With add/drop coming to a close, students’ laments of academic advising at McGill are likely to abate. But at the moment, undergraduate students bemoan the bureaucratic advising system. The fundamental flaw with the McGill mindset is that students are expected to be independent without necessarily having been provided the tools to do so. First-years often do not already possess the independence that is required to understand the McGill process. The solution is not to promote hand-holding; university is the time to acquire autonomy. Yet there must be more of a balance between adequate advising services and self-sufficiency.
In March 2015, the McGill Univeristy Senate discussed the discrepancies in the ratio of students to advisors between the different faculties. At that time, the ratio of students per advisor in Arts was 843 to one; for Management, 198.33 to one; and for Law, 88 students per advisor. These disparities are large and will take time to address. In the meantime, the university must provide students with the tools and skills required to navigate the advising system so that these imbalances do not feel as drastic as they are.
Too much pressure is placed on individual students. This pressure, compounded with the ratio disparities, challenges the ability of students to cope with all the other stresses of post-secondary education. This is particularly overwhelming for students new to McGill, who must dive into the entire McGill context headfirst. To make sure that they do not crack their skulls, further advising initiatives must prioritize the usability of the online interfaces while also providing clear information.
Despite the creation of Ask an Advisor—an online service that guarantees an answer or referral within 48 hours for any academic advising inquiry—students are still finding themselves entrenched in a bureaucratic loop. Developing and implementing advising initiatives is one thing, but ensuring that students are properly equipped to use them is another.
A first step may be to include opt-outable advising sessions in all first-year programs. Rather than depending on students to wait in line to see someone in an inundated advising office, students would become familiarized with the advising process upon arrival at McGill so that they may continue to use the services throughout their university careers. Students would then hopefully understand the wider scope of their university education and be more proactive in using advising resources. An added benefit would be that it would protect students from deferring graduation in order to correct mistakes made early on.
To form, other facets of the McGill community must work to minimize the risk of students falling through the cracks of the McGill system. To supplement this initiative, faculty and departmental associations should expand peer mentorship programs, such as by offering program-specific advising during add/drop. Facilitating students to help other students will reduce the stresses on the advising system while providing students with the benefit of their experience. While the advising experience differs between faculties and departments, a common thread prevails: The websites are not up to snuff, and must be improved drastically. Program details, advising resources and tips, and a guide for how to use the advising system must be presented more clearly. If adopting the attitude that “Getting Informed is Your Responsibility,” the structure must be in place to do so.
Unlike in high school, the expectation at McGill is that students will see an advisor after having exhausted all the online resources. An added benefit of improving the usability of the website and encouraging students to become familiar with the interface would be to increase the availability of in-person advising appointments. An online scheduling service—which is already in place at Service Point—would also reduce wait times and improve the efficiency of advising appointments.
McGill promotes the self-sufficiency of its students by emphasizing their responsibility for their own education. While this is an important skill to learn for later in life, there is an irony to reinforcing this independence in advising. The service that is normatively intended to assist students is currently instead a site of stress and confusion. To the extent that the intensity of this dismay correlates to the disparity of advisors per student between faculties, it is necessary that students are provided with the proper tools to use advising resources to their advantage.