The goal of the academic advising program at Middlebury is to ensure that effective academic advising is available—and is taken advantage of by all students. Effective advising can be the result of a close relationship between students and their official faculty advisers, or by a combination of official advising and informal advising from a variety of mentors who share their expertise because of their interest in students' success at Middlebury. There are many intentional redundancies in our system: faculty members, deans and other student affairs professionals, Residential Life staff members, and peer advisers all provide academic advising. We hope both the formal and informal advising systems work on behalf of our students and add up to a supportive environment—that is to say, good advising.
All first-year students are advised by the instructor in their first-year seminar, a course selected the summer before their enrollment. The majority of professors in those classes, which have a maximum of fifteen students, are senior members of the faculty. No faculty members in their first year at Middlebury teach in the first-year seminar program. This advising concept, in place now for well over a decade, ensures frequency of contact between adviser and advisee and has served Middlebury students well, a vast improvement over any previous approach. Each first-year student and faculty adviser receive an "Advising Guide" during Orientation which goes into curricular and advising issues in detail.
Declaring the Major
When students declare their major, they also select an adviser from the faculty in that major (or majors—nearly half of all Middlebury students have combined majors of some kind). For some students in their second or third semesters at Middlebury, selecting a major adviser is more difficult than selecting the major itself; those students are encouraged to work with the department or program chair, until they have further experience in that major and find a faculty member best suited to their interests and needs. Students may select their major at any time after the first semester; they are required to declare their major no later than the end of their third semester. After the first semester of a student's experience at Middlebury, when the first-year seminar ends, the relationship between adviser and advisee subsides in frequency of contact. The challenge, then, to adviser and advisee, is to maintain the momentum of the first semester. Those students who are "undeclared" but whose first-year adviser is on leave—or otherwise unavailable to advise, are assigned to their Commons Dean, who provides transitional advising.
Advising tends to be most productive early and late: first-year students receive special attention; seniors often do intensely collaborative work with faculty in their majors. The faculty sabbatical program and junior year abroad play havoc with advising (over half of Middlebury students study abroad). Good, active advising often depends on the initiative students take to maintain a relationship with faculty mentors. Faculty members at Middlebury are teachers and take seriously their advising responsibilities: they are available. They will not intrude, however, and will respect students' desire for independence. Advising relationships emerge from faculty members' academic expertise and a shared interest in students' work. The adviser/advisee relationship often develops into a relationship that lasts well after a student leaves Middlebury.