Are college advisors unhelpful on purpose?

I’m currently working out my next semester in college, and trying to decide if I really should stick with Mathematics as my major. I have a friend who works as a transcript evaluator for a working student university, and she told me that college advisors try to be as little help as possible, since mistakes on the students’ part makes the college money. What she said seems to ring true for me, since:

[li]In community college:[/li][ol]
[li]As a new student, no advisor would offer much help when I was trying to decide on a major, not even so much as testing me to see what my strengths and weaknesses were.[/li][li]At one point when I decided I wanted to pursue the medical field, I was told to take classes which I ended up not needing to take.[/li][li]Upon deciding to take my academic planning into my own hands, I was given completely incorrect information as to which courses would transfer, which is a surprise, since my community college has more experience with student transfers to the university I wanted than any other. The incorrect information required me to attend the community college for another semester to catch up.[/li][/ul]
[li]At university:[/li][LIST=1]
[li]I was given no orientation, no instruction on academic policies and procedures, and no advisement on schedule planning, even though I went to appointments with three different advisors. When a surprise policy came out of nowhere, I was told, “Well, you’re just supposed to know that.” I was given no agenda to set myself up as a student there (e.g., student ID cards, enrollment documents, course registration, etc.). I had to ask each office I got to, “Where do I go next?”[/li][li]No assistance was given when I reached out to get help while struggling in a class. I had to do my own research to find out what the school offered in terms of tutoring and study groups (which turned out to be minimal).[/li][/ol]
Seems to me like college policy is to misdirect students so they pay additional fees and take additional classes. I don’t want to believe that our intellectual institutions would be so insidious, but my friend seems to have the inside scoop. Is it true?

It definitely depends on the type of college you went to. I went to a small (1200 students) college and our advisers were pretty much our lifeline. I became close to mine as she was also a teacher for many of my classes, my employer, and I chose her to be my thesis adviser. I’ve never had any problems with getting the classes I needed but mostly because the students were in charge of figuring out what they needed to take, having it initialed by the adviser, and running their butts down to be first in line to make sure they get their classes.
I’m always interested in hearing about other peoples’ college experiences. You’re transferring from a community college, correct? What year will you be at when you enroll into the new college? How much bigger is the new college? I’ve seen the bureaucracy of a huge college screw over some other friends and it does seem like a real horror to deal with. :frowning:

It depends on the college and the individual advisor.

My high school guidance counselor was a moron. I delivered the NY Times on my lunch hour, and he took a subscription – even though he had one at home – so he might get a chance to talk to me. It didn’t occur to him that what I wanted to do was just dump the papers so I could have a lunch break. He always recommended his alma mater to any decent student in the school, and did nothing to advise anyone. Luckily, I didn’t use him for anything other than to have him forward my transcripts.

In college, I pretty much set my major and course load myself and got my advisor to sign off. My advisor most years was a professor I never had taken a course with and who didn’t know me or my interests at all. But since the requirements were pretty understandable, I had no problem figuring things out, though I would say that they would have been helpful if I had a problem.

It was pretty much the same thing in grad school. I read the requirements, took the courses, and only went to my advisors to get my schedule approved (not hard, because I only took one course a term).

But since I never really needed advice, and the requirements were pretty clear, I never had a problem. I work at a college now, and I can tell you that the people advising (all faculty members) are not playing games and have seen them honestly giving the best advice they can. YMMV.

I might be giving out a little too much personal info here, but I transferred from a small community college in Maryland to University of Maryland - College Park. Basically, UMCP was in order of magnitude to my community college what Jupiter is to Earth. I started attending UMCP in Spring of '08, but had to stop so I could work full-time. I’m not surprised to hear of huge college bureaucracies screwing over your friends – I’ve been having the same experience. I’m at an even greater disadvantage since I’m an older part-time student (30), commute an hour each way from a different county, am a transfer student, and an undergraduate (UMCP doesn’t do a great job of hiding the fact that they focus more resources on graduate students).

I’ve had mixed experiences. My last couple of times I needed to talk to an adviser they helped me with everything I needed.

Other times, though, it would have been better to speak with a brick wall. It doesn’t help that because budgets are getting slashed in California that there’s usually a 2hour wait, and you are not allowed to make appointments.

I keep getting advisors changed on me, so by the time I get used to one, I get assigned to another, and have to start everything all over again.

As others have noted, it depends. I lucked out in that when I finally went back to school and settled on a major, my advisor was not only the head of the department, but also my instructor in three classes. In grad school, I had the same set-up. Head of the department, and my advisor and practical instructor. Great deal all around. If I never said thanks enough before, I’ll do it here now. Dr. Bob Blackey and Dr. Alvin Wolfe are two of the best around.

University Professor chiming in… I meet with my advisees every semester, and they need to see me to get their registration PIN #… have never misled a student (at least not on purpose)… generally, I find most students akin to helpless baby birds, necks straining, mouths ajar, waiting for the “tell me what to do” nectar… while I am in my office 6 hours a week for “office hours” I rarely see a student (advisee or from my class) and when registration time rolls around, I can barely get students to access their own transcript online and check off what courses they have completed… quite different than my State University experience where I had a course catalog and a long line to wait in… no advisor, no advice, no nothing…

ymmv, but at my University we take advising very seriously, and it is one of five primary indicators of teaching effectiveness which profs must demonstrate for tenure…

I am curious as to why you would assume a complex conspiracy over gross incompetance.

