Keeping it real or bursting bubbles?

Sometimes students aim for goals and majors that seem highly improbable, and academic advisers may find it challenging to be the voice of reason– positive yet realistic– rather than be perceived as pessimistic and discouraging. How can advisers help students know themselves better and thoughtfully consider more plausible areas of study without stepping on their dreams? What should advisers keep in mind as they engage advisees in conversations about choices of majors and plans for the future?

What is your opinion?

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  1. user gravatar
    Johanna Ortega Mendez

    As an adviser you are there as a source that the student is coming to, to be enlightened. While it is true that America is the land of opportunity and we encourage everyone to reach for the stars, the reality isn’t always so when you actually encounter it. Part of growing up is that hard realization that life isn’t always going to be fun and games, but can sometimes be unfair but only serve to help us for the better. If a student comes into my office and needs advice on a goal or major that just seems impossible within the time boundaries and school regulations, the best thing to tell that student is the truth. It will be more helpful in the long run for the student to know now that the goal is unattainable in the situation. Of course you have to gentle and careful with the way you go about this. But it will better for their future for you to guide them in the right direction. If you could advise them to do another major that will be easier and they could graduate in four years instead of five years, it will save them money and time. If you lie to the student and set them up for failure, they will always remember and suffer from the bad advice when they find out a month before graduation that they’re not graduating. The role of an adviser is to make sure the student comes in with a problem and leaves with a positive resolution.

  2. user gravatar
    Sophia Gundersen-Herman

    Often times students goals seem lofty, but whether or not it is a peer adviser’s place to criticize such dreams is difficult to assess. There is no doubt that peer advisers should most definitely not be harsh or discouraging if they choose to be a voice of reason to the student. I believe the best way to approach the situation would be to give facts while making alternative suggestions. For example if the student’s goal is to acquire a dual degree, get a certificate, have a minor, and a concentration all starting as a junior; that would be fairly impossible to attain within a four year college career. Describing the time commitment, the number of classes, and the work-load may help the student get a more realistic perspective of the situation, but this should be done in tandem with a more attainable suggestion and its benefits.

    It is important when giving advice about students’ goals, for peer advisers to keep many things in mind. It has never been helpful to be extremely negative, and peer advisers must remember that. A positive attitude will not only be more helpful, it will also make the student more likely to take advise. Another important factor for peer advisers to think about is that everyone is capable of different things, and though someone’s goal may seem unattainable perhaps it is actually very plausible for that person. Get to know the student before suggesting alternatives.

  3. user gravatar
    Mirabella Pulido

    We use the words “dream job” to describe something out of reach and we perceive it
    as an unrealistic goal. I think that one of the most challenging things of being a peer
    adviser is having the role and responsibility to analyze someone else’s, usually a
    complete stranger’s, goals and career and education paths. I think it is also crucial
    that as peer advisers, the main objective is to be helpful. People do not come in
    looking for criticism; they come in looking for guidance and that is our job to
    provide it. It is important to be honest and let students know that if a certain goal
    might be a bit more difficult to attain, or if it’s not possible at all, that we inform
    them of those difficulties. Like the prompt states, we must be positive yet realistic,
    rather than pessimistic and discouraging. Advisers can help students know
    themselves better and help them reevaluate less plausible goals and modify them
    into something within reach without stepping on their dreams. One way to do this is
    by narrowing down their interests and creating a more specific goal, that isn’t so
    general. For example, for students who haven’t fulfilled their Global Education
    requirement by junior year, they might feel overwhelmed and lost with how to start.
    It’s important to delve deeper into the conversation and relationship with the
    students to find out more personal interests that can help them decide what they
    would like to focus on and study. Things like personal heritage, an interest in foreign
    films, genuine curiosity in a certain area of the world, or the desire to travel
    somewhere specific can help narrow down broad goals like Global Ed, and turn into
    something more realistic and doable. Also, it is wise to advise students to try
    something out before making any major changes. For example, if a student wanted
    to change his/her major, as advisers, we should make sure they are absolutely sure
    of it before switching around their college path. Things like trying out extra
    curriculars, talking to a professor or professional in that field, or sitting in on some
    classes could all help solidify big decisions. It is always important that advisers
    remain biased, but still be honest. We must remember that these are not our dreams
    and there is always a reason behind why someone wants to achieve. Just because it’s
    not for us, doesn’t mean it isn’t for someone else. But with that being said, we have
    to use our knowledge and expertise as advisers to help them navigate their plans.
    The number one rule is to always be helpful and help our peers move forward with
    whatever they want to achieve. I think it is very possible to “keep it real” without
    bursting any bubbles, like the prompt title suggests, because there is always a way
    to reach goals.

  4. user gravatar
    Daniel Myers

    I believe that the most important aspect of advising or guiding someone is being honest with a person. By being honest, a person can view their choices ahead of them in a much more clear view. Opposed to idly believing that opportunities are available to a person when they are not, it is important to reiterate that a person makes opportunities for themselves. By being honest from an encouraging point of view, a person can be instilled with the passion required to make a future, for themselves. Rather than have someone make a future for them in an advising office, I’d rather be honest, real, and truthful to a person and give them the motivation to build a future on their own terms and not on someone else’s criteria based on who they believe you are as a person.

