Information for Parents of Letters & Sciences Students
Parents and families can find quick answers to questions on this page and at the same time learn how to access the resources provided by Letters and Sciences (LTSC), which assist in navigating students’ academic path.
We’re glad you’re reading and interested in how things work in our office. If the information below has not answered your immediate questions, or you need more specific help in association with the Office of Letters and Sciences, you are welcome to write our Associate Director, Ashleigh Brown, at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will get back to you as soon as possible. If you have ideas for other useful information that should be listed on this page please let us know.
Frequently Asked questions
- What do advisors do? (How can parents help?)
- How can parents and families help their student’s advisor or the advising process?
- How can my student meet with their advisor?
- May I also meet with my student’s advisor?
- What’s the difference between individual advising and drop-in advising?
- My student cannot get into a course. Can their advisor get them into the course?
- When should my student declare a major?
- How can my student change their major?
- How can my student access resources across campus?
- What things can parents do to help their students at Maryland?
All students within Letters and Sciences are assigned to academic advisors who monitor their progress, help them prepare for the future and serve as a campus resource. While advisors have in-depth knowledge of the workings of the University, students are expected to be responsible for navigating through their courses and major. Students are taught to take ownership for their academic planning and in learning academic policies. Like the rules and regulations we all learn when getting our first driver’s license, the University also provides documentation for students to study about the policies guiding their academic progress at Maryland.
You and your student can begin to study Maryland’s academic policies and plans in three places. One resource is the Registration Guide. The second resource, which contains the same information and much more, is the Undergraduate Catalog. While the Undergraduate Catalog contains all policies and information that applies to students, the Registration Guide is more student friendly and contains the most commonly referenced information. We suggest students start with this guide when learning about academic policy. The third resource are the 4-Year Plans, which outline the requirements to graduate from every major. Remember, students that are interested in a Limited Enrollment Program must first meet all of the requirements before they will be admitted to that major.
With these tools in hand, advisors, students and students’ families can learn what critical roles we each play in helping our students be successful. Advisors provide a personal relationship that is essential and on-going throughout a student’s college career (Smith & Gordon, 8). Letters and Sciences advisors assist students with academic planning toward declaration of a major (“4 Semester Plans”), guidance in referring students to various campus offices for help with personal and academic information (“exploration activity”), and monitor a student’s academic progress. One of our specialties is assisting students who are truly undecided about a major, discover the most successful area of study for them. Advisors are also available to discuss opportunities on campus and explain academic alternatives when students run into stumbling blocks along the way. Advisors explain policy, assist with referrals and address myriads of other concerns that students may have while at Maryland.
So what should students not expect from their advisor?
- Advisors do not pick courses for students. Students are responsible for making the final decision concerning their courses and for registering themselves for the courses. Advisors provide students with information on the requirements needed to get into or to complete their desired major. They advise students on the best path to take to achieve their graduation goals.
- Advisors do not tell students who is a good professor or a bad professor, or tell students what classes are "easy" or "hard".
- Advisors do not tell students what major they should choose. They help the student explore options based on the area of interest expressed.
- Advisors do not get students into courses that are closed or they are not eligible to take.
- Advisors do not make sure students go to class.
The most important thing families can do to assist in the process is ask that their student be responsible for themselves. Today’s college students face a more complex world than past generation of students (Smith & Gordon, 5); and, as a part of becoming responsible adults, it’s essential that they be proactive. While they should reach out for help they must also take an active role in learning about what University policies may affect them during their stay at Maryland.
For many students, there is a shocking difference between their experience in high school where everything was done for them, and college where they are expected to figure things out for themselves. Understand students put a lot of pressure on themselves to excel and often call home when they are upset or confused. Listen to what your student has to say but try not to overreact. If you talk to them a day or so later the “crisis” has often passed. Recognize that this is a time of exploration and self-discovery for students. Show interest in your student’s academic decisions, but try not to influence them unduly (University of Illinois at Chicago). When your student expresses concern about their progress or academic planning, ask them;
- “Who is your academic advisor?”
- “Have you contacted or scheduled an appointment with your academic advisor?”
- “Who is your academic advisor?”
- “Have you spoken to your professor or your teaching assistant?" (If it's a concern about a specific class)
Letters and Sciences advisors reach out to students through email, introducing themselves and asking that students arrange appointment times with them, so conversations can be had about planning and troubleshooting any problems that may have come up. However, understand that advisors have many students on their “caseloads,” and they are not able to contact every student individually about when advisors are available. Students should make themselves known to their advisors; this goes for professors too. Students are more engaged when they introduce themselves to their professors each semester, sit close to them during classroom time and seek their assistance if needed. Who knows? Those professors may become terrific references and mentors in the future.
