How Do Students Define “Good Advising”?

Advising professionals frequently reflect on the meaning of effective academic advising as it applies to higher education, and the conversation often generates new and interesting perspectives, debates, and research. Aiming at this question from a different vantage point, how do you think students define “good” advising, and what do you think they want and expect from advisers?

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    Saulo DePaula

    An advisor’s goal is generally always the same: to help a student as they transition to and through college; to provide academic and professional support and guidance; to encourage students to strive for their upmost potential. That’s all fairly consistent, and that’s great! However, the student perspective may not always be that straightforward.

    Students seek out advising for many reasons, of course. It may be to check their academics and make sure they’re on the right track. It might also be to simply get a hold removed so that they’re able to enroll into courses. Needless to say, a student’s intention as they enter an advising appointment may not always be focused on maximizing their potential; it may just be to settle a minor inconvenience. Surely, the advisor will always try to get the student on the right track, but how exactly do students recognize a change in their perspective?

    “Good” advising happens when a students exits an advising appointment with a better mindset than when they entered it. That is, a nervous student – worrying that they may not graduate on time – will go through advising and come out of it more relaxed and with more helpful information than they came in with. Obviously, advising is not a cure-all; there are situations that may truly be difficult to deal with, but any relief due to advising is good.

    Another scenario: a student who wants to be quickly advised to have their hold removed may come out of their appointment with a new minor or certificate, or perhaps an idea for a new career path. This is how a student defines “good” advising. Whether they realize it or not, students want to be supported and guided to the right path. Everyone can benefit from an advisor (or to some, a mentor). In my opinion, receiving “good” advising is just that simple: a feeling of relief and enlightenment.

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    Sandra Rybak

    When a student is making the effort to see an advisor, they are demonstrating a need for help, which is a difficult action for many people. The most obvious thing they expect is literal help, meaning an answer to the question they have. Concerns students come in with are usually stressful so a direct answer or solution is the easiest way to appease a student. Giving accurate information is a technical aspect of advising that students expect. If you are unsure about a question they have, find the answer out from someone who does know instead of relying on your own instinct. It saves the student time and confusion. When giving information, it is important to be clear, simple and give details. Things that are obvious to the advisor might be foreign to the student. It is better to know more than less! However, there are underlying things that factor in giving “good” advising to a student. Being in a comfortable environment is necessary to form a good relationship with a person. Advisors should be welcoming and objective to all student identities and questions in order to treat every situation seriously and equally. They should be genuine and truly interested in helping a student. Peer advisors are a great resource because they can ease anxiety by demonstrating to students that they are dealing with similar issues and understand on a more personal level what they are going through and what they need.

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    Brian Bushard

    One important clarification in determining what constitutes “good advising” from the perspective of the student is whether the student defines good advising as hearing what they want to hear, or as counseling that incorporates more hard to hear material. While the former gives the student a positive and confirming exit point from which to continue pursuing their gut instinct, I tend to prefer the latter for its openness to more possibilities. For me, being close-minded to what you want to hear doesn’t allow for any expansion of attitudes, opinions, perspectives or experiences and henceforth encloses the student on a path that they may see as beneficial at one time, but may in fact hurt them in the future. Therefore, a more open advising style in which the adviser asks truly hard questions is more beneficial in allowing the student to discover what he or she really wants and from that starting point organizing classes, managing time, or whatever the circumstance might entail. Hard questions are crucial in peer advising. And although a student may expect to hear advice that strictly agrees with their own views, what a student might not expect will be more helpful in the long-run. If an adviser asks these hard questions in a non-judgemental, calm and knowledgeable way, the student will experience “good advising.”

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    Allison Nazier

    I think students want an adviser to have an “open” attitude, one that says to the student that the adviser welcomes questions and will not demean or criticize the student for not knowing something. I also think that students want as much information up front as possible. That way there is security in knowing how their program is laid out–that they are entering a solid context. Also, students want accurate information, or granting that advisers are only human, some sort of an apology when things go awry.

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    Sam Hicks

    If I ever seek help from an adviser, it’s because I have a feeling of uncertainty. I’d bet that most students feel the same way. When a student is not sure what they can, should, or must do, it can create anxiety. An adviser’s job should be to eliminate that anxiety without deceiving or misleading the student. An adviser should be knowledgeable enough either answer the student’s questions or point them towards someone who can. A friendly and positive attitude is also important, since that also serves to reduce anxiety. If a student comes to an adviser with what might be considered a “stupid question,” I feel that the adviser should be careful not to offend the student by remarking how obvious the answer is or imply that the student shouldn’t have needed to see an adviser about it. In summary, I think that the role of an adviser is both to provide good information and also to make students feel more comfortable.

