Guidelines for Freshman Academic Advising

Academic advisers members are often uncertain about the role of the Freshman Adviser particularly if they are advising for the first time. Even some seasoned advisers question how they can best connect with and be of most assistance to their freshmen. The purpose of what follows is to answer those questions and provide some practical suggestions that will help you have a successful experience in your role as adviser.

Click here to login in to your personal advising page with a list of your advisees

Table of Contents
  • A Constellation of Advisers
  • General Goals of Advising
  • Goals of the First Freshman Advising Meeting
  • Follow-up Meeting
  • Schedule Signing
  • Check List for Reviewing Course Programs
  • Some Suggestions for Ongoing Advising
  • Helpful Details for Advisers to Remember throughout the Term
    • Distributional Requirements for the Freshman Year
    • Credit/D/Fail Option
    • Deadlines and Academic Options to Keep in Mind
    • Science, Engineering, and Premedical Students
    • International Experience Options

A Constellation of Advisers

Perhaps the first thing to remember is that you are not alone in your role as adviser. Academic (freshman) advisers, residential college deans, directors of undergraduate studies, freshman counselors, and other university staff members all share the goal of offering incoming students the advice and counsel that will ease their transition into the Yale community and help them meet the rigorous academic standards of the institution. The Freshman Handbook describes this system of advising in terms of a “constellation of advisers.” Our respective roles are made easier if we work together in a spirit of cooperation and mutual support. College deans are available throughout the year to answer questions relating to specific individuals or to the general regulations governing work in the freshman year. Directors of Undergraduate Studies are available to answer freshman questions about prerequisites and requirements for majors. You should feel free at any time to consult with them as well as with the freshman counselors assigned to your freshmen.

General Goals of Advising

Putting freshmen at ease means thinking about who our freshmen are when they arrive on campus. Many have never been away from home before and may be overwhelmed and homesick. Most freshmen are 17 or 18 years old. They are still adolescents in need of guidance and limits, but also young adults who want to feel independent. We need to offer them guidance, but also give them the freedom to find their own way.

Your other role is to give your students the kind of advice that is grounded in your experience as a teacher and as a student. You help them think about the kinds of questions they should be asking themselves and introduce them to the variety of resources available to them at Yale. Some students will have questions that you can readily answer; others will not have even begun to consider why they are at Yale and what they want to get out of their time here. You can help these latter students by asking them questions about how their goals and personal interests relate to the courses they say they plan to take. Sometimes the connection will be clear. In other cases, however, there will be no apparent connection, and you can help students think about their courses in a new light.  In other words, your role as an academic adviser is to help students understand what constitutes a liberal arts education at Yale.

Goals of the First Freshman Advising Meeting

You will meet your advisees in your residential college a day or two before the term begins.  Generally, these are group meetings (unless you have only one advisee). One focus of this first meeting should be on welcoming your freshmen to Yale and to the residential college community. 

How should you conduct your first meeting with your advisees? We suggest that you begin by telling your advisees something about yourself —

  • who you are
  • how long you have been at Yale
  • your academic field
  • personal interests that you care to share (music, sports, and hobbies will all be of interest to them).

Then have them introduce themselves. They can tell you something about their background (hometown, family, high school), and academic and other interests. You might ask why they chose to attend Yale, or talk about what they look forward to accomplishing at Yale, academically and otherwise. Try to get a sense of their tentative long-range plans (business, public service, law, medicine, graduate school, etc.), understanding that many of them will, of course, change their plans while they are here.

To the extent that you delve into the realm of academics and course selection, you should keep in mind some overarching goals. Ask your students the kinds of questions they should keep in mind as they build a freshman year course schedule.

  • What are their goals for the year?
  • What are they passionate about outside the classroom?
  • Is there a curricular link?
  • Have they considered exploring a field with which they are completely unfamiliar?

You may see possibilities that would never occur to them. Suggest to them that this first year is a year of adjustment to a new place and exploration of new academic and extracurricular interests.

You will begin to develop personal relationships with your advisees during this first advising session. Another focus of this meeting should be on making connections. It gives you an opportunity to begin to get to know your advisees, and it will also give your advisees a chance to get to know some of their classmates better. Remember, they will have been on campus for a remarkably short period of time when you first meet them, and building relationships will be one of the things about which they are most anxious. Meeting more people will help.

Students will have the opportunity to discuss specific course questions with directors of undergraduate studies at the Academic Fair that is part of Freshman Orientation, and you should encourage them to direct specific questions to the relevant departmental representative. Nevertheless, there may be students who expect you to give them specific advice about such issues as the requirements for a particular major, etc. You should feel free to defer these questions if you are not qualified to answer them. The freshmen will have been told by the deans of their residential colleges in their late-August Registration Meetings that your role is that of knowledgeable adult who cares about their transition to college and academic career, and who will offer non-technical advice. Answers to the detailed questions can come later and from others, such as a dean or director of undergraduate study.

