Q&A with Sarah Stanley ’12, Associate Director of Academic Advising and Policy Development

Academic Advising Aims to Give Upper-Level Students Direction, Balance


May 14, 2021

Sarah Stanley '12
Sarah Stanley '12

Tell us about your role as an academic advisor at WCL.

I’m the Associate Director of Academic Advising and Policy Development. My role is to serve as the primary academic counselor for the JD Program, focusing on students’ academic progress, advising on course and program selection, and ensuring they meet graduation requirements. In terms of the variety of counseling offered at WCL, we have Student Affairs for personal/situational counseling, OCPD for career counseling, and the Office of Academic Excellence for academic skills and bar preparation counseling. And of course, our faculty and specialized programs provide guidance in specific fields.

What is the #1 piece of advice you give to students about selecting upper-level courses?

The number one piece of advice I give to students entering their upper-level years is to be mindful of your time. 1L has so much structure, and we remove that structure after the first year. Our curriculum is broad and it’s deep and there are many amazing extracurricular opportunities here for upper-level students, especially being in Washington. However, it is important that students remember there are only 24 hours in a day. It is a common pitfall to find yourself overcommitted in your 2L fall because you have taken on too many new things.  I tell students to err on the side of caution – we can always turn the volume up. What you can’t get to in the fall, you can see about fitting in in the spring – you have time!

I always tell students to “BEAR this in mind,” meaning Balance, Extracurriculars, Advising, and Requirements. These are the elements I want students to take into account as they build their schedules, not just in the 2L space but as they continue through to graduation.

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How do our faculty factor into academic advising?

Faculty are wonderful resources at WCL. I often say I can take students to the water’s edge when it comes to the big buckets of classes – bar classes, practice area classes, skills or simulation classes – and how they might fit together for a balanced schedule. But if you want to do advanced corporate law and have questions on the best time to take particular business classes, then I’ll probably say you need to go talk with Professor David Snyder from the Business Law Program. At the point when you want advice on how to build skills in a specialized field, then I pass you to our faculty subject matter experts – who are great!

Our programs and faculty also do resume reviews for their practice areas to help prepare students for the Externship Fair and On Campus Interviews.

What are some adjustments you have made to your advising since the pandemic began?

We have certainly adjusted the delivery of content. We would normally sit students down in a room and give presentations. Now the introductory advising content is all on video. Part of me thinks this format may actually be better – it’s smaller, more digestible, and you can go back and review it. I do think there are many things we have learned about working with our students that we will end up keeping into next year and beyond.

I am proud of how our students have been able to roll with the punches this past year. Ever since we moved to virtual learning in response to Covid-19, I have been very honest with students that they need to be self-aware about what online learning means for them as a student. Some students have really taken to it; others have found it to be quite difficult. Fortunately, I was still able to advise hundreds students on their course selection via Zoom and will continue to work with them as we learn more about class modality and the return to campus in the fall (especially the rising 2Ls, who will be in person for the first time).

You are an alum of the law school (Class of 2012!). What drew you back to WCL?

I graduated in 2012 from WCL, and after I worked for a couple years as a practicing attorney, I was thinking about what I might want to do as my next step. What I really wanted was to go back and work in education. I have always loved school – I would go to school forever if I could. It worked out very nicely that WCL had an opening in the Student Affairs Office right as I was looking to make this pivot back to education. When that career change came with an institution that I knew and loved so much already, that made it very easy to walk in the door and hit the ground running.

I can’t say enough about what Washington College of Law has given to me.  It gave me a degree. It gave me a really solid higher education career – I feel like I’m hitting my stride! I’m really excited about the work I’m doing, including getting to connect with students. I’m a first generation law student, and I’m excited to keep working with other first gen law students and making sure the systems work for them as well as anyone else. WCL also gave me some of my favorite people in the whole world – mentors, supervisors, partners, and I also married someone I met during law school! So in terms of “Why WCL?” – the law school has been a major player in all the key aspects of my life, and I’m very grateful.