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Advising First Year Students

First-Year Academic Requirements

Common Core

All students are required to take one of the three Common Core courses: China in the World in the spring semester of the first year. 

Working with First-Year Advisees

Recommended Topics for First Year Advising

Advising Themes/Issues Advising Recommendations
Learn about college resources and support Encourage students to use campus resources and ask for help if needed
Learn registration and class scheduling Encourage students to plan initial class schedule before advising meetings and have some backup classes
Understand major and degree requirements Encourage students to utilize bulletin and read the major and degree requirements

Talk to faculty to know more about the major fields of study

Understand academic policies and procedures Encourage students to utilize bulletin and read all the academic policies and procedures if needed
Exploration & Campus Engagement Encourage students to participate in campus activities and organizations to explore different interests and potentials

Encourage students to explore different classes if interested

Wellness & Work-Life Balance Use open-ended questions to know if students have any health, mental issues that should be concerned

Academic Advising Curriculum

You will meet with your first-year advisees twice during orientation weeks – at a group meeting held Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 pm on August 21, 2019 and then individually the day after.

You are recommended to have five Advising Consultations with your advisees after orientation over the course of Fall 2019 semester. Three of the Advising Conversations must be one-on-one, and two of the Advising Conversations can be conducted in a group or individual format. Advisors choosing to conduct group advising appointments should consult the Office of Undergraduate Advising prior to scheduling. An example of when to use group advising is registration. Note, students experiencing academic difficulty should be invited to individual 1 on 1 appointments to ensure students have privacy to discuss challenges.

Advisors are encouraged to connect with their advisees via email and in person, e.g., coffee, lunch, etc., between required meetings. Experienced advisors develop a rapport by developing a strong advising relationship intentional contact between an advisor and advisee frequent.

Orientation Week

Students move in on August 13 and 14 (Tuesday and Wednesday) of the first week of orientation and you will meet with them as a group on Wednesday afternoon of the second week of orientation. During orientation, students will receive information from the Office of Undergraduate Advising indicating who their advisor is and the time and location of this meeting.

Reaching Out to your Advisees before the First Meeting

Before this meeting, you are encouraged to email your advisees to welcome them to Duke Kunshan University (see sample letter below) and introduce yourself. You can easily email each advisee—or your new students collectively – through the electronic email list provided to you via email from the Office of Undergraduate Advising.. Your email should remind students of the time and location of your group meeting and suggest they allow extra time in case they get lost – that is easy to do during the first week.

Here is an example of an introductory email that you could use:

Dear Tasha,

Hello and welcome to Duke Kunshan University. My name is Ling Zhang and I will be serving as your academic advisor. I am a faculty member in the biology department and am excited about teaching at DKU.

As your advisor, I will assist you on a wide variety of issues related to your DKU education including choosing courses, understanding requirements, thinking about potential majors, identifying your interests and goals, and developing connections with faculty. My goal in working with you is to help you get as much as you can from your time at Duke Kunshan.

I look forward to meeting you later this week – 3:30 pm on Wednesday, August 21 in Room [add location] – for an initial meeting with the other first-year students that I am advising. This will be a chance to start getting to know one another and for you to ask any initial questions that you have. After the group meeting, you will have an individual meeting with me on Thursday to confirm your semester schedule and ask additional questions.

Take care and I look forward to seeing you soon.


Ling Zhang

Orientation Part 1: First Group Advising Meeting (1.5 hours)

3:30-5:00 pm, Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Goals for the Group Meeting

This is your advisees’ first personalized welcome to academic life at DKU and there are four main goals for this meeting. 

  • The first is relationship building and for your advisees to begin seeing you as a friendly, approachable, curious, and knowledgeable individual who is committed to working with them to have the best experience at DKU that they possibly can.
  • The second goal is to clearly explain your role as their college advisor, the ways that you can assist them, the limits on what you can do; 
  • Make students aware of the other members of the campus network who they can reach out to, the different roles these individuals play, and the benefits of making full use of the resources available to support them. 
  • Highlight for students early on the value of building relationships with their faculty.

Suggestions for the Group Meeting

  • Start with introductions as a brief group activity. You may ask each person to give her/his name and describe something exciting or unexpected that happened on their way to campus or during move-in. Be mindful to avoid asking a question that could inadvertently make students feel uncomfortable. For example, asking students “what they did last summer” could highlight socio-economic differences that students feel uncomfortable sharing.
  • Some advisors bring light snacks
  • Hand out blank index cards to be returned at the end of the meeting and ask the students to write some basic information (e.g., name, interests) and any questions/issues they wish to cover in their individual meetings.

