Checklist for arriving on campus:
Buy Jayhawk T-shirt.
Set up appointment with an academic adviser.
And not necessarily in that order.
"The earlier a student contacts us, and the more often they contact us, the better advising experience they will have," said Gloria Flores, associate director for the Freshman-Sophomore Advising Center at Kansas University. "Really, the early bird gets the worm."
The 4-year-old center, located on the main floor of Strong Hall in the middle of campus, provides free academic advice for about 7,200 students each semester. Services include new-student orientations before classes start, and will peak this fall when students get ready to enroll in spring classes.
The center's advisers 14 professional staffers, 10 faculty members and two graduate assistants help students acclimate themselves to the rules and requirements that govern class enrollment and entry into competitive degree programs and professional schools.
All new students on campus, whether they're freshmen or transfer students, are assigned personal advisers. Students receive notification from their advisers early in the semester, usually within a few weeks.
The advisers then work with students to devise personal plans for negotiating the university structure, whether it's putting together broad-based studies to keep their academic options open or focusing coursework toward a specific major or career.
Advisers are trained to help, and students respond. According to a 2000 telephone survey of 916 freshmen and sophomores, 56 percent said advising services met their needs exceptionally well or more than adequately; the results were up from 46 percent before the center opened, in 1998.
"We're getting students started on the right foot," said Kathryn Nemeth Tuttle, the center's director.
Specifically, the center's advisers help students:
Understand the general education requirements set up by College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and general requirements for professional schools such as allied health, business, education and journalism.
Interpret the ARTS form (Academic Requirements Tracking System).
Explore various careers and majors.
Establish academic goals.
Enhance academic performance and seek academic challenges.
Create long-term academic plans.
Develop course schedules in consideration of the student's academic goals and background.
Understand major requirements.
Locate resources to help students solve individual problems.
Among the center's goals for this year is to focus on helping students who are undecided about their majors, Tuttle said. Advisers also will continue to help students work toward satisfying requirements for admission into professional schools, if that's their intention.
"The goal is to declare (a major) by the end of the sophomore year," Tuttle said. "During the first year there's room for lots of flexibility, but by the second year students need to focus or they'll get lost."
But center officials are quick to point out that advisers only help students make decisions about their futures. Deciding whether a student should become an artist or an engineer is left up to the student.
Think of the adviser as just that, Flores said: a guide.
"We don't make decisions for them," she said. "We feel very strongly that students are responsible for their own future, but we want to give them choices."
Making decisions becomes easier when equipped with the best information, Flores said.
"We try to give the most effective and accurate advice," she said. "We are being trained on a regular basis about any curriculum changes in academic programs. We know it's not easy to understand the general education prerequisites.
"We help navigate that for the students. They can only find that out by contacting us, and we're happy to map it out for them. We're very happy to do that. We want students to ask us questions early, so that they are informed and can make their own decisions."
Transfers and first- and second-year students should meet with their advisers four times a year, Flores said: twice to prepare for main enrollment and advising, and twice to handle whatever questions may come up about other matters, such as which community-college courses could be transferred for credit.
Flores also offers some simple advice to make lives easier for students and advisers alike.
"Do not ignore official university e-mail," she said, noting that all KU students are assigned a university account but some students soon lump KU notices in with unwanted junk mail.
That's a big mistake, she said. Students already receive their grades via e-mail, and the center also puts out about 10 broadcast messages a year alerting students to deadlines for dropping classes, paying fees, handling enrollment or other important matters.
"Increasingly, that will be the only way for KU to communicate with its students," Flores said.