Academic Advising may be a new concept for many parents and students. Both students and their parents are obviously familiar with high school guidance counselors and may not realize that most college advising systems are significantly different from those in high school. A student who is not aware of the ways these systems differ can be at a distinct disadvantage.
Talking to your student about the differences they should expect can help them to make the most of this new relationship and take advantage of all that the advising system has to offer.
What is college advising and why is it important for students to understand how it works?
College is going to be different from high school. Any student can tell you that. But many students don’t know how college is going to differ from high school. The more that your student understands what to expect, the better your student will be able to work within this new system. One big difference is likely to be how they are academically guided and advised.
Your student is going to be much more on their own in college. They will be more independent and make more of their own decisions. One of the key roles of their academic advisor will be to help to foster your student’s independence and growth.
Your student will be responsible for their own academic path. Their advisor will help, advise, offer suggestions, information, and the wisdom of experience, but ultimately your student will need to take ownership of their academic progress.
The structure of academic advising may vary at different schools – there are many models – but the guiding principles are the same nearly everywhere. Someone, either a faculty or staff member, will be assigned to help your student meet their personal, professional, and educational goals. The wise student will take advantage of every aspect of this important relationship.
What can you share with your student to help them get the most from the advising relationship?
You can help your student maximize the benefits of their relationship with their advisor by helping them think about what they need to know and understand, and how to approach the advising process.
Understanding advising and taking agency for making it work
In order to take advantage of advising your student needs to understand the advising system at their school and how it works. Share some of the following suggestions with your student.
- Understand the role of your advisor. Your advisor is not a surrogate parent who will take over some of the things your parents may have done in high school. It is not your advisor’s responsibility to keep track of records or progress, take care of details you may have forgotten, or remind you of deadlines.
- Your advisor’s job is to give advice. It is going to be up to you to decide whether to act on that advice. You will have responsibility for your academic path.
- Know the rules of the game so your advisor can help you accomplish what you need to do. Be sure you are knowledgeable about all academic requirements. Know how to decide on appropriate classes, how to register for classes, what resources are available to help you, what graduation requirements you need to meet.
- Monitor your own academic progress. Your advisor can help you learn how to do that, but then it is your responsibility to know where you are on your path to completing your degree.
- Keep your own records of everything. Be organized. Keep copies of your transcript, grades, receipts, forms you have turned in, and who you have talked to in various offices.
- Be aware of all deadlines. Don’t rely on your advisor to remind you. Put alerts on your phone or calendar.
- Don’t rely on your parents to keep track of requirements, appointments, deadlines for you. Take charge.
Developing a strong relationship with your advisor
Your student’s academic advisor can be their “best friend” and mentor for successfully completing college. But it is your student’s responsibility to do their part to develop a partnership that works.
- Seek out your advisor early (preferably the first week of classes) to introduce yourself. Be sure you know where your advisor’s office is located.
- Make sure you are comfortable with your advisor. It may take time to get to know them and let a relationship develop, but if it is clear that this is not working, ask to change. Make sure you feel good about this relationship.
- Use this advising relationship as fully as possible. Don’t limit your visits to your advisor to “help me pick courses” or “give me my PIN to sign up.”
- Make and keep your appointments with your advisor. Arrive on time and prepared. Plan ahead and write down the questions you want to ask.
- Be inquisitive. Ask questions. Try to understand what you need to know – and why you need to know it.
- Read and respond to emails from your advisor.
- Share with your advisor all of the information that they need to be able to help you. Be honest about how things are going. Let them know if you are struggling or having a problem. They can’t give you advice or help you find resources if they don’t know what your issues are.
- Be flexible. Be willing to listen to the advice your advisor gives or options they describe. Try to evaluate what they are saying and consider it – even if it isn’t something you really want to hear.
- Recognize that you are considered an adult and that your opinion matters. Discuss differences with your advisor, and remember that your advisor has your best interest at heart and has experience that you don’t. Pay attention to the advice that you are given – but then make your own decision about whether to accept the advice offered.
What’s the bottom line for parents? How do you fit in?
The bottom line for parents is remembering that the advising relationship is between your student and their advisor – you don’t have a direct place in the advising process. However, as with so many college parenting situations, your coaching role on the sidelines can be crucial in helping your student understand how to develop a good working relationship with their advisor. Here are a few suggestions for you.
- Don’t call your student’s advisor except in an emergency. (This may require you to think carefully about what qualifies as an emergency.)
- Nudge your student. Encourage your student. Support your student. But then stand back and let the relationship unfold.
- Let your student’s advisor help your student take responsibility for their path and progress. This can only happen if you resist the temptation to step in and take over.
- If you feel you need academic information – either general or specifically about your student – ask your student. Remember FERPA rules were created for a reason.
- Be available to support and encourage your student to do the things they can do for themselves. Be a sounding board, but let them take the lead.
- And then – stand back and allow your student to make occasional mistakes or missteps. It is from these bumps in the road – or even failures – that they may learn some of the most important lessons of college.