Bottom line? Push your student to get involved in not only their social lives, but in the main reason they are here—academics. By investing time in making themselves a known entity among 25,000 undergraduates, the dividend they receive is having professors, administrators and advisors take a personal interest in them. It’s a powerful combination.
Every Letters and Sciences student has an assigned advisor, and the group of students assigned to a particular advisor is called a caseload. The absolute best way for your student to meet with their advisor is to schedule an appointment with the advisor well in advance of any early registration period and definitely before any problems arise. Because advisors have many other students with their own needs, they may not be able to drop current appointments to meet immediately. Students can make appointments with their advisor on our website. Our website also has a calendar that gives the infrequent times our office may possibly be closed due to orientation, when special events are being held and when the university may be closed.
We sometimes hear concerns from parents that their student isn’t able to see an advisor. Know that our office exists because of and for our students. We make ourselves available as much as possible to them in as fair a manner as possible. From the time students meet with us at orientation, they are reminded how they can reach an advisor (email, individual appointments, or special workshops). All Letters and Sciences students are notified via email by the fourth week of class each semester as to whom their advisor will be; advisors reach out to their students through email, introducing themselves and giving students information about how to schedule appointments.
While there is no limit on how many times a student may schedule appointments during the semester, we do require that all NEW students, NEW TRANSFER students and students continuing students under 30 credits meet with their advisor at least two times per semester. Students on Probation must meet at least three times per semester.
As noted before, this process is predicated on students reaching out to make appointments with their advisors. Most often when students complain about not being able to get an appointment with their advisors, it’s because they’ve waited until the last minute, a possible deadline, or worse, a serious problem has occurred to reach out to their advisor. When this happens it’s very difficult to fit in a student when other students, who have scheduled appointments well in advance, also require the advisor’s time. The office is unable to schedule same day appointments, and during our busy registration periods students may find they may have to wait a week before meeting with their advisor. Families can assist by helping their student remain calm, learn from the experience, and be proactive in preventing a similar situation from occurring again.
We understand that parents play a major support role for any student, and we appreciate parents being involved. Parents can attend advising sessions with their students however, there are a couple of things to remember before doing so:
- Because of the Buckley Amendment (“Family Educational Right to Privacy Act of 1974), advisors are unable to discuss any academic specifics with parents about their students unless the student has signed a waiver to the amendment allowing us to speak freely about their academic situation. There are no exceptions to this policy. The waiver must be signed in person and is available upon request in our office. Faxes are not accepted for this form. For detailed information on this please refer to the policies listed in the Undergraduate Catalog.
- Provided the student signs the waiver to the Buckley Amendment freely, we’re happy to involve parents in the academic process. However, please note that it is always preferable that our students act independently and responsibly when working with their advisor. It’s important to make note of the fact that while we strive to nurture, it’s critical they learn to take responsibility for themselves and their academic progress. A best case scenario is one in which the student meets with his or her advisor and then relays what was discussed with his or her parents. A student is not required to sign a waiver and by law we will not disclose student information if they do not sign the waiver.
All Letters and Sciences students have “assigned” advisors. The exception to this relates to students who have declared themselves with Letters and Sciences after the first few weeks of the semester. Because advisors will already have a full caseload and available appointments spaces may be less abundant by this time, we allow them to take advantage of our drop-in services. We don’t want to make them wait too long to see an advisor in our office and get started on the right foot.
- Individual appointments for students assigned to an advisor. These are very important and offer opportunities for students to meet with their assigned advisor for 30 minutes (per session) to receive advising assistance. Advisors will extend this time with students if their students email them in advance and request the need for more time.
- Drop-in Advising is for students not assigned to an advisor because they only recently switched to our department. They may obtain 15 minute, same day appointments with an on-duty advisor during the published Drop-in hours. We do ask that all students changing their major status to Letters and Sciences first attend a “Change of Major” workshop. Student can sign up for these workshops through our website.
Individual and Drop-in advising appointments are generally used for the following:
- Removal of their (academic) registration blocks. If the student has meet with their advisor the required number of times, submitted a correct 4 semester plan, and completed an exploration activity.
- Review of the 4 semester plan
- Advice on course selection options related to a selected major or to complete a general education requirement.
- Information about possible majors and career options.
- Answers to general questions
- Referrals to campus resources and services
Letters and Sciences only advises current students with our department. Students who have other declared majors, have not attended a “Change of Major” workshop or who have not yet matriculated into the University of Maryland can not be advised by our office. If your student is new Letters and Sciences admit to Maryland, we’ll be sure to take terrific care of all of their concerns during their mandatory orientation session.
