Skip to main content

General Advising Issues and Information

A. Advisee Expectations of the Advisor

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.

B. College Expectations of the Advisor

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 they 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. You should familiarize yourself with College resources and academic programs so that you can recommend when issues arise or more generally.

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. Contact the Provost's Office to see if funding is available.

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.

Students also might not initiate contact if they are having some difficulties. You should also consider placing a hold on a student's registration via Faculty Services 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. Please reach out to the student's dean, who is listed in each student's degree audit in Faculty Services.

C. Grades (Credit/No Credit, Shadow Grades, Repeat Course Policy, and GPA)

First Semester, Credit/No Credit (CR/NC) and Shadow Grades: The only grades recorded on students' official transcript for courses taken during the first semester of the first year are CR (credit) or NC (no credit). 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.

For first-year students in their first semester, CR will be recorded for work that would earn a grade of D- (D minus) or higher. Credit No Credit for the first semester of the first year is mandatory.

By policy, first semester, first-year student CR grades are never uncovered to reveal the shadow letter grade. If available, letter-grade equivalents for first-semester first-year students may be provided to other institutions only if requested by the student and absolutely required by the other institution.

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 Credit/No Credit: After the first semester, students may exercise the option to take up to four more courses Credit No Credit by informing the Registrar's Office within the first 9 weeks of the term in which the course is taken, using the form provided for this purpose. After the Fall semester of the first year, a student electing the Credit No Credit option and earning a C- (C minus) or better will receive a CR on the transcript.

After the first semester of the first year, a student taking a course optionally elected as Credit No Credit and earning any D level grade (D+, D, or D-) will receive that letter grade on the transcript and earn degree credit, and the course will count against the four optional Credit No Credit elections. A course optionally taken Credit No Credit and earning NC (No credit) will receive NC on the transcript, not receive degree credit, and the course will count against the four optional Credit No Credit elections.

In any course optionally elected Credit No Credit and graded CR on the transcript, students (except spring semester graduating seniors) will have until the end of the second week of the following semester the option of removing the CR notation and permanently uncovering the underlying shadow letter grade in order that it appear as the grade on the transcript. Students who want this must use the Registrar's form provided for this purpose. Courses where the CR is uncovered continue to count against the four optional Credit No Credit elections. In the case of spring semester graduating seniors, the deadline to uncover the underlying shadow letter grade is the Tuesday prior to commencement.

Repeated courses normally may not be taken Credit No Credit. Courses only offered as Credit No Credit do not count in the four optional elections; these courses normally do not have shadow letter grades, and if they do, those shadow grades are not eligible for uncovering.

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.

D. Course Load

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 approval by the advisor and a dean (see "Application to Carry Extra or Less Work" 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.

E. Particular Needs of First-Year Students:

Some advisors have found that two issues in particular form the basis for a productive relationship during the opening weeks of the Fall semester.

  1. 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 students monitor their 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.
  2. 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.