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    Jonah Frielich

    The most important thing as an advisor is to give good advice. If a student is aiming for something that is beyond their abilities, it is not helpful to them to tell them to follow their dreams if they can not achieve them. The best approach is explain that a balance of challenging and realistic is ideal. In order to do this, it might be important for the student to meet with the dean of the program that they want or with the advising office of that department to see how difficult it would be for them to keep up. An other option would be to try to introduce the student to an older student who is in the program or a related one in order to get a realistic perspective.

  6. user gravatar
    Dana Ulwick

    As a peer adviser for the social and behavioral college at UMass Amherst I deal with people looking for advice on the future often. It is especially challenging as a peer adviser not to seem like you are telling the student what to do and crush their dreams because we are the same age so it does not seem like we have authority over them. So, we need to find the line where giving helpful directions and being taken seriously is. Active listening is probably the most important quality to have while people are looking toward lofty goals. Active listening looks a lot like making eye contact, occasionally nodding and asking questions. It will make the student know that you are understanding what they are saying without judging them. All advising offices should have a judge free vibe to them so everyone feels comfortable talking about their problems, with active listening and this setting students will feel comfortable talking about their big dreams. My peer advising instructor Tim taught us to use the five whys when talking to students that need help, and in this situation it would help a lot. Keep asking why until the student comes to the conclusion on their own about what they want to do so they are not feeling threatened by you telling them what to do. It will also help break their large goal into simple steps to help them achieve that goal. Sometimes when you stop looking at the big picture and start breaking it down into smaller pieces it can become easier to achieve. With asking the 5 whys, active listening and breaking down large goals into smaller pieces you can be the voice of reason for students by making their goal a lot more realistic without shattering their goals.

  7. user gravatar
    Emily Rose

    I agree with Merrill; I think often students may not really understand what their chosen path or career entails. I have spoken with students ranging from high schoolers to master’s students who wanted to be either models or actresses or high school counselors. None of them had the background for it, or really understood the difficulty they personally would have in those fields.

    It is helpful to not immediately knock down these ideas, but rather to encourage them to look at the reality of the field, or major, or goal, and learn all they can about it. They need to be making informed decisions anyway, so this is a good idea for anyone. If we work with them to find information, and continue listening and asking questions, it is more likely that our students will see us as being on their team. If that’s the case, I believe they will be more likely to also listen to us when we challenge their ideas and help redirect them toward what may be better for them.

  8. user gravatar
    Merrill Landgrebe

    I think it is important for students to be able to describe the requirements of a position that interests them. So, if I have a student who loves to be outside, traveling and meeting with people who tells me he wants to be an accountant, I will ask him to describe what a day is like in the life of an accountant. What skills make an accountant successful? What does an accountant’s office typically look like? What activities do they do on a regular basis? If the student can describe this work environment, and seems excited about the possibility, I will ask him how he plans to balance his other interests with this lifestyle?

    I have had students come to me with grades that do not support successful completion of their degree requirements. In those cases, I challenge students to look at why they are struggling. Often, it is because the major they are in does not meet what they thought they would be doing. It could be as simple as a change of major. Some of my Management students were really better suited for Hospitality and Tourism Management. Once they changed, their grades improved and they went on to be very successful.

    Often, students just don’t know what options exist to them so they become frustrated with their academic pursuits. I feel that advisors need to encourage students to be knowledgeable of their options, understand that flexibility is often the key to success and that students need to align their interests with their major pursuits.

  9. user gravatar
    Reginald Nichols

    As an academic counselor, I always use my first key skill, “listening”. I believe it is important for our students to have high expectations and goals. My approach is to allow the student explore a few areas of interest by using personality and career tech tools.

    Using these tools can help students either reaffirm their set career interest and/or provide them with other career options they never considered. I believe self-discover is the best way for a student to determine if he or she is on the right path towards the best educational fit.

  10. user gravatar
    Jeremy Taulbee

    As a Pre-Health Advisor, I live with the reality of lofty expectations and reality checks on a weekly basis. There are no two Health School applicants who are alike and there is no one ‘magic bullet’ formula to guarantee your acceptance into a health program.
    I always encourage my students to pursue their dreams, but have a ‘parallel plan.’ The parallel plan is what they would do if their dreams of going to a professional health school doesn’t work out. Looking at the activities and academic coursework that the student enjoys the most and succeeds at the most, could help the student see where their interests lie, whether in healthcare or another field.
    I explain the expectations that a health school has of their applicants and then help the student to compare that with what they’ve already accomplished and what they plan to accomplish in their academics and extracurricular activities.
    We as advisors have to keep in mind that our student’s are capable of thinking critically and making decisions and judgments for themselves. We can show them the road they must travel in order to fulfill their dreams, but they are able to see whether it would be a smooth road, or a mountain to climb. I’m not in the business of bursting bubbles. In tough cases, I encourage the student to see the situation from the perspective of an admissions committee or in other cases, a potential employer. Looking at their qualifications from the outside, would they see themselves as a competitive applicant for health school? A good candidate for their dream job?


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