Not long ago (though longer than I would like to admit), I was a confused college student. You see, although I was an over-achieving, Type A, 4.0 GPA salutatorian, I was also a shy, small-town girl who was the first in her family to graduate from high school, much less go to college, and suddenly I was plopped in the middle of this giant (to me) university halfway across the state, away from everyone and everything I knew, and I was supposed to be an adult and do my own laundry, and eat 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and know which classes to take.
I would love to say that a well-meaning Academic Advisor with a heart-of-gold stepped in, held my hand, and led me down the path to academic success, but that would be a lie. Instead, I would reluctantly go to my advisor’s office each semester because it was what I was required to do, show him/her the list of classes that my Type-A self had already decided I needed for that next semester, get my advising sheet signed, and not ask a single question, despite the fact that I had no idea what I was actually doing.
Aside from taking Chemistry 2 before Chemistry 1 (long story) and changing my major halfway through my junior year, I did end up graduating on time, with honors, and with a mission—I wanted to be that well-meaning academic advisor with a heart-of-gold that could help students in ways that I wasn’t helped. And, part of that whole well-meaning advisor helping thing, is helping YOU (yes, you, right there) make the most of your advising experience and not make the same mistakes that I, and way too many college students, made.
An Advisor’s Tips on Making the Most out of Academic Advising:
Know What An Advisor Is And Is Not Able To Do For You:
Aside from telling you which classes you need to graduate:
You Can Expect Your Academic Advisor To:
- Actively listen to your questions and concerns and take steps to provide information, support, and referrals as needed. If he/she doesn’t know the answer to a question, he/she should find the answer or direct you to a resource that will be able to answer your question and reply to you in a timely manner.
- Provide you with current and accurate information regarding your University’s, school’s, and major’s curriculum, requirements, and academic policies and procedures.
- Assist you in understanding the purpose and goals of your major, required classes, and higher education as a whole, and their effects on your life and personal goals
- Encourage and guide you to define and develop clear and realistic educational goals
- Monitor and accurately document your progress toward meeting your educational goals, while maintaining strict confidentiality
- Be a mentor to you by providing you with guidance, support, and advocacy
- Be accessible for meetings during office hours, by appointment, telephone, or email
- Treat you like an adult, with respect and courtesy
You Should Not, However, Expect Your Academic Advisor To:
Provide Professional Counseling Services
Advisors are great listeners, but unless they are Licensed Counselors (which most aren’t), they are not qualified to give you mental health counseling and could actually get in a lot of trouble for doing so. They can, however, direct you to someone who is qualified to help you.
Be Available At Your Beck And Call
Advisors have other students, other job responsibilities, and a life, so please don’t expect him or her to be able to drop whatever they’re doing to answer your question right that moment. Be respectful of his/her time and give them at least 24-48 hours to respond to your phone call or email. I like to remind my students of the old saying “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”
Just Do The Minimum Required To Allow You To Register For Classes
At my previous institution, that would mean I, the advisor, would just go into the computer and “clear” you to register. At my undergraduate institution, it would mean getting a signature on a piece of paper and turning it into the Dean’s office. Either way, your advising meetings should not just be about being able to register for your classes, you should take the time to cultivate a relationship with your advisor and understand why you need the classes you need.
Ever Be Rude, Hateful, Or Discriminatory To You In Any Way
Your academic advisor is there to mentor you and be an advocate for you, and his/her office should serve as a safe place for you. If that is not the case, then please talk to your Director of Student Services, Director of Advising, or Associate Dean.
Adjust Your Expectations
I’m not going to lie to you and say that every academic advisor you meet is going to be friendly, helpful, and ready to mentor you in any way that they can, BUT I will say that MOST of us are like that and do have a passion for helping, so the first step in getting the most from your academic advisor is to go in convinced that you have one of the good ones. Set yourself up for success. If your first experience with him/her isn’t as positive as you’d hoped, try to chalk it up to them having a bad day. If your second visit is the same, then they probably just suck. I’m kidding. Kind of. (All jokes aside, if you really are having problems with your advisor, please refer to the last bullet above.)
Share Your Load Of The Responsibility In The Academic Advising Relationship
Schedule Appointments with Your Advisor
When I say schedule appointments with your advisor, I don’t just mean your required semester-ly advising appointment, but I also don’t mean schedule an appointment every time you think of a question. Schedule an appointment early on in the semester to meet your advisor, discuss your career goals, what you’re hoping to achieve from your education, and let him/her know a little about you.
When it comes time to register for your required academic advising appointment, do not, I repeat DO NOT, wait until the last minute. You should know ahead of time when you can register for classes, so be sure to get advised well before that time. If you wait until the last minute, you risk (a) not getting the quality of assistance that you need (b) not being able to get the classes you need. Seriously, the early bird catches the good classes, is all I’m saying.
Be On Time
If you’ve scheduled an appointment with your advisor (which, duh, of course, you have!), please for the love of all that is great, SHOW UP ON TIME. Advisors schedule their appointments in blocks (usually 15, 30, or 45-minute blocks) and those blocks are usually back to back. So, if you show up 10 minutes late for a 15-minute appointment, one of 2 things will happen: (1) you will get 5 minutes of advising, which would be bad for you (2) you will put the advisor and every student after you behind schedule. Why is this important? Because Advisors, much like students, enjoy eating, and if they are behind schedule, they may end up having to work through lunch, then they will get hangry (hungry-angry) and no one wants a hangry advisor, am I right?
If I had a quarter for every time I had a student come into my office who didn’t even know what he/she was majoring in, I would have several pairs of really nice shoes right now. Seriously, know your major, know what is required for that major, and have at least a good idea of which classes you will need for the upcoming semester. It will make the appointment go much more smoothly and will give you time to think of any questions that you might not normally think of on the spot.
Please ask questions. It is the advisor’s job to answer questions and I PROMISE YOU, there are no stupid questions. Or maybe I should rephrase that and say that there is no question you can ask that will make your advisor think you’re stupid. So, any question/issue/concern you have—run it by your advisor. Even if he/she doesn’t know that answer, he/she should be able to direct you to someone who will. A tip, though: Don’t stop in every day and ask a question. Also, don’t email every day with a question. Save them up and ask a few at a time.
Be An Advocate For Yourself
Advisors are paid to know the information and relay that information to you in a way that you understand it. They are also paid to look out for your best interest and insure that you taking the courses that are best for you, your major, and your future. However, advisors are human and humans make mistakes. Even I, the greatest advisor of all time (I’m also renowned for my modesty), have made mistakes, so it is important that you do your homework/research and come to your advising meetings prepared, so that if your advisor has made a mistake, you can catch it, and respectfully discuss it with him/her. Prerequisites, courses that follow each other (like Chem 1 & Chem 2 from above), and courses that are only offered once a year are usually the places where human error occur. If you think your advisor has made a mistake, RESPECTFULLY ask him/her to clarify the information for you.
Ultimately, too few students take full advantage of building a relationship with their advisor. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 7 million times—your advisor is there to help you. Literally, like in the true sense of the word, literally. So, let your advisor help you. Let your advisor get to know you. Let you advisor be your advocate, your mentor, and in a totally professional capacity, your friend.
Amber is a College Student Affairs Professional, with a Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration degree and 5+ years of experience advising with both The University of Alabama and The University of Georgia. When she isn’t helping students reach their academic and career goals, Amber enjoys reminiscing about her sorority days, binge-watching Netflix shows with her husband, cuddling with her 2 miniature dachshunds, and teaching her 21-month old daughter how to sing Recruitment door songs. Amber can be reached by email. Also, be sure to check out Amber's Facebook page and check here profile out on LinkedIn.