Academic Advising

Each undergraduate at MIT has an academic advisor. Upon entering MIT, a freshman is assigned a freshman advisor by the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming (UAAP). This advisor, usually with the help of an upperclass associate advisor, assists the student in choosing subjects suitable to his or her interests and background, and helps the student get acquainted with MIT. Freshmen usually stay with that advisor and associate advisor throughout the freshman year. Some freshman advisors also lead weekly Freshman Advising Seminars with their advisees and associate advisors. Other advisors offer traditional advising emphasizing one-on-one interactions with fewer group meetings.

After the freshman year, when the student has selected a major (or Course), the student is assigned a departmental advisor who serves as a consultant and the principal faculty link between the student and the department. The advisor introduces the advisee to subject offerings and educational opportunities available in the department and aids the student in formulating a program that meets both the General Institute Requirements and the departmental program.

For advisors participating in the education of bright young people, watching and guiding them during a formative period of life can be very rewarding. Many students find that their faculty advisors play an important role in their academic and professional growth.

The Responsibilities of the Advisor

A faculty advisor should become sufficiently acquainted with each advisee to be able to help the student make academic decisions and consider career options. He or she should also be able to assess the student's ability and performance when the student applies for scholarships, employment or admission to graduate school, or when the student's record is being reviewed at the end of the term by the department and possibly by the Committee on Academic Performance (CAP).

The number of students who encounter serious academic or personal difficulties is fairly small. Students are told that they should take the initiative in getting help from advisors and other Institute resources. Nevertheless, students are often reluctant to seek out their advisors, even when they might need help.

Throughout the term advisors should make every effort to stay in touch with their advisees. If a problem arises, advisors can refer students to Student Support Services (S3). The S3 staff can assess the problem and make referrals, if needed, to other resources.

Specific responsibilities of a faculty advisor are summarized below, as well as recommendations on how to fulfill them.

  • To assist each student at the beginning of every term in selecting a program of subjects for that term, and approve the program selected in Online Registration.
  • To be available for consultation and to approve any appropriate changes in a student's academic program using the Online Add/Drop form.
  • Each advisor should inform his or her advisees of the best way to keep in touch, e.g., phone, scheduled appointments, or for nonsensitive information, by e-mail. When an advisor will not be available on Registration Day or for more than a couple of days just before an add or drop deadline, he or she should notify all advisees in advance and agree to meet earlier or arrange for (and clearly identify) another faculty member to discuss and approve the registration or any last-minute changes.
  • To be available and ready at the end of each term to discuss - with the student, the department (the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming for freshmen and undesignated sophomores), S3, or the CAP - the student's academic progress and possibly his or her personal situation.
  • It is harder to define an advisor's responsibilities in the areas of personal advice and support. However, in a community as large as MIT, it is not uncommon for an advisee - particularly if not outgoing by nature - to become isolated. It is hoped, therefore, that an advisor would also bear in mind the emotional well-being of an advisee and would try to offer the help and encouragement that students need.

NOTE: For reference, advisors should keep in the student folder copies of up-to-date paper-based administrative records related to the student's academic program. Advisors also access student information through WebSIS, where they can see their pre-registration, class schedule, status of registration, grade report, undergraduate audit, address information and picture. For freshmen only there is also an online Freshman Advising Folder with test scores and student assignments for various programs and subjects.

Baker Foundation Guidelines for Upperclass Advising

In 1996 the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) adopted and distributed guidelines - for advisors, students, and departments - which were developed in an independent initiative by the Baker Foundation, a student group committed to improving undergraduate life at MIT. The Baker Foundation developed its guidelines on the basis of discussions with faculty and administrators as well as a survey of undergraduates. Members of both the CUP and the Baker Foundation hope that the guidelines will help students and faculty know what to expect from one another, and diminish the gap between expectations and actual experience. The Baker Foundation Guidelines are in Appendix A of this Guide.

Privacy of Student Information

MIT's policy on the privacy of student records describes when, and to whom, faculty and staff may disclose personally identifiable information about current and former students. It also gives students the right to see and to challenge the accuracy of the records that MIT keeps about them. The policy incorporates the privacy rights and protections provided by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Further details on the Privacy of Student Records are available on the Registrar’s Office website.

Letters of Recommendation

Candid appraisals and evaluations of performance and potential are an essential component of the educational process. With appropriate permission from the student, such information can be provided to prospective employers, to other institutions, or to other legitimately concerned outside individuals or agencies. The Student Information Policy in MIT Policies and Procedures outlines the process in greater detail.

Changing Advisors/Advisees

Occasionally a student and his or her advisor find that they are incompatible and would like for a new advisor to be assigned to the student. In such instances, upperclass students or their advisors should contact the departmental undergraduate office or headquarters.