Most things happen because people simple don’t give a shit enough to do a good job. And since we are talking community college here, not Harvard, I would say that the staff would be a bit more inclined to not give a shit. And since an error at best doesn’t cost the school money or students, there really isn’t a lot of pressure to actually give a shit.

I, too, lean toward the “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence/carelessness” explanation.

Based on nothing but my own personal experience with academia, I find it hard to imagine advisors thinking, “I’ll steer this student wrong so he takes classes he doesn’t need to, resulting in more money for the college, heh heh!”

I work as an advisor. How helpful I am depends a bit on the work load. If you come and see me when I am swamped the advice you get will be brief. Therefore a good advisement program must have enough advisement staff. Additionally it helps if the advisors are specialized by student cohorts.

Out of curiosity, is there some sort of test of “strengths and weaknesses” you can give people who want help deciding on a major?

I switched majors the beginning of my Junior year, and was assigned a new advisor. I never met him because he was on sabbatical for at least the two years that followed. Why they assigned us to him, I’ll never know. So, I never got any help at all from an advisor, because the professors covering for him deigned only to waste enough of their time to ask us if we’d taken prereqs before signing off our schedules.

There are plenty of aptitude and career interest tests. Aptitude would be like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or even the SAT or LSAT. An interest would be like the Strong Interest Inventory. I don’t like most of these. Most people already know what they are good at, and what they want to do. A problem arises when those two things aren’t the same.

If I am talking with a student about majors I ask about career knowledge such as what do your parents do? or past educational experience "So you want to major in engineering-What was your last math course like? IOW standard career counseling questions.

Back when I worked in Atlanta my office required new students to look at the Georgia Career Information System (GCIS), which had interest tests plus a ton of career, and major information. It was a nice piece of software. I think it is available on the net for free. I have also worked at a university advisement office, which required some people to take the TOEFL.

Colleges tend to handle career interest testing through a counseling and testing center rather than through advisors. And the level of support they provide for this varies based on the school. A competent advisor should be able to point an interested student in this direction if the school does offer some testing.

Advisors tend to be either a) faculty devoting one small slice of their time to advising, definitely a mixed bag b) advisors with expertise in what the degree requirements are for a particular program or c) advisors with knowledge of what, in general, it takes to make progress toward a degree at a university, mainly focused on getting students to declare a major and get their general education requirements out of the way.

Accredited schools are scrutinized on their graduation rates and graduation rates/ time to degree are metrics people use to rank and choose colleges, so intentionally making students take extra classes through poor advising would be frowned upon and counterproductive. Kind of like dropping a quarter to pick up a dime.

I have always though that a shortcoming of many advisement programs is the lack of good advice choosing a major and career. It is and especially large problem for poor or first generation students. So often this kind of advisment is off in the counseling center-where you go if your crazy.

And yet a college aged poster named “Agent Foxtrot” has a more paranoid view of the world. So young, so terribly naive! They don’t get “out to get you” until you wise up that they are totally incompetent and start trying to do something about it. They don’t know what the hell they are doing and if you are lucky, they haven’t made you their particular project. If they have made you their special project, they might want something from your young and delectable body.

They are community college guidance counselors. They are unfit to perform any meaningful work, and thus, they are given government jobs without any consequences for screw ups.

Not quite, you need a password and profile to be set up by your school to access most of it.

For some advisors, the problem is that they think everybody is them. If they’ve always been interested in academia, they can’t conceive of someone wanting to work in industrial positions; if the love of their life is 3-electron reactions, the notion of someone wanting to be a doctor, a physicist or a business analyst is a round peg trying to fit their very-small square hole.

Others have no idea what the options are. They know their field, they may be familiar with others, but they don’t even know every degree offered by their own institution, much less what are those degrees for. And they often have to face course information which is about as helpful as a headless hammer; “Chemistry 101 - Introduction to Chemistry. This is an Introductory Chemistry Course” isn’t helpful for the students - it isn’t helpful for the advisors either. They’re not mindreaders any more than the students are.

Oh it has been a while.

I didn’t have a college advisor, as such. I was told that I needed to complete the core curriculum and get all the basic requisites out of the way. I was grudgingly allowed to test out of a full year of college, and the fact that I was able to actually pass all of the tests chapped their hides.

My high school advisor was worse than unhelpful. She put me in Home Ec, when I wanted to take a second year of science. In Missouri, girls could substitute a year of Home Ec for a year of science. I suspect that HE was cheaper, and that she wanted to keep the slots in the science classes open for boys. When I moved back to Fort Worth, my HE class counted as an elective, not as a core curriculum course, so I had to take science anyway, and I lost my chance to take another elective. When this woman heard that I’d set a record PSAT score in high school, and that I’d tested out of a full year of college courses, she asked me if she could claim me as one of her students. I smiled at her, and said that she’d been one of my biggest obstacles in school, and that she most definitely could not claim me in any way, other than to admit that she’d screwed me up. I had run away in my junior year, because of various problems at home, and I’d tried to talk to her before doing that…but she wasn’t interested in talking to me then.

Bitter? Me?