Published on 2012/03/08
Suit Advising To The Student
Good advising is a matter of finding a custom fit that best suits the student. Photo by Hamron.

Let me say that I’m not directly involved in retention in my current place of work but I can speak primarily from my observations and what I am learning as I prepare for a career in academic advising.

When I first started undergrad, I had my computer science and engineering major picked out for me by my mom because she wanted to live her ambitions through me and she wanted me to be rich, or at least very wealthy, to be able to take care of her in her old age (curse of the only child). Well, I say this to say that many young students go to college programmed by their parents to pursue a major that may not even be something they will be good at but because it’s their parents’ money, it’s hard to break away from their parents’ dream for them.

I think that a huge issue that advisors will have to face, particularly freshman advisors, is fighting through the students confusion and frustration and encouraging them to break from the nest without causing parents to go berserk and pull the student out of school or cursing out administration for advising their child to do such a thing. Of course, there are plenty more issues that advisors will have to contend with but this is one of those issues that can’t be ignored because there is a high level of risk involved in advising the student to “be her own person” when someone else is footing the bill.

This is something that I see is critical when it comes to traditional, young students.

However, my particular job works with non-traditional students who are first-timers to college and usually adults. Advising to such students is quite different than advising to the youthful student. Most of these students come in with the attitude “I am a grown woman (or man), so don’t try to tell me what I already know.”

I think that with this emerging population of students, fluff is out the door. What I mean is that advisors should be assigned based on their qualification levels in comparison to the student. For instance, let’s say I am working with a person who has substantially more experience than me such as managing large departments at Fortune 500 companies. Well he is not going to want to hear advising strategies from someone who has very little experience doing anything. Such a person needs to be matched with advisors who may have had a strong background in corporate America prior to advising and relate to the student and offer worthwhile academic and career advice.

Of course, students are usually assigned to particular advisors starting out but they should have more freedom to move on to someone else if they feel that their advisor is not sufficient. In that case, advisors credentials and backgrounds/specialties should be printed in a department catalogue so that in the event that someone wants an older, more experienced advisor to assist them, they can have this option to transfer to them. Not granting this could thwart the retention effort. This model would primarily be for continuing education, older students and less for the traditional student.

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Readers Comments

Daniela Thomas 2012/03/12 at 10:39 am

I guess the biggest difficulty here would be making sure you have enough advisors to serve students.

Advisors probably fall into predetermined scripts after a while because they must see students fall into particular categories and patterns and it’s the most effective way to deal with large groups of similar concerns.

If we had more advisors, ones who are assigned to particular students as opposed to a day-to-day “first-come-first-serve” system as I’ve seen at some universities, I think your dream can be realized

Karen 2012/03/15 at 5:06 pm

Sometimes students come to me (and other educators I am sure) after seeing an advisor for a second opinion. It’s not always possible to match advisors with students and make sure you don’t hit on the experience disparity you mentioned. Sometimes advising departments are simply overwhelmed with numbers. After working with non-traditional students for years in a variety of capacities I created a list of advising questions that many schools picked up as an extra tool. You can read them here: http://karensouthw.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/college-advising-questions/
With older students it is essential that the process be student led and these questions can help.

Melisha Childs 2012/03/22 at 4:43 pm

Thanks for your input. I wrote this article based on an outsider’s point-of-view. It is great to have input from those who are in the industry. I can definitely see how advisors can be overwhelmed by the number of students that they would have to cater to and this could limit the possibility of what I suggested in this article. Karen thanks for providing your list.

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