Being available, knowledgeable, and caring are essential qualities of good advisors but they are not the outcomes we seek to achieve through advising. Listed below are some of the more important objectives of academic advising.
1) To help students plan an educational program consistent with their interests and abilities. Students may unknowingly establish career goals likely to conflict with their desired lifestyle: students who dislike science may plan careers in medicine, or those who dislike office work may plan to become accountants. Students often do not know the kind of preparation required for a particular career, or very much about the day-to-day work in a given profession. Good advising gently helps students to bring career aspirations into workable alignment with their aptitudes and lifestyle goals, and to plan their programs accordingly. Referrals to the Career Center are also very helpful in this area.
2) To assist students to monitor and evaluate their academic progress. The number one expectation students have of their advisors is help in understanding and meeting graduation requirements. Advisors need to explain all aspects of program requirements accurately and clearly, and to teach students how to monitor and evaluate their own progress towards a degree. Advisors must also make clear that the students themselves are ultimately responsible for seeing to it that all requirements are met in a timely manner. Nevertheless, advisors have a special responsibility to meet with each advisee prior to registration for the expected final-semester to double-check all graduation requirements, making sure that credits have not been miscounted, that course equivalencies for transfer have not been misinterpreted, that repeated courses have not been counted twice, etc, Nothing causes more grief for students and parents or makes the University of Maine appear more incompetent or uncaring than the last minute discovery of a grade or course or credit deficiency preventing expected graduation.
3) To advise students on the selection of courses appropriate for their interests and abilities. Students can fairly expect their advisors to know something about the courses in their programs, and to be able to advise them on which choices might best complement their abilities and their interests. It is not good enough simply to know which courses are required: advisors need to advise on the sequencing of courses, on the background preparation needed, and on the student’s readiness to take a given course. Advisors should also be able to help students complete the general education requirements with courses that complement the major, and be able to suggest electives that fit with the program and the student’s special interests.
4) To refer students to special University services as needed. The best advisors know when and how to refer students to specialists for specific assistance. Many problems presented by advisees are beyond the domain of the academic advisor: intensive assistance with a particular course, personal problems with identity or relationships, financial difficulties, dissatisfaction with roommates or other aspects of living arrangements, legal problems, health concerns, drug and alcohol abuse, etc. Advisors need to be alert for the signs of stress, and to be gently intrusive enough to identify broadly the nature of the problem; then the advisor needs to make the appropriate referral, even making the appointment while the student is in the office (but never without the student’s full knowledge and approval). Do not give way to the temptation to be an amateur psychologist: a careless or misplaced remark can cause deep and lasting wounds. Student Affairs is an excellent resource and a great place for the student to begin to access services on campus.
5) To help students to understand University policies and procedures. Few experiences are more frustrating than to be sent from place to place to place to carry out some minor administrative task. Advisors can save students hours of aggravation by explaining policies and procedures. Spending a few moments on the phone before a student leaves your office can expedite their interaction with the University’s bureaucracy. Advisors may occasionally need to intervene with University offices on behalf of an advisee. Do not expect to change University policy by your intervention, but you can expect to get a new review of a student’s grievance by the responsible administrator. Without your assistance, students may not know how to appeal beyond those who carry out policy to those who make it.
6) To help students understand the nature and purpose of higher education. This is not a responsibility students typically expect of advisors, but that makes it no less important. Beginning students, especially, may fail to appreciate the enormous increase in personal initiative and responsibility demanded of students in the college environment. The need to become active participants in their own education may not be apparent to them. Indeed, they may not understand the concept. Some students see higher education only as advanced training for a job or profession, a view frequently reinforced by parents. Advisors need to discuss with their advisees the role general education plays in the baccalaureate curriculum, the development of basic communication and computation skills, sharpening critical thinking skills, developing an appreciation for the major domains of human knowledge and the methods by which we expand them, and exploring the ethical dimensions of human existence. All of these are central to a liberal education; they are the core around which all else prerequisites for the major, study in depth within a selected field, and elective courses to develop individual interests are built. Students need to appreciate that many career paths have no natural origin in specific academic majors, and that, excepting certain professions, choice of a major need not be dictated solely by “career goals.”