When your student heads off to college, you may worry that they will get lost in the crowd. It is true that, even in a small college, your student will most likely be on their own more than they were in high school. Your student will be making their own decisions (some good and possibly some not as good) and they will be responsible for their own academic path. But, no matter how large the institution, your student won’t be without help. One major difference may be that your student will need to seek that help, it won’t necessarily come knocking on their door. But the help will be there, and the wise student will take advantage of it.
One of the sources of help with academic decisions may be your student’s Academic Advisor. The structure of the Academic Advising program may vary dramatically from institution to institution (there are many different models), but the basic principle is the same. Each student is usually assigned a faculty or staff member who is there to give the student guidance in making academic decisions. The advisor may also help your student as they consider their personal, professional and educational goals.
Depending on the Academic Advising model used by your student’s college, here are some things that may be true. As a parent, the more you understand about the advising system, the more you can guide your student and encourage them to take advantage of what is offered, and the more comfortable you will be with knowing that your student is receiving some guidance.
- Your student may be assigned an advisor in their major (if they have declared one) or may be advised initially by a first-year advisor and then move on to someone in their major in their second or third year. One important factor is that your student feel comfortable with their advisor, whether or not they are in your student’s major.
- Your student’s advisor may be a faculty member or may be a staff member who is a professional advisor.
- Your student’s advisor is a facilitator. They are in partnership with your student and can only help if your student takes advantage of their knowledge. The initiative should come from your student.
- Your student’s advisor will be able to help your student in several areas. They will be knowledgeable about academic requirements, the process of registering for classes, resources available at the institution, and possibly a good source of information about career choices.
- The advisor’s role is just that – an advisor. They will usually guide and advise, helping the student to make informed choices, but it will be up to the student to carry out whatever needs to be done. This is a partnership and the student bears responsibility for carrying through.
- Different advisors have different styles of advising. Some may be more actively involved and some may take a more relaxed approach. It is up to the student to remember to take initiative and assume responsibility, and also to find an advisor with whom they are comfortable.
As a parent, there are a few things that you can do to encourage your student to take full advantage of the Academic Advising arrangement.
- Encourage your student to seek out their advisor and introduce themselves early in the semester. Advisors may not know where to find the student, but the student should be able to find the advisor’s office. It is always helpful to put a face and name together. If your student establishes a relationship with their advisor early, then it will be easier to return later when they have a question or problem.
- Remind your student to keep records of courses, requirements, necessary forms, even notes of meetings with their advisor. The student is ultimately responsible for meeting all requirements. They need to keep track.
- Encourage your student to make and keep appointments with their advisor. The advisor can’t help if they don’t meet with the student or know what is going on.
- Encourage your student to plan ahead and write down questions to ask their advisor. Each student is different. The advisor will be able to answer questions, but needs to know what the student’s questions are.
- Remind your student to be aware of all deadlines. Again, the responsibility for knowing deadlines is the student’s. It is not the advisor’s responsibility to check up on the student. (And remember, it is not your responsibility either!) This is new for many students.
As a parent, there are a few suggestions that may help you as you think about the academic advising process.
- Remember that the advising partnership is between your student and their academic advisor. Although it is certainly appropriate to contact the advisor in an emergency, the advisor expects to work with the student, not parents. If you have questions about the advising process, ask your student and let your student contact their advisor.
- Remember that the FERPA regulations apply to the Academic Advisor. Without written permission from the student, their Advisor may not discuss the student’s academic record with you.
- Like many other areas of college, the academic advising system is developmental. Your first year student will probably receive more guidance and attention from their advisor than they will as they progress. This is appropriate as your student assumes more and more responsibility for their own progress and future.
- Remember that your student will need to take the initiative of working with their advisor. Hopefully, the advisor will have the open door, but the student must take advantage and walk through the door.