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      Richard Shaughnessy

      I agree with Sam in some aspects. I agree with his premise that students seek guidance when their concerns about academia or personal life struggles build up and eventually cause anxiety. Oftentimes, when a student appears to have multiple concerns and anxiety is noticeable it is the duty of the adviser to notice that and work with the student to root out the underlying problem. or concern. The student may be hesitant at first but once that root source is recognized, the adviser can make that student self-aware and help them or point them in the right direction of a professional. This problem solving technique of finding the source can be as simple as showing them how to appropriately use spire to find classes. Whatever be the case, no matter what the student’s struggles may appear to be- it is a vital component of the peer adviser to make them comfortable, important, and self aware and if anything prevents that from being accomplished, it is the PAs responsibility to redirect them to someone else who can help more efficiently.

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    Courtney Paterson

    Advising, especially peer advising is a unique opportunity not just for students but for the peer advisers. A lot of people feel intimidated when talking to an adviser or a professional, so many questions go unasked. As a psychology major, I have used peer advisers and have found them to be extremely helpful. It is a lot more relaxed of a setting, you are talking to another student so you not only feel more comfortable but you can relate to them as opposed to a professional. Honesty, like Sarah mentioned is also really important. Aside from communication, when I sit down with an adviser I want someone who is going to be honest with me and give me useful information. You can also get other students opinions about classes and course loads. I would define it as a mutual relationship, where there is honesty, communication, and useful information.

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      Matt Baker

      An element that Courtney pointed out which many students feel leads to “good” peer advising is the concept of a “mutual relationship”. In my opinion there can be a disconnect in academic institutions between faculty and students. Having experienced this and hearing stories it is true that sometime professors will have a tendency to go the “motions” with a student, given them specific directions, and only help them on a superficial level. Having a peer adviser within a relaxed but structured environment can lead to significant outcomes within the realm of student advising. Advisees are more will be more inclined to listen to a student’s experience/opinion on a topic over a description of it by a professional who hasn’t experienced it from a student perspective. This can lead to more legitimacy and effectiveness when trying to help a fellow peer in an academic setting. Having this relaxed environment with advisors who have shared comparable experiences to other students makes for the “best” peer advising possible. It is also important to have reliable and intelligent professionals on hand for the advisors to aid with the general practice of advising. In the end an advising service is only as effective as the peer advisers make it, therefore having sound group of peer advisers is the underlying aspect needed to achieve all of these things.

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    Kiri M

    I partially agree with Drewmer’s comment. I think that there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to universities asking the students what they want or need from their advising departments. However, at UMass we have student advisors specifically for that reason. We are able to give the students what they need, because we are students ourselves and know what we are looking for. Students want someone that has been through their situation, and has sat through the classes that they are picking and choosing from. I think it is important for students to have someone to talk to other than adult staff, because it is easier and more comforting to hear the advice from someone that has been through it already. I think student expect their advisers to have a real knowledge of the situation at hand, and they expect us to be able to help them in a real way. I think that students just want real advice, instead of an adult that has never been to the class telling them that it is a good option for them. Students want to feel like they are making the right choice, and advisers should have a working knowledge of what the courses and options for them are actually like.

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      Sarah Foster

      I agree with Kiri that students like to get advice from people who have already experienced it. I know when I have questions about which classes to take I always go to the peer advisors in my department because they will know the best classes to take. Good advising involves honestly, like Kiri said, “real advice”. Professionals may only know the course description given on the website but really have no idea what the students are looking for in a class. If you talk to someone who has already been through it their advice is much more reliable. Kiri also mentions comfort, some students may be intimidated or embarrassed to ask questions to professional because they dont want to look dumb. Going to a peer advisor is much more relaxed. There is no hierarchy when you are talking to a peer and it is much easier to just have a conversation and get the help you need.

  8. user gravatar

    This is a question that is never asked to our students at our university. All improvements come from asking advisors what their role is and how effective they are but no one is brave enough to ask students to express what they feel they need and want. We seem to fear the preceived valuse of our profession and are only willing to ask ourselves to rate how we are doing based on our own set of rules.


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