array of wishes of their advisors-ranging simply from someone to help choose courses to someone to help them navigate much more than just their academic life at Swarthmore. Although we no longer ask, "What do you expect from your advisor?", it is clearly the case that students will have as wide a range of expectations as ever. Therefore, one of the first things you may wish to do is consider how you will clearly articulate your expectations for the relationship. See more on this below.
As an academic advisor, your primary job is to help students select the courses that will give them the best liberal arts education possible and to approve the student's initial enrollment and all applications to change (by dropping and/or adding a course) the program for which she or he initially enrolled. In order to help students choose programs tailored to their individual abilities, interests, and needs, please consider discussing performance/interests in high school, study abroad, experimentation with new fields of study, long-range career goals, and possible interest in graduate study. Based on talks with your advisees and their formal records, encourage them to design a program of study, especially in the first year, which is sufficiently broad and challenging but not overwhelming.
Ideally, though, your role as academic advisor will go beyond formal approval of enrollment selections. In addition to helping students select courses, it is our hope that the relationship you develop with your advisees will allow for easy discussions on issues such as setting goals, time management, balancing academics with other parts of life, adjusting to the academic rigors of Swarthmore College, and more. In short, a discussion on how to achieve and maintain academic success at Swarthmore.
Our students have been especially appreciative when advisors express interest in them as whole persons. Some advisors find that inviting their group of advisees for a casual meal, sometime during the opening weeks, is a useful way to build a relationship.
You are an important source of information on whether a student is thriving here at Swarthmore. This is just one reason why meeting with advisees is so critical. If your advisee does not initiate a meeting during a pre-registration advising period, we encourage you to send an invitation. While it is the advisee's responsibility to be advised, students report consistently that being welcomed helps more than we might realize.
A student also might not initiate contact because he or she is having some difficulties. You should also consider placing a hold on a student's registration whenever you feel it is necessary to help motivate a student to come talk to you. If an advisee still does not respond or an advisee's issues ever seem beyond your purview, the deans would like to know this immediately so that we can determine the best strategy for supporting that student. Dean Karen Henry is the first-yearclass dean; you can contact her or Dean Anderson.
First Semester, CR/NC and Shadow Grades: For a student's first semester of the first year at Swarthmore, final grades of CR or NC are the only officially recorded grades on the transcript. This is to allow students time to make the transition to college-level academic work. Students should understand, however, that they will indeed be graded as usual within their courses. First-semester students will receive written evaluations and grade equivalents from their instructors, copies of which are shared with the advisor. These are referred to as "shadow grades." The Committee on Academic Requirements will check shadow grades to identify students who may be experiencing academic difficulty.
New students should be advised to find the right balance during their first-semester, to neither take every course they worry might not bring the highest grade later, just because this is a CR/NC semester, nor on the other extreme, to take their studies too lightly.
Subsequent Semesters and CR/NC: Students may elect to take four additional courses on a CR/NC basis after their first semester. First-year and sophomore students must earn at least a grade of straight "D" or better in order to receive a CR. Juniors and seniors must earn a straight "C" or better to receive the CR or otherwise fail the course.
Taking a course CR/NC, then, may be a significant risk for upper-class students, particularly those students for whom receiving the credit is more important than the grade. They need to understand that they can receive No Credit for a course even with what would otherwise be a passing grade.
Students must designate a course as CR/NC by the end of the ninth week of the semester.
Repeat Course Policy: Some courses can be repeated for credit; these are indicated in departmental course descriptions. For other courses, the following rules apply: (1) Permission to repeat a course must be obtained from the Swarthmore instructor teaching the repeated class. (2) These repeated courses may not be taken CR/NC. (3) To take a course at another school that will repeat a course previously taken at Swarthmore, the student must obtain permission from the chair of the Swarthmore department in which the original course was taken, both as a part of the preapproval process to repeat it elsewhere and, in writing, as part of the credit validation after the course is taken elsewhere.
For repeated courses in which the student withdraws with the grade notation W, the grade and credit for the previous attempt will stand. For other repeated courses, the registration and grade for the previous attempt will be preserved on the permanent record but marked as excluded, and any credit for the previous attempt will be permanently lost. The final grade and any credit earned in the repeated course are the grade and credit that will be applied to the student's Swarthmore degree.
GPA, Graduation Requirements, and Committee on Academic Requirements: In order to graduate, a student must have earned an average grade of at least "C" (2.0) in the Swarthmore courses counted for graduation. A student with more than 32 credits may use the Swarthmore credits within the highest 32 for the purposes of achieving the "C" average.
The Registrar monitors the grade point averages of students and reports to the Committee on Academic Requirements and to any student whose GPA has fallen below the necessary 2.0. Otherwise, the college does not officially report GPA either to the student or to outside entities.
Students need 32 credits to graduate and hence typically take 4 credits for each of 8 semesters to make satisfactory progress toward the degree. Courses are usually offered for 1 credit, though some courses carry .5 credits (e.g., Chorus), some carry 1.5 credits (e.g., language instruction), and honors seminars carry 2.0. (Physical education courses are not counted in the academic course load.)
The "normal load" is considered 4-5 credits. Loads below 4 are unusual but are occasionally permitted with the advisor's and a dean's permission (on an "Extra or Less" form), as long as the student is making satisfactory progress toward the degree. Many students come to Swarthmore with AP credits, and some take summer school courses. Summer school credits (but not AP credits) can be included in the calculation of satisfactory progress. Students are not permitted to take fewer than 3 credits per semester. Students wishing to take 5 courses a semester should consider doing so only very carefully, particularly if those courses include a laboratory component, a significant amount of writing, or if the student has heavy time commitments outside the academic ones. Students may take up to 10 credits per academic year without paying additional tuition.
Some advisors have found that two issues in particular form the basis for a productive relationship during the opening weeks of the Fall semester.
- Goal-setting: Some students enter Swarthmore with a rigid set of expectations, often extending years into the future. Others seem to feel that their goals have all been met merely by getting into the college of their choice. Our experience has been that the students who get the most out of Swarthmore are those who are both purposeful and flexible. To help students achieve these qualities, some advisors have found it useful to have new advisees write a list of their goals upon entering the College. This list forms the basis for two kinds of conversation. First, the advisor may reflect on the list itself: Is it realistic? Balanced between long- and short-term goals? Between academic and non-academic goals? Does the student have a coherent plan to reach the goals? The second conversation is a progress check that takes place later in the semester. Instead of the customary "How are things going?" question, the list of goals provides a more systematic basis on which to help the student monitor his or her progress. Over the course of the year, the goals can be evaluated and modified. If the student experiences academic problems, the goals can form the basis for a contact that allows for closer monitoring.
- Time management: "How do I fit everything I have to do into a twenty-four hour day?" This is a common complaint of first-year students. Time management is an important part of the repertoire of the deans, the deans' staff, and Student Academic Mentors (SAMs), and is covered in workshops offered during semesters. These resources, however, reach only a fraction of the students who experience problems in this area. We hope that advisors will make time management part of their standard set of issues to discuss with advisees.