Kristina Allemand, Nicholls State University
What is a non-prescriptive major? It’s a major that provides a variety of alternatives or electives for a student to select within the curriculum. There are many curriculums that spell out or prescribe almost every course a student must take in order to graduate within that degree program. At the other end of the spectrum, there are curriculums that are full of free electives. Of course, there are varying degrees of this within the spectrum depending on the major. For example, at Nicholls State University our General Studies degree requires 120 credit hours for a student to graduate but within those hours, students can choose multiple minors and humanities electives amounting to over 45 elective credit hours. Others curriculums may be more prescriptive, but students can still struggle to choose a minor or general education electives such as a social science elective or humanities elective.
I have been advising for many years, but more recently I began advising all athletes pursing our Bachelor of General Studies degree. I am a full-time faculty member and in addition to my teaching duties, I advise approximately 100 student athletes each semester. Our student-athletes are required to visit their advisor at least once each semester to discuss and complete a registration plan for the upcoming semester. In my new advising role, I quickly learned that there are a large number of students within this population who did not choose to major in general studies. For one reason or another, general studies became their major so they could maintain their athletic eligibility.
The most common phrase I hear from these students during advising is “just tell me what classes to take.” As an advisor who wants to help students reach their goals and full potential, I cringe each time I hear it. Although sometimes I may wish I were immune or desensitized to this statement, that hasn’t happened because that’s not the type of advisor I am. I truly want my students to be successful and happy after graduation. I don’t want them to take classes just to meet the degree requirements. I want them to capitalize on the options they have and design a meaningful degree plan.
In an attempt to get my advisees more invested in their academic career, I try to make them more knowledgeable of the curriculum. Knowledge is power, and I want to give them power and control over their degree. This is accomplished through an advising class set up in our electronic delivery system, such as Moodle or Blackboard. It is not a class in the sense that students are graded, but used as a tool and valuable resource.
Within this class, I created four sections of information. First, I posted our specific degree information. In this section I provide information regarding our curriculum, such as a copy of the advising degree checklists. (Our advising checklists are more descriptive than the degree checklist posted in the university catalog.) The next section discusses the university’s general education requirements. I provide an explanation of what general education courses are and why students need to take them. I also provide the general education core curriculum list. The next section provides resources relevant to our degree requirements. Students majoring in General Studies must have at least one minor, an intercultural studies elective, and an additional nine credit hours of humanities above the general education requirements. Therefore this section includes a list of all of minors offered by the university and the required courses for each minor. It also includes a list of all the humanities electives offered by the university and a list of the possible intercultural studies electives. The final section contains my contact information and contact information for various support staff on campus. The contact information includes resources such as tutoring, career services, counseling, and the library. My contact information includes my current office hours for the semester, location of my office, email, and phone number.
So how do I help students who truly just want me to provide a list of courses they should take with as little conversation and interaction as possible? I have to help the students make the connection between their curriculums, each individual course taken within it, and their life goals. Therefore a discussion must take place about their interests and goals. As an advisor, it is my job to make the connection between the students’ goals and the curriculum. Advisors must be knowledgeable about the options students have and communicate these to the students. Each advisee is “enrolled’ in the Moodle advising class I set up. This class has become a valuable resource for my advisees and our advising sessions. It allows me the opportunity to discuss their interests and goals in an initial advising session and then make recommendations for minors and electives that match these goals. The advisee now has a centralized resource that he or she can access to explore these options. In subsequent visits, the advisee and I discuss which options are most appealing and how those minors or electives would benefit them, and then develop an action plan based on our discussions and their goals. As students learn about their options and complete their advising visits, I slowly see a change from “just tell me what classes to take” to “I really think I would like to take this” or “would this elective complement my minor?” As an advisor these types of statements and questions are heartening as they illustrate the students’ involvement and investment in their degree plan!
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
Nicholls State University
Cite this article using APA style as: Allemand, K. (2013, June). “Just tell me what classes to take”: How to advise students in a non-prescriptive major. Academic Advising Today, 36(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]