Academic Advising and Resources



Academic Advising

Students may see a dean about any academic concern they may have. Some areas where consultation with a dean is strongly suggested, or even necessary, follow below:

Students should see one of the deans about a number of issues and procedures that arise in planning academic programs:

Committee on Academic Standing: Those students who are submitting petitions to the Committee on Academic Standing might wish to discuss the matter with one of the deans. (All the deans sit with the Committee on Academic Standing to advise its members on student cases; the Dean and the Associate Dean of the College are voting members of that Committee.)

Complaints About Grading: Except in those cases where a grievance committee has found an assigned grade to have been the result of discrimination, nothing in the grievance procedure affects the responsibility and authority of individual members of the faculty to evaluate and grade the work of students in their courses. In the event of other allegations of improper or unfair grading, the Dean of the College may investigate and mediate, but final responsibility for grading rests with the instructor.

Contract Majors: Sophomores interested in designing contract majors should contact Dean McKeon to set up an initial conference before the end of Winter Study period. This conference will help them to prepare their applications, which are then due early in the Spring Semester.

The First-Year Academic Advising Program

The faculty of Williams College has repeatedly committed itself to a primary and active role in the academic and general advising of its students. This is one of the hallmarks of an education at Williams. For this reason there is a comparatively small administrative structure of advising services. The Career Center helps extensively with the transition to post-baccalaureate life; the Psychological Counseling Service, the Chaplains’ Office and the Dean’s Office help with more serious personal problems. But, in the area of academic planning the faculty can and must play the primary role.

Williams has three formal academic advising structures: major advising through individual departments, peer advising, and the First-Year Academic Advising Program. The program assigns groups of 3 to 6 first-year students to an advisor who normally meet with their advisees on four formal occasions:

  1. During First Days to review enrollment for the first semester.
  2. In early November to review the progress of the first semester and to review enrollments for Winter Study Period and second semester.
  3. In April to review enrollments for sophomore year.
  4. At the start of Sophomore year during the pre-registrarion period to discuss plans for spring term.

The primary mission of this program is academic advising, which means: exploring the intentions that each student has in structuring his/her first year; defining the values of a liberal education that are most important for each student; encouraging students to see the connections between the courses they are taking and other aspects of their life at Williams; ensuring that the divisional requirements and limits on early concentration are met; finding answers to the many questions first-year students have; and, being alert and available when signs of academic difficulties arise.

Character of the First-Year Advising Program

To create more realistic expectations on both the part of the advisor and the advisee, it may be useful to address some expectations that are often misconceptions.

Some Misconceptions of Students

My advisor is going to set goals.

Most of our students come from high schools where guidance counselors worked with them as college-bound students. Their immediate goal was thus clear and has been achieved. What comes after college is not at all so clear, and the model of successful high school counseling is irrelevant to college. It is up to the student to set his/her goals both for college and beyond.

My advisor is going to decide what courses should be taken.

Decisions about courses to take in high school are relatively fixed by the character of the secondary school curriculum. This is not the case in college, where students encounter a rich and diverse curriculum. At College decisions about what courses to take must be made by the student with as much information as possible gathered from appropriate sources. An advisor can help define what interests a student and should push him/her into areas that a student wants to avoid or had not thought about studying. In the end, however, it is vital that both advisor and advisee recognize that the student has to make up his/her own mind. The content and direction of their education is in the students’ own hands, and a major part of the move from secondary school to college comes in realizing and acting upon that essential fact.

My advisor is going to give guidance on particular courses or instructors.

Students should not expect advisors to comment on these areas. They are already receiving much information from the grapevine,. The single lesson an advisor can teach in this area is to be cautious about what the grapevine says and to recognize its limited applicability to any particular student’s situation. First-year students have entered a world that is strange to them. It is inevitable that they will often believe the first thing they hear. But the herding instinct of first-year students is counter-productive to their individualization and their discovery of the diversity of opportunities they have here. Advisors can push against this instinct and offer more reasoned and judicious advice than the student is sometimes getting from their peers.

My advisor is going to meet all my advising needs.

Making academic decisions in college is a complex process. No single advisor will meet all a student’s needs. Students should be encouraged to seek advice from many sources in addition to their advisor, especially teachers, deans, department and program chairs, and JAs. Good advising relationships depend on many factors, including personalities and the student’s evolving goals and interests. Urge your advisees to be aware of these factors; feel free to guide them elsewhere if they have questions you can’t answer, or seem unreceptive to your ideas.

Some Misconceptions of Advisors

I need to know everything about the curriculum to be an effective advisor.

By this standard no one could be a first-year advisor, for we all know only certain aspects of the curriculum. Few of us know the College well enough to have a full grasp of the curriculum. The important thing is to know what we don’t know and to consult our colleagues and the Dean’s Office to find out what we need to know. Toward this end all department/program heads have been asked to be available for questions during the First Days advising period.

I will need to be a personal counselor to my advisees.

