Academic Advising in CollegePreparing for and Getting the Most out of Your Advising Appointment

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Perla Petry Academic Advisor Read bio

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Ben Davis Academic Advisor Read bio

Beginning a college career is an exciting experience for most students, but with that excitement often comes a degree of nervousness. After all, the higher education system works in a drastically different manner than high school graduates are typically used to. This anxiety can take a toll on new students, but fortunately, schools provide allies who are trained to guide students through their schooling: academic advisors. This page is designed to define what an academic advisor is, what benefits students can take out of an advising appointment, and how best to prepare to meet with an advisor. Check below to learn more about the resources available to you.

FAQ: Academic Advising in College

What is an academic advisor? Advisors provide a variety of services, but one of their most important jobs is to act as a direct, personable connection between a student and their academic institution: someone who is invested in a student’s success, and is available to provide support when needed.

Whether students have questions about scheduling, transferring, or even withdrawing from classes, advisors are trained to provide all necessary information for students to make an informed decision. However, not all questions can be directly addressed by an advisor; it is often the case that both students and advisors must correspond with other departments to solve an issue. While duties vary from school-to-school, below are some examples of tasks advisors can typically help with, and those which may require outside assistance.

What Academic Advisors Do

  • Help students understand their degree requirements. Advisors are trained to understand degree requirements, prerequisites, testing necessities, and institutional policies as they pertain to enrolled students.

  • Facilitate transferring to a different institution. Most schools develop partnerships or transfer agreements with other in-state schools in their area. Advisors are trained to understand these transfer policies to make the transition from one school to the next as seamless as possible.

  • Assist with student orientation. Schools differ in regards to which department orchestrates student orientation, but academic advisors often play a role in helping incoming freshmen select their first semester of coursework.

  • Prepare students for applying into special admissions programs, whether at the associate, baccalaureate, or graduate level. Because certain degrees require students to complete certain course before applying into them, advisors are often trained to guide students through these prerequisite sequences.

  • Lead a variety of workshops geared towards different student populations. Workshops are often provided by many offices, but advising offices frequently offer learning opportunities for students interested in exploring different majors or fields.

  • Unofficially review credit from outside institutions, providing student with insight as to what courses they may have already satisfied.

  • Correspond with students in a distance format, whether over phone or via webchat. Because not all students are able to attend a traditional, in-person appointment, advisors often have other means of assisting students with their academics.

What Academic Advisors Don’t Do

  • Select/enroll in classes for students. While advisors are trained to guide student’s through their academics, the choice of which courses to take ultimately falls to the student.

  • Assist students with financial aid. Any questions regarding financial coverage should be directed to a school’s Financial Aid Office.

  • Help students set up internships. Internships are often organized through a school’s Career Center.

  • Offer drop-in appointments. While there may be certain times of the school year where drop-ins are permitted, most office require students to be scheduling their appointment for some point in the future.

  • Provide students with course permission that needs to be cleared by a professor or department. If a student has not met the necessary enrollment requirements for a certain course, they will likely need to contact somebody directly related to that course’s department to be cleared for registration.

  • Officially evaluate credit. Official evaluations are performed by a school’s Admissions and Records Office, and will actually upload previously completed credit onto a student’s account.

  • Guarantee how credit will transfer to an out-of-state institution. How credit is evaluated is entirely up the school to which it is sent; students who plan on transferring out-of-state should regularly correspond with both institutions to ensure they are enrolling in the proper courses.

Know Before You Go: Additional Ways Advising Departments Can Support Students

Advising offices are often trained in different areas to provide more comprehensive support for students. The following are a few additional responsibilities advisors may assist students with:

  • Receiving Financial Aid. If a student is interested in receiving financial aid coverage, it is important for them to be declared under a corresponding program. Advisors can help students to track which courses are degree-applicable and which aren’t—in other words, which can be funded by financial aid and which will not be.

  • Excess Credit. Some schools may tack on an extra fee to student’s accounts based on the number of credits they have attempted. For instance, if a student has attempted 150 percent of their declared program’s necessary credits, they will be charged 150 percent of the traditional credit cost. There is an appeal to have this fee lifted, which is often organized by an academic advising office.

  • Personality Assessment. Unsure on what you want to major in? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. After all, the average college student changes their major up to three or four times. Many advising offices will offer personality assessments, such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to assess a student’s strengths, values, and goals, which can then be translated into potential degree and career paths.