It’s important to remember that advisors in LTSC have no authority in regard to courses in degree granting majors. Like students, we rely strictly on information list via the schedule of classes on Testudo (http://www.testudo.umd.edu) as to what classes are available and open.
We do understand the frustration that can occur when students try to create a full schedule of classes that fits their expectations. However, the best we can do is suggest alternatives (when available), direct students to place themselves on waitlists and hold files, and recommend that they actively monitor class enrollments—especially during the first two weeks of classes. We call this the “drop/add period” because during this time all students can freely adjust their schedules. One of the most important things we tell our students is to remain extremely flexible (accept 8:00 a.m. or 4:00 p.m. courses, classes on Fridays, etc.) and have several backup courses whenever possible, especially when fulfilling general education requirements. In extremely rare cases, where a student finds they absolutely have to have a class immediately in order to make themselves eligible for a Limited Enrollment Program (LEP), we may instruct them to approach a department or college office.
This question is at the heart of the Letters and Sciences mission, and there is no easy answer. We do have one basic rule, however, and we’re very clear with students that this one rule is pretty much set in stone. All students at the University of Maryland must declare their major by the time they reach their 60th credit (junior standing). While there are exceptions made surrounding students that were admitted with lots of AP credits, and some consideration for transfer students who come into Maryland already having 60+ credits, students must declare by this time.
When is it best to declare a major? It’s best to declare a major when a student is at least “pretty sure” they’ve found a major in which they’ll excel and enjoy. We love to work with totally undecided students and students trying to get into the Limited Enrollment Programs, but once a student has an idea in mind it’s best to declare that major and work with advisors who know about academic planning for that major in depth. There’s always the added benefit of having “major only” courses available to students once they have declared! Remember, it’s almost always possible to change a major again later (with proper planning) if a first choice doesn’t work out.
The major declaration process varies by college and department. If students are interested in a Limited Enrollment Program (Business; Biological, Biochemistry, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences and Policy-Biodiversity and Conservation; Communication; Criminology and Criminal Justice; Engineering; Government and Politics; Journalism; or Psychology) they must complete a set of gateway requirements before applying to the major. For more information, visit the LEP website: http://www.lep.umd.edu/. For the remaining 90+ majors, students must contact the departments directly to register for an appointment or workshop to begin the major change process.
Note: More and more, colleges now rely on their own “Change of Major” workshops. Most departments and colleges publish the times and locations for these workshops online and update them each semester. To find out more about these, a simple search on Maryland’s main website will reveal most of them. Also, check out departmental websites themselves. All academic information can be found there; look for items like “Undergraduate”, “advising”, “four-year plan”, “academic plan”, and “major requirement” when checking out their sites.
There are several ways to identify and access campus resources:
- Visit the University of Maryland homepage (http://www.umd.edu) and do a search for the resource in which they are interested.
- Call the main campus information number (301.405.1000) and get directly connected to the resource.
- Visit the Current Students page and view the Important Resources link under Other Information. You will find links for; Academic Majors, Student Services, Special Programs, Registration Resources, and more.
Want to be more involved without pushing too much? Here are some more suggestions for assisting your student. You’ll quickly see that at its most basic, it asks that you keep a good line of communication open with them.
- Review academic dates and deadlines with your student at the beginning of each semester. This way, you can also mark on your calendar dates when a semester’s classes have to be settled; when a deadline might exist for dropping a course; or even when all of a semester’s courses might be dropped at once.
- Quiz your student on who their advisor is. Ask if they know the name of their advisor and how to contact them. Ask if they’ve met their advisors each semester and if they have meet all of the required times.
- Let your student know it’s their responsibility to stay on top of their academic progress.
- Encourage your student to use campus resources, especially when learning more about themselves in regard to choosing a major. This is a critical time for students, and they’ll begin now to make some decisions which may affect their lives after school.
- Discuss with your student their course choices; listen to their rationale for taking what they’re registered for and what they hope to register for in the future. Try not to impose your own career or educational bias.
- If your student expresses some personal or academic concerns, push them to seek assistance on their own or to meet with their advisor.
- Celebrate their accomplishments in and outside of the classroom!
- Salisbury University. “Parents: Keys To Helping Your Student”. School of Business. Salisbury University, 2009. Web. October 2, 2009.
- Smith, Donald C. & Virginia N. Gordon. "A Family Guide to Academic Advising". National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition, 2003.
- University of Illinois at Chicago. “Undergraduate Advising Questions and Answers for Parents.” University Parent Connection. University of Illinois at Chicago, 2009.Web. October 2, 2009.