Of course, some students will come to this meeting with a list of courses that they want to explore during course selection period (a.k.a. “shopping”). This might provide a good opportunity to use whatever they bring you as a way to think about the composition of their fall term schedule in more general terms. Shopping period is a time for exploration—but the unfettered ability to explore can be overwhelming for many freshmen. To the degree that you can help them narrow down their choices, you can help them use shopping period more effectively. 

Some general things to look out for:

  • Ask them how they came up with that particular group of courses to shop. This may lead to an interesting conversation about what they are looking for—or whether there is something they are overlooking.
  • Are they simply repeating the same kind of schedule they took in high school (math, science, English, foreign language), when they didn’t have the range of options that the Yale curriculum makes available to them? If so, you can help them to think about other possibilities that might be of interest.
  • Is the number of courses they intend to shop reasonable? Anything over 7 or 8 might be too daunting.
  • If you don’t see a small class on their schedule, you might encourage them to consider taking one.
  • Remind your advisees that, even though their schedules will not be due for over a week, they will need to keep up in the classes they are shopping so that they don’t find themselves behind when their final course schedule is submitted.

At the end of your first meeting with your advisees, let them know that you will be meeting with them individually two more times:

  1. A follow-up meeting roughly three to six days into shopping period
  2. A schedule signing meeting before completed course schedules are due (click here for this term’s deadlines)

Follow-up Meeting

Your goal for the follow-up meeting is to help students choose a course schedule based on a realistic assessment of their abilities and high school preparation. The Matriculation Data and Entrance Record (MDER), which you can view by logging into your personal advising page here, shows some general information on the geographic, personal, academic background of your students.

You will want to help undecided students plan a schedule that keeps their options open for their eventual choice of a major, while referring students with specific departmental interests to directors of undergraduate studies, your colleagues in other departments, or to residential college deans. Do not hesitate to refer students with specific questions about distributional requirements, acceleration, and premedical requirements to the dean, if you are not able to answer them yourself.

Your students may need you to help them appreciate the need to strike a balance between academic commitments and extracurricular opportunities. In some cases, this will mean asking whether they have gotten themselves overly involved in clubs and activities. While all of our incoming students juggled complicated schedules in high school, few will be truly prepared for increased demands of college-level coursework. They may find that the ways in which they managed their time in high school do not work at Yale. You can help them think about new ways to approach their work that may be more appropriate for them in this academic climate. In other cases, you will need to help your students avoid overly ambitious course loads. Emphasize to freshmen the appropriateness of taking at least one small course that allows them to participate in discussions. Studies have shown that students do considerably better overall when they enroll in at least one small course that excites them.

Unless their high school preparation is especially strong, freshmen should be discouraged from taking more than four courses (4 or 4.5 credits) in the first term of enrollment, particularly if their program contains advanced courses. Because science students have special advising needs, they should be encouraged to seek the advice of science colleagues at the Academic Fair or from departments (see also “Science and Premedical Students” below).

It is particularly important that students considering a major in the sciences begin the appropriate foundational work during the freshman year. This will normally include one course in mathematics along with one course in the natural sciences and its accompanying laboratory course during the first semester. Students in the biological sciences normally complete the general chemistry requirement or begin organic chemistry during the freshman year and, if appropriate, begin coursework in biology. Students in the physical sciences and in engineering normally pursue course work in physics, chemistry, or both.

Be sure your students leave this follow-up meeting with a clear sense of when you will be available for a final meeting before the course schedule deadline so that you can sign their schedules.

Schedule Signing

Freshmen are encouraged to take 4 credits in the fall term, but we cannot prevent them from taking as many as 5.5. If you are concerned that the schedule your advisee is asking you to sign will overwhelm the student, you should feel free to consult with the residential college dean. In addition to expressing your reservations, you can remind students that if in a few weeks they are feeling overwhelmed, they can drop the course before the mid-term date without the course appearing on the academic record. You would then want to be sure to follow up with such students to see how they were managing their load.

You might also use this meeting to solicit students’ reactions to their first few days at Yale as another way to further get to know them. Are there problems the student is encountering that should be brought to the attention of the residential college dean? It is imperative that students get your signature on their course schedule, but with luck, you will have established a relationship with your student that transcends this official act.

Checklist for Reviewing Course Programs

  • Is the student over-reaching by taking too many courses or too difficult a load? Note, in particular, those students whose academic preparation from high school suggests the need for introductory courses, such as English writing (ENGL 114, for example).

  • Has the student selected courses that conflict in class meeting times or examination groups?’

  • Has the student selected a course schedule that is too heavy with final papers or too heavy with midterm and final exams?

  • Has the student considered the distributional requirements for the freshman year (see description below)?