Discussion Guide

Students should have read through their Academic Bulletin prior to the meeting.

Introduction and Getting to Know Your Advisees

Introduce yourself and let students know what you do, your office address, your email address, your office phone number, and the best way to contact you. If you have business cards, give one to each student. 

Example questions:

  • What do you come from or where do you consider home?
  • Tell me about your DKU story. What brought you here to DKU? Why did you choose to attend DKU?
  • What is something exciting or unexpected that happened on their way to campus or during move-in?

Distribute Advising Syllabus to Advisees (including a page of Academic Calendar)

Academic Advising and Academic Advisors

  • What is Academic Advising at DKU? Who are Academic Advisors? How is the advisor’s role different from a professor’s?
    • Emphasize that advising is a partnership and that advisors serve as bridges to resources.
  • What are the advisors’ responsibilities? What are your responsibilities as a student?
    • Advisors are not encyclopedia of courses. Students are expected to do their research before the Advising Conversation and come prepared with questions.
  • Explain what you do as their academic advisor. It is important that your students understand that your role as an advisor is broad and extends beyond discussing classes and signing off on their schedule. Your goal is to establish yourself as a valued ‘thought partner’ and as someone who is interested and able to help them think through multiple issues related to their DKU education.


  • Get to know them as an individual.
  • Listen with interest and curiosity.
  • Help them monitor their progress towards meeting DKU curriculum requirements.
  • Help them to think about their academic and personal goals for their time at DKU.
  • Work with them to make academic choices that genuinely reflect their interests.
  • Challenge them to consider options outside their comfort zone.
  • Refer them to appropriate resources and others who can help them.
  • Answer questions about curriculum, policies, procedures, and resources.
  • Ensure that they are eligible to enroll each semester.


  • Know specific information about classes they are considering. Although there are dozens of classes offered each semester, students may erroneously assume that advisors will know the particulars of each class.
  • Know the answer to any and all questions they may have.

When you can’t answer their questions, however, you will direct them to people who can.

Liberal Arts Education

  • Conduct a discussion between you and your advisees about liberal arts education. What is liberal arts education? Why is there a core curriculum?
  • Explain components of DKU degree requirements (It is ok if this is a bit of a repeat. Student may feel more comfortable asking questions or clarifications in a small setting.)
  • Highlight the value of building relationships with faculty. Building relationships with their professors is one of the most important things students can do to enrich their DKU experience. At their initial introduction from you to academic life, we’d like you to introduce this idea to students and suggest that they have as a goal getting to know at least one professor reasonably well during the semester. Students will often feel intimidated, anxious, unsure, etc. about how to build such relationships and giving them a chance to ask questions and express their uncertainties about this can be extremely helpful. Don’t expect that you will be able to cover this issue in any great detail during the group meeting; merely highlighting the value of this and introducing it as an important goal is valuable.

Fall Course Registration

  • Talk about fall course offerings, point to students how they can do class search. Offer advice on course selection.
  • Encourage exploration of the liberal arts and science curriculum. Encourage students to take challenging topics that they are unfamiliar with to get the most out of their undergraduate education at DKU. Students are not required to declare their major until end of sophomore year.

Academic Norms, Expectations, and Responsibilities

  • Undergraduate Course Load:
    • Students are reminded that it is their responsibility to be certain that their course load conforms with academic requirements. In fall and spring terms, the normal course load is 16 credits (8 credits in each 7-week session). In addition, students may enroll in one language course and one PE course without special permission from student’s advisor. Only in exceptional cases and with special permission of the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, could a student enroll in a maximum of 24 credits. Seniors may request an underload, including part-time status, for the last semester. Students may make a request to their advisors to underload (defined as a course load between 12 and 14 credits) twice during their time at Duke Kunshan University. That is, the number of semesters a student may underload may not exceed two semesters. Students should take note that 4-8 additional credits are needed in order to meet the 136 credits requirement for graduation. During the Drop/Add period, students may ordinarily register for up to 16 credits plus one language course and one PE course.
  • Undergraduate Course Load for First-Year Students:
    • In the first 7-week session of their first semester, first-year students are restricted to a maximum of 8 credits (one four-credit course, one two-credit language course, and one additional two-credit course), plus one PE course.
    • The maximum number of credits a student can take in any subsequent 7-week session without special permission is 10 (two 4-credit courses and one 2-credit course) plus one credit of PE courses.
  • Students should think of full-time academic study as a full-time job. They should expect to spend at least 40 hours each week on their academic work (and typically students spend more time and some up to 60 hours), including time spent in class. For each hour spent in class, the student should budget at least 2-3 hours outside of class for preparation for the class, reading the materials, and doing the homework assignments. Emphasize that the academic demand is very high at DKU.
  • Class Attendance: Students are expected to attend every class in this small liberal arts college setting.
  • Excused Absences: Students who need to be excused from class due to medical reasons should communicate directly with the instructor. It is to the instructor’s discretion to require the students to present documentation.
  • Group Work and Collaborative Learning: Many courses will require group work. Encourage the students to work with fellow students from a different culture. Students learn as much from their classmates as they learn from the instructors. We want to build a sharing and collaborative culture, rather than a competitive one.
  • Use of Electronic Devices in Class: Students should refer to the syllabi for policies in each of their classes. Generally, recreational browsing of materials unrelated with class content is strongly discouraged.
  • Academic Integrity: Explain the basics of academic integrity. Citations, Sources, References.
  • Academic Accommodations: Explain the concept of Academic Accommodations, which is unfamiliar to the majority of the Chinese students.