Are there different types of academic advisors?

The different kinds of advisors available through an institution can vary depending on size, funding, and the needs of the school. The types of advisors students may encounter include:

  • Peer advisors: Peer advising is a program that gives student workers the opportunity to learn the basics of academic advising. Depending on the school at which they work, peer advisors may have comparable job descriptions to full-time advisors, and be trained on the same information.

  • Pre-Professional advisors: Some students may be interested in pursuing a pre-professional degree (medical school, law school, pharmaceutical school, etc.). Many schools will have an advisor that specializes in preparing students for these fields, from learning at the associate level through applying into programs.

  • Veterans advisors: Students receiving veteran’s benefits are required to meet specific requirements to receive funding for their coursework. Veterans may meet with an advisor specifically trained to review veteran transcripts and develop education plans to ensure students will receive their benefits.

  • Faculty advisors: As students become further entrenched into their emphasis (major) coursework, they may begin to meet with faculty members that have been also trained as academic advisors. The benefit of this program is to provide a familiar face to the advising field, as students may be meeting with teachers they have taken or are currently taking courses with.

  • General advisors: Certain schools may offer general advising services, which do not cater to one specific academic field. Instead, these advisors are trained to understand each academic program that a school offers. Because all office advisors know the same information, students will have greater scheduling flexibility in selecting who they complete their academic scheduling with.

Who is required to attend academic advising?

Mandatory academic advising is typically only required in special circumstances. For instance, students who have not yet completed college coursework may be required to complete an orientation workshop organized through an advising office, or students who have been placed on academic probation may need to meet with an advisor to develop an education plan for the coming semesters. However, advising appointments are typically available to students all year, so students who are interested in discussing their future should have someone to interact with.

Will you have the same advisor throughout college?

This typically depends on a student’s school or academic program. Some schools or programs assign students to a specific advisor, but it is more often the case that a school offers a general advising office. In this case, students will have the option to meet with whichever advisor is available and has a timeslot that fits the student’s schedule. Students may only work with one advisor if they fall into a specific student population—international students, for instance—or if they are studying in a department with minimal faculty advisors. Otherwise, students have the freedom to meet with any advisor employed by the school. Don’t like who you met with? Feel free to request a different advisor upon your next visit.

When to See an Academic Advisor

There are plenty of circumstances in which meeting with an academic advisor is a good idea, but when to make an appointment may vary depending on the needs of the student. The following are some examples of circumstances in which students may wish to consult with an advisor:

  • Successful students typically meet with an advisor at least once a semester to verify the courses they are planning on taking.

  • Planning on changing your major? An advisor will be able to review your previously completed credit and tell you how it may apply to your new degree path.

  • Questions on how to apply for graduation? Advisors can complete a graduation check to verify graduation eligibility, and then guide the student through any necessary applications and commencement RSVP forms that will need to be completed.

  • Just generally feeling unsure about school? Check in with your advisor to further discuss your long-term goals.

It is important, though, for students to be certain they are making their appointments early, especially during the busier parts of the year. According to expert Perla Petry, “During peak advising times, students should ensure that they are scheduling their appointments at least a month before the semester begins.”

Checklist: Preparing for Your Academic Advising Appointment

Got your appointment scheduled? Now comes the next part: preparation. There isn’t a terribly extensive list of pre-appointment steps to complete, but there are a few good tips to keep in mind, depending on your needs.

It isn’t uncommon for students to set up their advising appointment a few weeks, or even a month in advance. In that time, it can be easy to forget which questions had been initially bothering you. Writing down questions is an excellent way to ensure advisors will be able to solve whatever issues needed to be addressed, without having to set up an additional appointment.

Interested in a specific program? Do a little digging through your school’s website to better understand what is required for a student to complete that degree. According to Petry, “If students are seeking to apply into one of our competitive, special entry programs, I would hope those students have researched their program of interest and identify these programs' prerequisite requirements, its attempt rules on certain classes, how often these programs admit students, etc.”

Types of documentation may vary depending on the goal of the advising appointment. Certain appeals may require an education plan to be filled out prior to submission, for instance. Petry gives another example: “If students are transferring to our school and they want to see how any of their prior coursework applies to their program, they need to bring in a copy of their unofficial transcripts. If students do not at least have their transcripts, there is little we can do for them during the appointment.”