  • Has the student made plans for fulfillment of the foreign language requirement?

  • Is the student taking at least one small class in which they will have the opportunity to get to know an instructor and engage in discussions with classmates?

Some Suggestions for Ongoing Advising


Take the opportunity to check in with your advisees before the mid-term deadline (see the Yale College Calendar with Pertinent Deadlines. Invite them to join you for lunch in your residential college or set up advising office hours. You may learn that a student is struggling and has not thought about getting a tutor for a given course. Or it may be that the best way for a student to manage a difficult situation is to drop a course, or limit extracurricular involvement. By building on the relationships you established in the first few weeks, you can find out more about how your advisees are faring in their ongoing transition to college life.

You might also discuss study habits, efficient organization of their work-week, and realistic allotment of study time to different types of courses. Ask your advisees whether they have written any papers, and if so, consider whether the experience they describe suggests that they would benefit from working with the Bass Writing Tutors. Also, be sure to remember that the habits for academic citation that your students learned in high school might not meet the standards we hold students to at Yale. Encourage them to visit the Writing Center’s website, which contains much helpful information about writing academic papers. Refer your freshmen to Yale’s extensive tutoring programs that provide one-on-one support in writing, foreign languages, science, and quantitative reasoning (including for most introductory courses in mathematics, economics, and the natural sciences). The dean of your residential college can describe these programs for you or your advisees in much more detail.

Helpful Details for Advisers to Remember throughout the Term

Distributional Requirements for the Freshman Year

During their first year, students may take

  • no more than four course credits in a single department
  • no more than six course credits in a single disciplinary area (except that a student taking a laboratory course may take as many as seven course credits carrying a science designation).

Students must enroll for one course credit in two of the three required skills categories

  1. Writing (WR)
  2. Quantitative Reasoning (QR)
  3. Foreign Language

While students are only required to enroll in two of these skills categories, it will be in the best interests of most students to enroll in one course in each of the skills categories during the freshman year. (For details regarding the distributional requirement for the bachelor’s degree and the milestones students must meet along the way, see “Distributional Requirements” in the Yale College Programs of Study.)

Credit/D/Fail Option

The Credit/D/Fail option was established to encourage experimentation and to promote diversity in students’ programs of study. Complete information about this option is contained in the Yale College Programs of Study. Some of the pertinent restrictions are the following:

  • Up to four of the thirty-six credits required for the bachelor’s degree may be earned under the Credit/D/Fail option
    • However, no course credit earned on a Credit/D/Fail basis may be applied toward satisfaction of the distributional requirements.
  • No more than two credits per term may be taken under the Credit/D/Fail option, and at least two credits must be taken for letter grades each term.
  • Students who have elected to take a course on the Credit/D/Fail option may reverse their decision and convert from Credit/D/Fail to a letter grade by filing a form in the residential college dean’s office no later than two weeks after midterm in the fall term and one week after the end of spring recess in the spring term.
    • ​Students may not convert from the letter grade option to the Credit/D/Fail option after turning in their completed course schedules at the end of shopping period.

Deadlines and Academic Options to Keep in Mind

Freshmen must obtain their freshman counselor’s and academic adviser’s signatures on their final schedules before submitting them to the residential college dean’s office by the deadline indicated on the schedule.

• The election of a new course after this deadline is ordinarily not permitted. On advice of an instructor, however, a student may change course levels (e.g., from French 140 down to French 130 or up to French 150).

• Students may withdraw from a course at any time before the first day of reading period. If the withdrawal takes place by midterm, the student’s transcript will not show that the student was enrolled in the course. Withdrawal after midterm results in the assignment of a “w” (Withdrew) on the transcript.

• If students have questions about acceleration, refer them to the residential college dean.

Science, Engineering, and Premedical Students

Students interested in the sciences or engineering and students wishing to pursue a premedical program often need special advice. Detailed information on placement in science, engineering, and mathematics courses may be found in the Freshman Handbook. The Freshman Handbook also contains advice about overall programs for such students in a section entitled “Preparing for Health Care Professions.”

International Experience Options

Yale actively encourages students to gain international experience in the course of their undergraduate careers and has many avenues for pursuing this option. From a junior term abroad, to a summer of language study or internship abroad, Yale has advising and financial resources to help students gain exposure to the broader world. The advisers in the Office of International Education and Fellowship Programs can help students define their interests and find programs or funding that will benefit them.

As a freshman academic adviser, you can assist in this process by reminding freshmen that they should continue their foreign language study in the freshman year if at all possible to maximize the likelihood that such opportunities will be available to them. You might also remind them that courses taken abroad may be used to fulfill distributional and major requirements, so studying abroad need not mean a break in progress toward the degree.

For further information on freshman advising, please contact Dean Risa Sodi, Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and Director of Advising and Special Programs in Yale College ( or 432-8427).