New student registration day!

It’s another new student registration day, and I get to spend a big chunk of it as an advisor. I hope there are no tears this time, unlike last time.

Yeah, tears. This is an incredibly stressful event for the students. There are two things that promote breakdowns during registration.

  • Uncertainty. Some students come in not knowing what to expect, or thinking this is like a greased chute that will give them a job when they slide out of the end. My favorite are the students who are shocked when you tell them they are going to sign up for about 15 credits this term, which is about 4 classes, and they have no frame of reference. Is that a little or a lot? Why am I signing up for chemistry, isn’t there like a pre-med class I can just take and be done with all this? Why do I need to take a history class, I want to be a dentist!

    They don’t quite get that they’re signing on to a voyage of adventure, and they’re going to be completely different people at the end of four years. Or maybe they do. They freak out and are afraid they’ll make a mistake. I just want to tell them that of course they’ll make mistakes, this is a system to help you recover from error — it’s 4 years of dynamic equilibrium in which you learn and adjust. That doesn’t help the ones who want a stable, certain, plodding path.

    (Parents don’t help here. They’re so happy that they’re investing in turning their little girl into a doctor at the end, but she might come out the other end an art historian or statistician, and happier for it. Let ’em find the their true love in the world of the mind!)

  • High school. This is the big one. Most of high schools do a fine job, but the number one shock to some students is coming here expecting to emerge with a STEM career, and we discover their schools let them coast and they don’t even have basic algebra mastered. We give incoming students a math placement test, and we know…we know they’re going to flunk out of first year general chemistry if we let them take it (we don’t). We have a remedial path that involves summer school, stuffing their first year with the general education distribution requirements, and a catch-up senior year that’s nothing but solid science courses (can you imagine taking 3 lab course in a semester? I wouldn’t want to), and students are sometimes very upset about that.

    I do wonder what the administrators at those high schools are thinking. At the very least, shouldn’t all their graduates be able to read a novel, write a coherent 5 page essay, know a little bit about their country’s place in the world, and solve a simple algebraic formula? All of their students, not just the ones looking at STEM careers. We’re not asking a lot when we say a high school diploma ought to mean something, but apparently some students and some schools take a laissez fair approach to education, and our Republican overlords like to encourage that.

    I try to let the students know I’m there to help them, and I have a plan that’ll put them right on track, but that’s like criticism, dude, and now it’s panic attack time.

But now I have to put on my positive attitude and brace myself to go in. Let’s hope all the students today are eager and enthusiastic and well-prepared, and that none of the general chemistry lab sections they need to take are not closed. We’ll get through this. I promise I won’t cry, at least not until I get home.


  1. leerudolph says

    Eeek! Flashbacks!

    New student registration day was, hands down, my worst day of every academic year. What made it worse where I worked was that the Academic Advising center had had the students for a whole week first, and had fixed them all up with upper-class student “advisors” who had apparently been deliberately selected for, and then further trained to be, obstacles to my doing my part of the job (the part you have described very accurately): here’s how you can get around this, here’s how you can put that off, avoid Professors X, Y, and Z (because they’re too hard). One year I was assigned, as my personal student advisor, a sophomore who had failed in my introductory calculus class the previous year, had done very poorly in most of his other classes that year too, and seemed in general to be anti-intellectual; the Academic Advising Center was not sympathetic at all to my complaints about him.

    Hell on earth.

  2. says


    The scary thing is that these kids become voters in the near future.

    Most of them are already eligible to vote, the voting age here is 18. Here in nDakota, 17 year olds are allowed to vote in primary elections.

  3. starfleetdude says

    You have a “new student registration day”? Wow. Back in my day you showed up at college and winged it. I wound up dropping out and driving semi-trucks for a couple of years and then went back to school and did just fine. But it’s a good thing to give that mathematics ability test and prevent them from wasting time, for sure.

  4. wcorvi says

    I was sent an advisee in Physics who placed in Math 087. Math 087 is remedial arithmetic – you don’t even get college credit for it, or its sequel Math 089. He had five years of math before he could even take the first course that would count for his major. I asked him about it, and he said he did it intentionally, because it would be easy.

