Advising Guidelines & Policies (Advising Syllabus)


To develop and align policies, guidelines, and processes that help to create a quality advising experience for 1st and 2nd year students


  • Liz Moran – Chair
  • Charles Clift
  • Jane Lubischer
  • Michelle Koehler
  • Carrie McLean – Consulting


Introduction and Background

At present, advising models at NC State vary greatly from college to college and even from department to department within colleges, creating inconsistent advising experiences across campus. At the same time, it is not uncommon for students who start at NC State as freshmen to change their major (at least once), meaning they are likely to encounter inconsistent advising experiences and expectations during their time at NC State. It is also true that the time during which students are experiencing a major transition (including when they are joining NC State) is when they are most in need of attentive support, and advising can play an important role in cultivating their academic and social integration into the NC State community.

In establishing the recommended guidelines that follow, we had the following goals:

  1. to establish greater consistency in the advising experience for students across campus
  2. to align with the NC State strategic plan, The Pathway to the Future
  3. to focus on first-year students and other students in transition
  4. to prioritize what is best for our students over what might be administratively easier
  5. to rely on evidence-based strategies and National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) best practices (reviews and citations available at the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources).

In this document, we will use the term “first-year students” to refer to students coming to NC State from the traditional high school pipeline. In discussing the definition of “students in transition,” we identified the following groups of students at NC State: (1) students moving into a degree-granting program from a First Year or Exploratory Program, (2) internal (intra-campus) transfer students moving between degree-granting programs, (3) external transfer students, and (4) students readmitted to NC State after time away for any reason. These four groups of students, collectively, will be referred to as “students in transition.”

Justification and Overview

Enhanced student success is Goal 1 in the NC State strategic plan, Pathway to the Future. One implementation strategy under Goal 1 directly addresses our advising programs: “Explore a new proactive advising model for freshmen and students in transition.” This focus on first-year students and students in transition recognizes the critical importance (for retention and student success) of addressing transition issues for both populations of students. A variety of components have been identified as contributing to successful transitions, with an emphasis on engagement with the campus community through advising, interpersonal interactions, and both curricular and extracurricular support. Accordingly, our recommended guidelines include the creation of proactive advising programs for all first-year students and students in transition.

Limited efforts to implement proactive advising have already begun, including the new Life Sciences First Year Program (LSFY), a collaborative effort between the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences (CALS) and the College of Sciences that utilizes a proactive advising model. LSFY officially started with a class of 350 first-year students in Fall 2014; a version of the program (including proactive advising) was piloted in Fall 2013 with approximately 300 students. Preliminary data on life science students before and after implementation of proactive advising in the LSFY include:

(1st term)
Academic Standing
GPA GPA increase
(vs previous cohort)
on critical courses*
Fall 2010 92% 3.15 2.67
Fall 2011 93% 3.2 0.05 2.71
Fall 2012 93% 3.24 0.04 2.8
Fall 2013** 97% 3.33 0.09 2.92
Fall 2014*** 97% 3.42 0.09 3.00

*Critical courses include BIO 181, BIO 183, and CH 101 — whichever have been completed.
** LSFY Pilot
***LSFY Starts

These data are extremely preliminary (more cohorts are needed and possible confounding factors need to be taken into consideration) and can only include short-term measures at this time. Nevertheless, they are consistent with improved academic performance in the first semester for students in LSFY. Early measures also indicate that many LSFY students in the Fall 2014 cohort have re-considered their choice of a major. Final CODA decisions are pending, but based on those who have already matriculated and based on surveys of LSFY students, estimates are that approximately 50% will enroll in the same curriculum that they originally intended and 30-35% will enroll in a different life science curriculum. Three of the life science degree-granting programs typically have more internal transfer students than first-year students in any given year. It is expected that these programs will see an increase in new students over their usual first-year numbers.

Across the country, programs for first-year students and students in transition typically include a seminar course designed to facilitate transition and integration into a new campus environment. Such courses can be an extension of a proactive advising program, if they are taught or co-taught by the student’s advisor. These courses can play an important role in empowering students to take responsibility for their college careers. Accordingly, our recommended guidelines include a required course that helps first-year students and external transfer students identify and address possible transition challenges.

For students who start at NC State as first-year students (Fall 2008 cohort), only about 50% (on average) graduate in the same college to which they were admitted (6-year graduation rate), while 25% graduate in a different college (the remaining 25% do not graduate within 6 years). These data do not include students who change majors within colleges, which means that fewer than 50% of NC State students graduate (in 6 years) in the same major in which they started as first-year students. In addition, students who start in First Year College (FYC) before entering a degree-granting program are less likely to change majors during their time at NC State than are those who start in a degree-granting program as first-year students. Consistent with these data, The Pathway to the Future emphasizes the value of helping students get into the right major (the right “fit”) sooner in their college career. Accordingly, our recommended guidelines include the creation of multiple “First Year” or “Exploratory” Programs for all first-year students, through which they will determine their best-fit major at NC State.