These steps are often caught by an advising office’s front desk staff, but students are often informed of important steps that may come before making an academic advising appointment. Are you a first time college student? Your first advising appointment will likely be built into your student orientation process, so there will be no point in making an appointment until orientation is compete.

Advisors are more than happy to accommodate students who are unable to attend an appointment in-person. However, if you happen to set up a phone appointment, be sure that you have access to a computer during that timeslot. It can be frustrating and unproductive for both parties if the student happens to be in the car, at work, or at the gym during the scheduled meeting time.

The goal of an advising appointment isn’t just to answer a few questions and part ways; it is to develop an ongoing, academically beneficial relationship for the student to utilize when they feel they need it. Realize you forgot to ask some of your questions during your appointment? Feel free to send them over to your advisor and they will get back to you when they are able.

3 Common Advising Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

  • Don’t take scheduling advice from friends. All students have slightly different academic requirements based on declared degree, catalog rights, and long-term goals. Just because another student is pursuing a similar program doesn’t mean you will take the same courses. Instead, clearing your schedule with an academic advisor can help ensure you do not get off track in your learning.

  • Don’t wait too long to see an advisor. While walk-ins are sometimes available, it is more common for students to require an appointment. “We do our best to try and see everyone,” says Petry, “but as we approach the start of the semester, our calendars likely to be booked with appointments.” Instead of waiting for right before the semester starts, make your advising appointment during the preceding semester. This way you will not need to worry about fighting for an appointment, and will also have greater scheduling flexibility when selecting class times.

  • Don’t expect advisors to pick your classes. An advisor will be more than happy to discuss which requirements a student needs to meet, but they will not prescribe a specific schedule. According to Petry, “In advising, we always say, ‘We advise, you decide.’ Although we are here to support and advise our students in directions best suited for them, it is the students' responsibility to make the decisions that impact their education because it’s not our education, it's theirs.” On the day of your appointment, be prepared to make some decisions in regards to your academic plan.

Questions to Ask During Your Appointment

Most of the time it is less important for the student to know which questions to ask, and more important for the advisor to know which questions students didn’t even know they had. It is the advisor’s job to understand the ins and outs of the academic system, so they will often lead and advising discussion based on what they believe the student’s needs are. However, there are a few questions many students tend to address:

  • Am I on track to finish my degree?
  • How do I change my degree?
  • How do I know my courses will be eligible for financial aid?
  • Will my courses transfer?
  • What happens if I withdraw a class?
  • Am I allowed to retake courses?
  • How can I boost my GPA?
  • How do I apply for graduation?

Academic Advising for Online Students

Distance advising comes in other forms than just phone appointments. After all, as technology develops, as does an advisor’s ability to correspond with their students.

  • Who can utilize distance advising?

    Technically, most schools allow any student to reserve an appointment for distance advising, but most students who utilize this tool are transferring in from out-of-state. This is particularly beneficial if the student does not intend to move to the school’s area until just before the semester starts. Many schools will also offer their orientation workshops in an online format, allowing first time college students transferring in from out-of-state to complete all necessary enrollment steps without being physically present on campus.

  • Are students who are learning in an online format allowed to attending in-person appointments?

    Yes; most schools provide the same student services to distance leaners as they do for their traditional students. If students want to meet somebody face-to-face and are able to make it to campus, they may make an appointment.

  • Are there webchat options for advising?

    More and more offices are beginning to offer webchat advising through a variety of programs. For instance, at Petry’s institution, a software application called Bluejeans allows for greater levels of connectivity to be achieved when working with a distance student. “The Bluejeans platform allows us to video conference with students and screen share with them,” says Petry. “This has alleviated tons of miscommunication with our students and has fostered a more seamless remote appointment experience.”

    Other schools might use software such as OASIS (Online Advising Student Information System), or Moodle, which provide similar support services.

  • Can I just email my school’s advising office?

    Absolutely. Most offices have a general email which all advisors have access to. Throughout the day, emails will be responded to in the order in which they were received. Some offices may also take down questions via phone call, and an available advisor will respond to the student when they are able.

  • Are there live text chat options?

    For certain schools, yes. If you are hoping to get a quick response and don’t have time to email, schools often set up live text chat options through their webpages, allowing students to immediately link up with an advisor to get quick questions answered.