    Why would anyone want an easy course, when they are majoring in PHYSICS!!?!

  5. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I hear you on algebra skills being needed to pass general chemistry, as it was one the classes I taught for years. When I was a academic, I did a study for the department, and found three groups based on their math scores on the national college entrance test the university used. Below a certain score, wouldn’t pass on the first try. Above a higher score, they would breeze through the course. There was a small middle ground that could go either way depending upon the student.

  6. says

    We have a “reform-minded” chancellor for our community college system in California (the biggest post-secondary public school system in the world) who is responding to a legislative mandate to increase “student success” by sending advisories to the individual districts to cut back dramatically on remediation in math and English. Let’s jump algebra-deficient students right into statistics, because statistics is a transferable college-level course and algebra isn’t, and we have data to show that 38% of students who were advised to take remediation succeed without it (presumably because they were rusty when taking the placement test and recover some latent skills when thrown in the deep end). I guess we’ll call the 62% “collateral damage.” It doesn’t help that we have a very narrow definition of “student success” that focuses on earning a degree. An example of “failure”: A student who comes to a community college to take a class or two in Spanish, let’s say, and passes but doesn’t apply them toward a degree. Our metrics really suck.

  7. Samuel Vimes says

    The scary thing is that these kids become voters in the near future.

    Why “scary”? While a lack of these basics at this point in their education journey is lamentable, I’d like to think that overall, a voter’s probity is more important than his or her ability to, say, solve a quadratic equation.

  8. says

    When I was a student, I never met with an advisor. Not once.

    We had “computer registration”, which meant the faculty had punch cards. You had to chase down your professor — on the gigantic UW campus — & get them to give you a physical piece of thin cardboard. Once you had your deck of cards, you’d stand in a long line to hand them over to the registrar, who would give you another piece of paper, your bill. Then you’d stand in another long line to handover your bill, and write a check on the spot.

    That’s computer registration. I think UW was very proud of it.

  9. says

    Let’s jump algebra-deficient students right into statistics, because statistics is a transferable college-level course and algebra isn’t

    The idea that people that clueless are making decisions about the educational system, that is scary.

  10. whheydt says

    Well… I did have to take Subject A (aka Bonehead English) at UC Berkeley. It was supposed to grammar and writing. No one had any grammar issues, so it was all writing. I passed it–barely–and never used anything from the course thereafter. But, then, I was in EECS and physical anthropology and archaeology were humanities courses for me…

  11. opus says

    The Harvard faculty is trying to eliminate the most rational registration system I’ve ever heard of: there is a one-week shopping period, in which students can classes they are considering. They get a chance to check out the reading list, professor/instructor, etc. At the end of the week they register and then classes are matched up with classrooms based on the final number of students.

  12. rietpluim says

    I think it is heart breaking that so many children grow up with the idea that they are not allowed to make mistakes.

  13. brucej says

    I do wonder what the administrators at those high schools are thinking.

    They’re thinking that they have no time to teach people anything they have STANDARDIZED TESTS to PREPARE FOR!

  14. says


    Most of them are already eligible to vote, the voting age here is 18. Here in nDakota, 17 year olds are allowed to vote in primary elections.

    I’m aware that young adults are allowed to vote in your country, but my impression was that many don’t, especially the ones who have zero interest in being broadly educated, Eventually they may decide to vote based on no facts at all, just fear and loathing of The Other.

  15. magistramarla says

    I know what the high school administrators were thinking here in Texas. They want as close to 100% graduation rates as possible. We were severely limited as to the number of students that we were allowed to flunk each semester, and the students knew it. I was called into the office for having a high failing rate on the fricking first nine week report card! A former colleague of mine said that we had to sprinkle pixie dust on the numbers of the kids who were at least close to passing. I didn’t mind doing that for a special ed kid who was trying hard to pass, but it really bugged me to do so for the sports jocks who were not even trying. Many of them were going on to college to play for college teams.
    I even saw students who had graduated in the top ten at our high school coming back after failing the first semester at a four year college to attend community college.
    The attitudes of the administrators (and the standardized tests!) are doing a disservice to students.