Does Your College Student Have an Advisory Board?

Most college students crave independence. It’s what the teenage years are all about, and as students head off to college they have an opportunity to spread their wings and exercise that independence. It’s an important stage of development (although it’s sometimes a difficult time for parents.)

So what’s the problem?

For many students, the problem is that they feel that being independent means that they must do everything on their own. Asking for help or guidance means that they aren’t truly independent.

Of course, that isn’t true. We all need guidance. We all have times when we need to ask for help. Being independent means knowing when you need help, finding the people who can provide that help, and being brave enough to advocate for what you need.

This is why your student needs a personal advisory board.

What is a Personal Advisory Board?

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of any company rarely runs the company single-handedly. Most CEOs have a Board of Directors who advise them and help make the decisions that guide that company.

Your student is (or should be) the CEO of their own life. It’s a little like running a company. They need to make strategic decisions about their direction moving forward, set goals, and make decisions about the steps and resources required for getting to those goals. It’s not always an easy job, and it shouldn’t happen in a vacuum.

Your student’s personal advisory board is probably not going to be a group of people who will meet regularly, sit around a large conference table and debate issues. But it can help your student to think about this group of people that way. An advisory board is a group of people who will provide insight and guidance to your student, help them think about who they are, identify their strengths and weaknesses and what they need to do to achieve their goals.

It’s like having not just a mentor, but a collection of mentors who will help your student engage in self-assessment, identify their values, and formulate goals and action plans.

The members of your student’s advisory board may never know they are part of this list. Your student will probably never convene a meeting of the Board, but your student has identified the people they will turn to for support and advice. It’s not a group of casual acquaintances, names collected through networking, or cheerleaders, but a list of the trusted people who will help your student grow in the important directions in their life.

Who should be on your student’s Personal Advisory Board?

The membership on your student’s Advisory Board should be fluid and dynamic. As your student continues to grow throughout their life and pursue their career, their needs will evolve. Their Advisory Board will need to evolve with them.

As your student thinks about who should be on their Advisory Board, a good place to start is to think about the 6-8 people with whom they already have a relationship and who are the people to whom they already turn for advice.  These might include some of the following:

  • Coaches
  • Teachers or professors
  • Friends
  • Family friends
  • A trusted employer or manager
  • Family members

Your student should try to assemble a list that is diverse and multigenerational, with a mix of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.  This group is not a circle of friends whose task is to make your student feel good, but a group who will challenge, coach, and ask hard questions of your student.  They need to be willing to tell the truth, even when it is not necessarily what your student wants to hear. It may not be an easy job.

In addition to the individuals your student may want to “recruit” for their Board, they need to think about the tasks that they will need to Board to undertake.  The members will need to be good listeners who can serve as a sounding board. It will be helpful if your student can also find people who will fill some of the following roles:.

  • Someone who can provide knowledge and information or help your student find it.
  • Someone who will be empathetic and support your student’s emotional development.
  • Someone who will encourage and motivate your student through difficult situations.
  • Someone who is a critical, analytic thinker who can help your student solve problems and think deeply.
  • Someone who will encourage your student’s independence and self-advocacy.
  • Someone who will be a social encourager and draw your student out and help them network.

Filling the “seats” on your student’s Advisory Board is not an easy task, and it requires your student to engage in personal reflection about their values, who they are, and where they would like to see their life go. As a parent, you may make some suggestions, but be sure to let your student make their own decisions.

How can my student best take advantage of their Personal Advisory Board?

Of course, your student’s task of assembling (at least in their mind) their Advisory Board is only the beginning. Your student needs to find ways to take advantage of the team they have built.

  • Reach out. The board is only going to be as helpful as your student uses them to be.
  • Be honest. Share struggles, challenges and successes openly.
  • Listen. Your student may choose not to follow some of the advice they are given, but your student has chosen each member for a reason. Hear what they share.
  • Strategize. Grapple with issues with them. Engage in the work of growing.
  • Work at building a strong relationship with each member. It will take time and effort beyond just touching base.
  • Find ways to thank them and let them know how much they have helped and are appreciated.
  • Let them know when it is time to move on – not because they are not helpful, but because your student’s needs have evolved.

As parents, we know the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is true. Assembling a Personal Advisory Board is an excellent way for your student to take control of putting together a “village” that will enable their growth – both personally and professionally.

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