Academic Dates and Deadlines

  • Go over the 2019-20 Academic Calendar, particularly the important dates and deadlines for the Fall 2019 semester (Add/Drop deadline, course withdrawal deadline).

Campus Resources

  • Emphasize Academic Resource Center (tutoring and academic skills coaching), Writing and Language Studio, and Counseling (CAPS)
  • Encourage students to get involved on campus. College is not only about academics.
  • Normalize help-seeking as a learning and enhancement process.

Questions and Answers

Give students a chance to ask questions. Almost all students will have questions, but many may be reluctant to ask. If no one speaks up, you might raise questions that are common for new students:

 “What if I want to change my schedule?”

“How do I know if the classes I’m in will be too difficult for me?  Is my placement correct?”

“Do I need to have my books before classes begin?”

Once the discussion gets going, it may be easier for your students to raise questions that they have.

Let the student know that they are now eligible to enroll. Individual meetings happen tomorrow. Students should come to the meeting at a time they are assigned to.

Optional Activity Throughout the Semester: Learning Log
Students are encouraged to write their Learning Log in the “Undergraduate Academic Advising” module in Sakai on a weekly basis. This is an opportunity for “learning about learning.” Students reflect on their learning process in the past week and respond to questions such as:

  • What struck me as interesting, something that I want to explore more?
  • What struck me as unfamiliar, weird, something that I haven’t heard of before?
  • What is a change in the learning style or process that you made?
  • Who have helped you learn? What resources have been helpful to you?
  • What is a particular study strategy that you learned?

Many students find this an interesting and rewarding experience when they look back at the end of the semester to see how they have changed, adapted, and grown.

Orientation Part 2: First Individual Advising Meeting, Getting Ready for College (30-45 minutes)

Runs from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Thursday, August 22, 2019

Note: The Academic Resource Fair is running from 9:00-10:00 am. Students will likely need 30-45 minutes during these two hours for the fair. If you have enough time in your schedule, we recommend that you avoid scheduling at this time so students can go to the fair. If not, you can also use this time block, but please keep in mind that students will need some time for the fair.

Goals for the Individual Meeting

  • Establish a relationship with your advisee;
  • Make sure the student understands your role as their advisor;
  • Discuss the student’s academic interests and goals;
  • Review the student’s course schedule and discuss their course choices;
  • Address questions and/or concerns the student may have; and,
  • Set expectations for future contact.

Suggestions for the Individual Meeting

  • If possible, please allow 30-45 minutes for these meetings. Your initial meeting can set students’ ideas and expectations for what their relationship with you will be like. When the meeting is rushed, it is easy for bigger picture issues to get short-changed and for the focus to be exclusively on immediate issues and concerns. This can lead students to think of their advisor as someone who helps them primarily with narrow issues related to requirements, policies, etc.
  • Try to build in time after meetings to enter comments in SIS. Summarizing your discussions right after the meeting is best.

Discussion Guide

Getting to know one another. Conveying genuine interest in your advisees, as well as real curiosity about them, goes a long way! Starting your discussion by asking the student how they are finding things so far, how they are settling in, is one way to begin. Students are generally curious about their advisor and sharing information that you are comfortable with will be appreciated. These could include things like what you teach and/or do at DKU, things you enjoy doing, etc.