Traditional first-year students (coming from the high school pipeline) are not the only students facing challenges related to transition to a new environment at NC State. Indeed, in a recent program announcement, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) introduces the term “watershed” to capture the greater diversity of pathways by which students now enter college. The HHMI has identified these watershed students as an important population to target with supportive programs. In addition, the NC State strategic plan calls for increases in the admission rates of external transfer students, a major portion of our students in transition. But many of these students often have a more difficult time than first-year students. For example, while the 6-year graduation rate averages about 75% for first-year students, the 4-year graduation rate for external transfer students averages closer to 70%. Among our external transfer students, the percent with a first-term GPA 2.0 or higher averages approximately 86%, whereas that number is closer to 94% for first-year students, and we know that first semester academic performance relates strongly to the likelihood of graduation for our external transfer students. Despite these numbers, we give more attention to first-year student programming than to programming for students in transition. Accordingly, our recommended guidelines include the creation (at the department or college level) of additional programs designed for students in transition who are not traditional first-year students.

Recommendations – Guidelines regarding first-year students

Guidelines Recommendation 1: All first-year advising at NC State should be based on a proactive advising model. Proactive advising includes:

  • One face-to-face, individual meeting between student and advisor within the first 6 weeks of each of the first two semesters.
  • One face-to-face, individual meeting between student and advisor within each pre-enrollment advising period.
  • Early communication to students of advising responsibilities, expectations, and learning outcomes (see NCSU Academic Advising Guidelines and Expectations document).
  • Frequent communication with students regarding university policies, procedures, resources, opportunities, course planning, etc., including communication that begins before their arrival at New Student Orientation.
  • Teaching a first-year experience course to assigned advisees.
  • Monitoring student scheduling decisions and academic performance.
  • Direct follow-up with students regarding issues of concern (e.g., progress reports, first-semester academic performance).

Typically, proactive advising is handled by primary-role academic advisors skilled in this approach. Others (e.g., faculty advisors) might fill this role, but only with appropriate training and with sufficient time dedicated to advising in their SMEs.

Given the time commitments of a proactive advising approach and based on the experience of LSFY, it is recommended that the advising load be set at a maximum of 100 new first-year students per advising FTE. If an individual has additional responsibilities (e.g., in administration), the load should be reduced accordingly.

Guidelines Recommendation 2: All first-year students at NC State should complete a first-year experience course, taught (or co-taught) by their assigned advisor.

This course (or courses, if a 2-semester sequence is preferred), often referred to as a cornerstone feature of first-year experience programs, is an extension of the proactive advising model. Topics in the first semester typically focus on guiding students to a metacognitive understanding of their experiences as first-year students in the context of what is known about the challenges of transition faced by many first-year students. Self-reflection, an awareness of available resources and coping mechanisms, and strategies for planning for success can be important components of these courses. Having advisors teach their own advisees provides additional opportunities for them to develop that important relationship.

In addition to transition-related outcomes, each program may choose to emphasize different topics in these courses, including (1) decision-making (e.g., in choosing a major), (2) the history of institutions of higher education, (3) the science (education, psychology, biology) of effective learning, (4) the psychology of transitions and culture shock, or (5) any of a variety of intellectual skills essential to the long-term success of all of our students (e.g., communication, logic, argumentation, critical thinking, creative thinking, teamwork, self-reflective writing, service learning).

Some programs may want to develop this course so that it incorporates learning outcomes related to diversity issues or global knowledge or interdisciplinary perspectives to the degree that it can additionally satisfy one of those GEP requirements. Each program can tailor the first-year experience course to what would most benefit their first-year students, in the context of the full first-year curriculum taken by those students.

Guidelines Recommendation 3: All first-year students should apply to NC State by selecting from a variety of First Year (or Exploratory) Programs and should be admitted into one of these programs rather than directly into a degree-granting program.

First Year or Exploratory Programs at NC State should:

  • Establish a proactive advising program (see above) with learning outcomes (see NCSU Academic Advising Guidelines and Expectations document) communicated clearly to students.
  • Provide students with a first-year course plan, with options for different curricular paths clearly defined.
  • Guide students through a thoughtful consideration of their choice of a major.
  • Provide students an ideal timeline for matriculation into a degree-granting program.
  • Educate students regarding matriculation requirements and the CODA process.
  • Develop and implement success programs for first-year students.
  • Coordinate involvement in New Student Orientation & Wolfpack Welcome Week programs to address the first-year transition to NC State.
  • Coordinate outreach and recruitment efforts in conjunction with department and college programs.

These First Year or Exploratory Programs may be aligned with individual colleges or they may span two or more colleges, by focusing on disciplinary areas represented in more than one college. In either case, the first-year curriculum and any First Year or Exploratory Program-specific course development should be overseen by a committee of faculty representing departments in the disciplinary areas represented by a given First Year or Exploratory Program.

Students should remain assigned to their first-year advisor until they enter a degree-granting program. Students who fail to do so by the end of their fourth term (fall or spring) will be evaluated in light of the Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy (REG 02.05.03). Total advising load, including new first-year and continuing second-year students, should not exceed 120 students per advising FTE.

