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Our Advising Policy

Our current advising policy is divided according to the number of credits a student has accumulated: up to 45 credits he has to go to a central advising office for all engineering students, beyond that he is advised by faculty from his major.

I can imagine several reasons for that. Perhaps it is felt that incoming students have problems largely independent of the major, and therefore need an advisor who better knows all the services offered on campus, and the nonacademic student needs. Or this dates from the period when many students were admitted to the school of engineering, but had not declared a major.

But I believe it has a bad effect, for students should meet faculty of the major as soon as possible. They should be working on their major from the first semester on; that will reinforce their motivation and dedication to their study, or, in the unavoidable bad cases, tell students early that this is the wrong major for them. We know that not every incoming student is suitable to become an engineer, but it is a failure of the program if the student find that out only after having spent many years in the program. This happens through bad advising; I have met students who were advised to start with easy courses in the general education program, and postpone the courses of their major. That is really bad advice.

I believe that we should find a way that every student meets faculty of his major from the first semester on. Students should know who the faculty are, and what they are doing, because this is the best chance to find out about their major. Also, for any application for an award, scholarship, Internship, etc, students have to rely on professors: they tell them what is available, where they should apply, how to write application letters, and write letters of recommendation. Student success requires having a supportive relation with some faculty, and the first step to that is to meet them, early and often.

A lot of advising also happens in informal discussion. I once was at a place where the department organized each week a “Pizza with a Prof” event, where the faculty took turns to go with students to a pizzeria. I think such frequent informal meetings help students get oriented, and establish  important advising and mentoring relations that continue beyond the pizza.

Our Admissions Policy

The admissions policy to the CCNY school of engineering has one good property:  it is transparent. There are some requirements about years of mathematics, physics, chemistry taken at high school, percentage scores, and SAT score, and everyone who satisfies the requirements is admitted. The implementation of the requirements needs some guesswork by our admissions office and someone in our dean’s office, since the data is frequently not available as it should be, but that is a secondary issue.

There are, however, also some problems  with it.  First, we have almost no control on the number of students admitted this way, apart from closing admissions early. It is pure luck that our enrolment has been stable for several years (at the upper end of what we can reasonably handle). We are not at all selective, at least we would be if the applicants read the requirements before applying.

Second, we take the high school scores as if they were an objective measure, where it is obvious that different high schools have different standards. The only uniform measure that enters the admission decision is the SAT score, and that is well known to be not that good a predictor for what our students need to succeed. It would probably best if we had an open entrance exam organized by us; that would be a uniform measure that allows to be selective of students with the right qualification for engineering; only organizing such an exam for perhaps a thousand applicants would be very difficult, and of course it would discourage applicants that are not local. Perhaps we could split the system: admit everyone with highschool and SAT scores above a threshold, but also hold an open admissions exam, and admit the top ranked students from that.

Then there is the mystery of recommendation letters and the personal essay. Every applicant has to provide them, but actually they are never read. I always distrusted the system of recommendation letters; it is not transparent at all, but allows heavy bias by the judgement of some admissions officer, and the same for personal essays. We apparently ask for them because every college asks for them. We should just stop asking for them.

Peter Brass