Review Fall Semester Schedule in SIS

  • You can use the Weekly Schedule function to SIS to review together with the student how his/her week is going to look like. Check if the student has a balanced schedule with reasonable variety in class type. Some mixture of humanities, social science, or natural/quantitative science courses will generally make for a more balanced semester.
  • Check if they have a full schedule of 16-18 credits, plus 1 credits of PE (optional for international students).
  • Check language placement and encourage the student to monitor the class difficulty level during the Add/Drop period.
  • Review the student’s AP/IPC credits under “Course History” in Student Services Center in SIS. Students can receive a maximum of 8 credits of AP/IPC.
  • Review the student’s DKU placement exam results, if any. Please refer to information here about placement exams.
  • Talk about any concerns that the student might have about their first-semester courses.
  • Feed course demand and student complaints to the Office of Undergraduate Advising.

Be sure to review their course selections. Some questions that can be useful to ask include:

“Why did you choose these courses? What interests you about them?”

Such questions convey the importance of thinking carefully about course choices and can lead to good discussions about the student’s interests.

“Are you happy with them or do you wish to make changes?”

“Which course(s) did you consider, but not choose? Why?”

If your review suggests the student’s schedule is problematic in some way, e.g., little variety in type of course, etc., this would be important to discuss. 

Making schedule changes. When students are comfortable with their courses, and you don’t identify any issues/concerns, they are all set. Other students, however, will want to make changes and you can help them consider alternatives.

There is a good number of classes to choose from and students should be able to find four that truly interest them. A discussion of their interests and new disciplines they want to explore is a good place to start. They don’t need to worry about fulfilling general education requirements as courses taken in the first year will help them meet multiple requirements. They also don’t need to worry at this stage about the requirements of any major they are considering. Students really can be guided by their interests.

If students are choosing between several classes, encourage them to check them out by attending both during the drop/add period; faculty are generally fine with this although for small classes it is a courtesy to ask the instructor about sitting in. This is the best way to learn what a class is really like.

Study Habits, Learning Styles, and Preferences

  • Academic success strategies
  • Where do you typically study?
  • How do you study? Do you prefer to study individually or in a group?
  • What resources do you use to help you study? 
  • Listening and Speaking in class
  • Note-taking (taking notes with a pen and paper, or on a laptop)
  • Time management (calendar apps, time management apps, planners)

Dreams and Hopes

Example questions:

  • What are your dreams and hopes for this semester?
  • On which aspects would you like to receive more information or advice? (This gives the advisee an opportunity to express what they wish to benefit from this advising relationships.)

Homework: Core Values Exercises: What are the values that are important to you? What do they speak about as a person, and as a student? How do they guide your direction in choosing your major and defining your academic, personal, and professional goals?

Optional Activity: Letter to Self
Students are given the opportunity to write a letter to himself/herself about the dreams and hopes for this semester in Sakai. This letter is private to you and the student. They can place the letter in a mailbox or collecting bin in front of your office. You will keep this letter and give it back to the advisee at the end of the semester.


When the conversational stalled…
  • Here is a world map (show on a computer). Where is your hometown? Tell me something special about your hometown.
  • What is your favorite movie? What do you like about it?
  • What is your favorite book? Tell me about that book.

Preparing for the Meetings

Review the comment(s) you entered from your prior meeting(s). This will alert you to things that you want to follow up on. For example, if you discussed goals for the first semester, you could check in on progress towards meeting those goals.

Experienced advisors have found it can be helpful to email students before the meeting with an overview of what you would like to cover and how can they prepare. Examples of what such an email could include can be found in the session guides above. An email prior to the meeting conveys interest in the student, sets the stage for several issues to discuss, and encourages students to prepare for the meeting. It can contribute to a more productive meeting and to a stronger advising relationship overall.

A Typical Advising Session: Gordon’s Advising Session

As Gordon (1992) has pointed out, the primary purpose of the advising session is to help develop the advisor and advisee relationship so as to help the student identify and work through issues and challenges. The student uses interaction with the advisor and appropriate resources to make sound decisions as a part of their planning process. Gordon (1992) suggested the following components for an advising session, whether it was for 20 minutes or an hour (p. 53). The sequence is meant to be a guide, not an inflexible process that needs to be unflinchingly adhered to by advisors.

Preparation for student consultation 

  • Read the advising notes so you are informed about what had been discussed with the student before
  • Check the student’s course schedule in SIS and grades (if any)

Opening of student consultation 

  • Opening question or lead, for example, “how can I help you?”
  • Obtain student’s folder or digital advising notes so relevant information is available during the interview and note can be added later
  • Openness, interest, concentrated attention are conveyed

Identifying the problem

  • Ask to state the problem; help student articulate need
  • Help student articulate all relevant facts; gather as much information as needed to clarify the situation to you and students.
  • Is presenting problem covering the real problem? Ask probing questions, open-ended questions
  • Restate the problem in student’s words; give student a chance to clarify, elaborate, or correct your interpretation

Identifying possible solutions

  • Ask student for his or her ideas for solving problem
  • Help student generate additional or alternative solutions
  • What, how, when, who will solve the problem?
  • What resources are needed?

