Academic advising heats up for summer

UW-Madison Academic Advising


Whoever coined the term “lazy days of summer” had clearly never met an academic advisor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

“Advisors work really hard over the summer,” says Jen Walsh, assistant director for summer advising initiatives. “As summer enrollment has grown, so has the need for summer advising.”

At UW-Madison, there’s more to an advisor’s role than helping students select courses. They also help them explore academic and career goals.

Students undecided about their major can schedule an appointment with an advisor at Cross-College Advising Service (CCAS) to explore degree options, career paths, and extracurricular activities. Declared students can meet the advisor in their school or college to map out a graduation plan, set career goals, find internships, and practice for interviews.

Students can make an appointment to meet in person with their advisor on campus—or by phone or email if they’re out of town for the summer.

Soar through orientation

In addition to assisting current students during the summer, advisors also serve incoming freshmen.

UW-Madison summer academic advising Jen Walsh
Jen Walsh coordinates UW-Madison’s many summer advising initiatives to ensure students get the unique advising they need.

While freshman orientation has existed on the UW–Madison campus since 1928, it wasn’t until the 1960s that it took on the name SOAR (Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration). Today SOAR is a two-day program that helps incoming freshmen and transfer students transition into Badger life. Working with an advisor, students enroll in their fall-semester courses, learn about social opportunities and campus culture, and review university policies and procedures.

“There are 29 two-day sessions that run from June 7 to August 29,” Walsh says. “On the first day, peer and professional advisors work with students to explore or select their major. On day two, they help students make their selections and enroll in courses.”

SOAR is not the only opportunity students have to begin charting academic and career goals.

Get a head start

This year, the university launched the Wisconsin Experience Summer Launch (WESL), which allows incoming first-year students to take a 3-credit course beginning in June. These students choose from five courses in art, communication arts, gender and women’s studies, journalism, and psychology. They also enroll in a 1-credit course on academic learning techniques and the 1-credit Wisconsin Experience Seminar. All five credits are taken online.

In August, students can choose to move into their residence halls a few days early and participate in programs with their fellow summer learners.

“WESL arose from the interest in helping incoming students get a head start and transition to campus prior to SOAR,” Walsh explains. “SOAR tends to be more focused on choosing courses and navigating campus. WESL complements SOAR by allowing students to begin their academic journey, earn credit, and start building relationships with fellow incoming students, faculty, and staff.”

UW-Madison summer term early start
Early-start programs at UW-Madison help incoming freshmen get a jump start on their academic careers with online coursework and the option to move to campus a week before their peers, smoothing the transition.

QuickStart builds strong foundations

WESL joins UW–Madison’s other early-start programs, including the International Student Summer Institute, the Mechanical Engineering Summer Launch, and the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences (CALS) QuickStart Program.

Now in its second year, CALS QuickStart is designed to “help students figure out ‘how to do college’ before they have to do it full-time on campus,” says instructional program manager Tanya Cutsforth. Offered for 1 credit, the eight-week online course helps CALS students think about personal, academic, and professional goals, and introduces them to campus resources and opportunities.

Tanya Cutsforth CALS QuickStart UW-Madison early-start program
Tanya Cutsforth says CALS QuickStart asks students to think about personal goals before they dive into college life.

“We ask the students to step back and think deeply about themselves and why they might want a particular degree,” Cutsforth explains. “It can be really difficult to focus on this sort of foundational information once you arrive on campus and there are a million other distractions. We decided if we could tackle this piece over the summer, it would really help students find their fit.”

Cutsforth also talks to students about how to best leverage their summers, both in and out of the classroom.

“Summer can be a great time to recharge and reset, but it’s also a good time to incorporate internships and research opportunities,” Cutsforth says.

“I tell students that any work experience is good experience, that they are gaining transferable skills no matter what,” she adds. “But I also advise them not to wait for the experiences they really want—like working in a lab or conducting research with a professor. Part of my job is to give them a confidence boost to ask for these opportunities. You don’t have to wait until your junior year to do something cool.”

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