This is often an unspoken expectation of both students and advisors. It may happen in a few cases, but usually does not and should not be expected. After all, most advisors spend at most about three hours with an advisee during the course of the year. By rough calculation that is about 1/15th of the time one spends with students in a class. In addition we usually do not have the opportunity to see our advisees’ minds in operation either in class or in writing. This sometimes means that there is a bit of impersonality to the relation between advisors and advisees, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. If you sense your advisee is in need of or is looking for more personal counseling than you are comfortable giving, suggest that they consider talking with a Dean or a Junior Advisor.

I will be responsible for enforcing College rules and regulations.

Neither in the area of discipline nor in that of academic regulations does the advisor play a role. We have tried to reduce to an absolute minimum the sort of registrar’s oversight that was a part of the advisor’s role in previous years. Students may ask for your support in various exceptions to the rules and regulations, but such requests are ruled on by the Committee on Academic Standing. The only thing we ask of advisors in relation to the enforcement of rules and regulations is that they try to ferret out inadvertent violations of the early concentration rule and that they remind their advisees of the importance of fulfilling the distribution requirements.

Matching Advisors and Advisees

The primary criteria for matching advisors and advisees is first, specific requests made by individual advisors; second, the possible majors and areas of interest that students have indicated on an academic advising questionnaire sent to them in the late spring; and third, additional information provided by the Admissions Office. The goal in using these criteria is to link students up with the people on campus who know most about the fields in which they have a prior interest and commitment.

First-Year Warnings

In the middle of each semester, instructors report to the Registrar those first-year students whose grades at that time are unsatisfactory. The students and their academic advisors receive notices of warnings as a matter of routine. The Dean’s Office may inform parents of students who receive two or more warnings.

General Advising

While respecting students’ privacy and confidentiality, the deans may at times refer students to the Health Center, to the Psychological Counseling Service, or to the Chaplain’s Office.

Students who feel they have been the object of harassment (including sexual harassment) or discrimination should consult the Dean’s Office.

Special Academic Advising

A variety of academic advice and counsel is provided to students during the course of their undergraduate education.

In the first year each student is assigned an academic advisor from the faculty or staff. This advisor discusses course choices and academic requirements with the student. The Dean’s Office coordinates this advising program, reviews the academic progress of individual students, and–when appropriate–calls students in to discuss their situations.

In the sophomore year, students may seek advice from deans, former advisors, and instructors, along with preprofessional and other special advisors.  Sophomores are also encouraged to discuss major options and requirements with faculty members from departments and programs in which they have an interest before declaring a major in the spring semester.

In their junior and senior years students are advised by faculty in their major departments or programs.  Each department or program determines its own advising system for its majors, although chairpersons are regularly available for consultation.


Special Academic Advisors

Architecture: Ann McCallum x2307
Business Schools and Business Opportunities: Robin Meyer x2311
Divinity Schools: Richard Spalding x2483
Engineering: Jefferson Strait x2008
Graduate Fellowships and Scholarships: Katerina King x3044
Churchill Scholarship
Fulbright Predoctoral Grants
Luce Scholars Program
NSF Scholarships
Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell Scholarships
Harry S. Truman Scholarship
Udall Scholarship
Watson Fellowship
Graduate Schools of Arts and Sciences: Department Chairs (see page )
Health Professions Advisor: Jane Cary x2598
International Student Advisor: Tina Breakell x4037
Law Schools: Dawn Dellea x2311
National Science Foundation: Department Chairs (see page )
Peace Corps: Dawn Dellea x2311
Public and International Affairs Schools and Foreign Service: James McAllister x4373
Special Academic Programs: Molly Magavern x3747
Student Writing Tutorial Program: Stephanie Dunson x4615
Study Abroad Programs: Tina Breakellx4037
Teaching, M.A.T. Programs: Susan Engel x4522, John Noble x2311
Williams College Fellowships: Katerina King x3044
Winter Study Practice Teaching: Susan Engel x4522

Sophomores are also encouraged to discuss major options and requirements with faculty members from departments and programs in which they have an interest before declaring a major in the Spring Semester.

In the junior and senior years students are advised by faculty in their major departments or programs. Each department or program determines its own advising system for its majors, although chairpersons are regularly available for consultation.

Advising of Williams students wishing to study elsewhere in the junior year is coordinated by Dean Laura McKeon. Advising of transfer students and exchange students is coordinated by Dean Toomajian, the Registrar and Associate Dean of the College. Special orientation and information meetings are held during the Fall Semester for new students and for students wishing to study abroad. Orientation and counseling of international students is arranged by the International Student Advisor, Gina Coleman. As International Student Advisor, Dean Coleman is also the designated official at Williams for issuing Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) forms as well as helping students in all dealings with the INS.

Additional programs of academic assistance, for example the tutoring program, are also available through the Academic Resources Office. After conferring with the instructor, a student needing extra help in a particular course may request a tutor; the cost of tutoring sessions is covered by Academic Resources.

Students should contact their faculty mentors and department chairman in the field they wish to pursue in graduate school for current advice about their field of study.