Discuss implications for each solution if two or more are identified

  • Taking action on the solutions
  • What specific action steps need to be taken? Id procedure, information, or referral needed?
  • In what order do actions steps need to be taken?
  • In what time frame do they need to be taken?
  • What follow-up is needed? By student? By advisor?

Summarizing the transactions

  • Review what has transpired, including restating action steps
  • Encourage future contact: make a definitive appointment time if referral or assignment has been made
  • Summarize what has taken place in student’s folder or digital advising notes including follow-up steps or assignments if made (Gordon, 1992, p. 53)

Reference: Creating a Flipped Advising Approach, George Steele

Staying in Touch with Your Advisees

Encourage students to email you with any questions that come up and make sure they know how to contact you. It is important that students feel comfortable contacting their advisor when questions and issues emerge. Between required meetings, make sure that you have available appointment slots in GradLeaders for your advisees to schedule a meeting if they have any questions. Additionally, it is nice to check in with your advisees via email. Here is a sample email that could be used.

Dear Emily,

How are you?  I wanted to check in and see how the semester is starting out and how you are finding your classes. When you have a moment, please let me know how things are going. Also, should you have any questions or issues that have come up, please let me know. Certainly, if there is something you’d like to meet and discuss, let’s set up a time.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Jing Zhang

Academic Alerts

All faculty members should alert the student’s advisor via email or in person about students they have concerns about. Students’ advisor can be found in Student Services Center in SIS. They should enter an advising note on the student’s record, choosing “Academic Alert” as the Category of the Advising Note. Faculty can email if they need the Office of Undergraduate Advising to follow up with the student. These students are strongly encouraged to meet with you to develop a plan for improving their academic performance. Below is an example of an email you could use:

Dear Anita,

How are you? I am reaching out to you because I received information from your instructor that your CompSci class may be posing a challenge to you. I’d like to meet with you to discuss ways that could help improve your performance in this class. Are you available at 1:00 pm on Tuesday? Alternatively, you can book a time for a meeting with me through GradLeaders. I look forward to hearing from you!


Jing Zhang

End of Semester Check-in

After the fall break, the semester is nearly done with just a week of class remaining and then reading period/finals. For many students, this is an especially stressful time and checking in with your students is a good practice. Below is an example of a brief email that could be used.

Dear Adrianne,

I hope that you had a good Thanksgiving break. As the semester draws to a close I wanted to check in on how your classes are finishing up. I know this can be a stressful time so please let me know how things are going and if there any questions I may be able to help with.

Take care and I hope to hear from you soon. Good luck on your final exams!

Jing Zhang

Grade Review and Email after Semester Ends

It is a good practice is to review your students’ grades and send them an email that is appropriate for their performance, e.g., congratulations on doing so well this semester, wishing them an enjoyable winter break, and letting them know you look forward to seeing them in the upcoming semester. If the semester has not gone well academically, you may want to suggest getting together when the student returns from break to discuss. You are encouraged to write a personalized email to your advisee and may want mention some of the topics and challenges that you have talked about and worked through during the semester.

For students who have done well academically:

Dear Adrianne,

Congratulations on a successful first semester at DKU! I want to applaud you for your efforts, determination, and persistence! Great job! Enjoy your winter break and I look forward to welcoming you back in January.

Jing Zhang

For students who have not done well academically:

Dear Adrianne,

Congratulations on completing your first semester at DKU! I want to applaud you for your efforts, determination, and persistence! I understand that this has not an easy semester for you as you adjust to college life and adjust to living in Kunshan, China. I look forward to getting back together with you once the spring semester begins and continue to support you in your academic efforts! Enjoy your winter break and I look forward to welcoming you back in January.

Jing Zhang

Optional/Required Activity: End-of-Term Reflection Paper

  • If a student write a Letter to Self at the beginning of the semester, now he/she can collect it back. If the student is willing to share, ask him/her read a paragraph or two about it and ask him/her how things have worked out or changes for themselves.
  • What is the best class you had this semester?


When a student is ambivalent about his/her major or is just undecided…

  • What are you curious about (of all the possible things in the world)? What are you attracted to? What are you amazed by?
  • Who is your role model?
  • What are your earliest recollections?
  • Who is your favorite superhero? What do you like about him/her? (Good for students who love superhero movies and/or comics. Be mindful that different cultures have different superheroes that we may not be familiar with.)
  • What do you typically do on a Friday night?