Recommendations – Guidelines regarding students in transition

Students in transition are a diverse group that includes:

  • students moving into a degree-granting program from a First Year or Exploratory Program
  • internal (intracampus) transfer students moving between degree-granting programs
  • external transfer students
  • students readmitted to NC State after time away for any reason.

Guidelines Recommendation 4: All advising of students in transition at NC State should be based on a proactive advising model.

Proactive advising is defined above (Guidelines Recommendation 1). For students in transition, given their varied paths to the degree program and background experiences, it is more difficult to provide a universal advising load. These students often take more time to advise than first-year students, therefore we recommend that an advisor not be assigned more than 30 such students within their total advising load.

If faculty advisors are involved in the advising of students in transition, clear expectations about role, responsibilities, and load should be written into the faculty Statement of Mutual Expectations (SME). In addition, programs should create other opportunities for students in transition to interact in a meaningful manner with faculty. These opportunities might include mentoring programs, meet-a-professor programs, or faculty-led workshops. It is also important that training be available to faculty who engage in academic advising and/or undergraduate mentoring and that faculty be recognized for their contributions in these areas.

Guidelines Recommendation 5: All external transfer students should complete a transfer experience course, taught (or co-taught) by their assigned advisor.

Like the first-year experience course (Guidelines Recommendation 2), this course is an extension of the proactive advising model, and should facilitate transition and integration into the NC State community. Since these students are typically in a degree-granting program, it also would be beneficial to incorporate discipline-specific learning outcomes and perhaps professional development and conduct issues appropriate to students at their academic level.

Guidelines Recommendation 6: All students in transition should have access to other programming specifically designed for them (by the college or department), including orientation programs.

Students in transition are an extremely diverse population of students. This is true not only because they come to NC State through different paths (remember the watershed metaphor), but also because even within a given subgroup (e.g., external transfer students) there can be a tremendous diversity of experiences. For this reason, it is especially important that programs developed for students in transition be based on knowledge of the particular sub-population being served in that program. Gathering information about these students in different disciplinary areas at NC State thus becomes an important part of program development.

Implementation Recommendations

Implementation Recommendation 1

Establish a working group to solicit input from all programs, departments, and colleges on campus regarding the topical areas and names of each First Year or Exploratory Program. These areas should be fairly broadly-defined areas of interest (e.g., engineering, life sciences, environmental studies, management, agricultural and natural resources, etc) within which students could explore related disciplines and majors. The University College Exploratory Studies program (formerly FYC) should remain for students not ready to narrow their focus to one of these broad areas.

Degree granting programs might hope to draw from students in one or more First Year or Exploratory Programs. For example, students interested in Zoology and related majors might find a path through any of a number of different First Year or Exploratory Programs (e.g., life sciences, natural resources, environmental studies, animal health, university college). The first-year path of a student should not limit their choice of a major or college, but should expose them to a wide range of curricular options (pathways to degree) at NC State.

Implementation Recommendation 2

Enrollment Management should be tasked with evaluating likely enrollment in each First Year or Exploratory Program to determine the number of new primary-role advisors needed to implement proactive advising for all first-year students. A similar analysis should be conducted to determine personnel needs for proactive advising of students in transition within each program.

Our understanding is that an initial self-assessment was made at the college level to determine the numbers of new primary-role advisors (in addition to existing positions) that would be needed to implement proactive advising for first-year students within each college. In 2011, the Associate Deans indicated the following numbers of additional advising positions would be needed: +1.25 in Education, +4 in Engineering, +3 in Humanities and Social Sciences, +4 in Management, +1 in Natural Resources, and +1 in Textiles. During the college realignment, Sciences received 1 advisor and Agriculture and Life Sciences received 2 advisors, while the LSFY received 3.5 advisors (with one half-time as coordinator and one being a position transferred from the Department of Biological Sciences).

These numbers, however, were based on a first-year student advising load of 120 students per advising FTE and were based on enrollments at the time. They also did not take into account the contribution of these advisors to coordination of outreach and recruitment efforts or administrative responsibilities. In addition, the numbers of new advising FTEs needed should be matched to the First Year or Exploratory Programs developed — and these may or may not align with individual colleges.

Implementation Recommendation 3

First-year admissions targets will need to be developed at the level of these new programs, rather than at the level of colleges. Capacity constraints should be defined by advising and teaching capacity in each First-Year or Exploratory Program. Since most students at NC State currently do not graduate in the same major in which they start as first-year students, it is reasonable to identify first-year enrollment targets by First-Year or Exploratory program rather than by degree-granting program.

Implementation Recommendation 4

Based on how these First Year or Exploratory Programs are structured, the working group will need to identify and address any additional administrative implications. These issues might include retention rate reporting, resource allocation, space needs, program assessment requirements, faculty oversight, and coordination of outreach and recruitment efforts.

Implementation Recommendation 5

The working group should determine if there is need for a central office or individual tasked with campuswide coordination of programs implemented for first-year students or for students in transition. A number of universities have created similar entities and these would be worth considering. Such an office could document programs in place at NC State, coordinate efforts to earn external funding for these programs, and work to enhance communication among these programs as well as between these programs and other campus groups like Admissions, Registration & Records, Living & Learning Villages, the Visitor Center, etc.