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Voices of the Global Community

James R. Wicks, Texas A&M International University

 James Wicks.jpgAcademic advisors face numerous challenges, one of which is providing a quality advising experience under strict time constraints.  Due to large student populations and student to advisor ratios, hectic on and off-campus events, lack of personnel, etc., advisors often find themselves trying to crunch half an hour’s worth of advising into a ten-minute session.  When facing such challenges, advisors must decide on what information to prioritize as well as the best conversational approach for students.

It is crucial for advisors to understand what students should get from an advising session.  Of course, students should get accurate information about their degree plans and institutional deadlines, but they also need to leave the session feeling that their advisor is someone who they can trust and will go above and beyond on their behalf.  Obviously, this does not mean that an advisor should be expected to ask a professor to change a grade or excuse multiple absences, but it does mean that if students have questions or need to know something, they can trust their advisor to find the answer and tell them in a reassuring way.  While there are many different ideas about what constitutes “good” or “ideal” academic advising, they all seem to converge on a process by which a partnership is formed between student and advisor (NACADA, 2017).  Partnerships are meant to facilitate critical and reflective academic, professional, and personal decisions that positively affect students, institutions, and communities.  However, every student is different and brings with them unique life experiences that impact their academic decisions.  Advising cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach and must account for all the possible internal and external pressures that affect student’s choices.  This means favoring a holistic approach for building trust and respect among students such that they actively seek mentorship and advice from advisors.

Not surprisingly, it takes time to build this kind of relationship and to make a transitioning student feel comfortable in an environment that is likely new.  It also takes time to properly understand the nuances of an individual’s life experience in order to give the most appropriate guidance.  When advisors have time, they can afford to let students be more expressive and reflective and can discuss with them some of the deeper questions about their degree plan or career goals.  However, when orientation rolls around and everyone needs to see an advisor, it can be difficult to allot that kind of time.  That said, there are things advisors can do to increase the likelihood of a partnership despite time constraints.

First, advisors need to prepare as much as possible prior to meeting with students.  They may not be able to control how long they have with each student, but they do have a degree of control over how much time they dedicate to preparing.  It is important to capture as much student information as possible prior to an advising session.  This way, advisors can identify the appropriate prescriptive information early on and dedicate more time to building a relationship during the session.

Once advising begins, advisors need to clearly communicate the limits of the session (NACADA, 2015).  Students bring with them an array of expectations, including what information they are going to get and how much time they have to ask questions.  The last thing an advisor wants is for students to have a poor advising experience because it failed to live up to their expectations, especially if it is their first advising experience.  It is important to clarify how long the session is meant to last, what information the student is supposed to get, and what the student can expect from advisors moving forward.  (For this, an advising syllabus is particularly helpful.)

Communicating the limits of a session provides a context for the student to assess the advising experience, and it allows students to focus their expectations on the moment.  The conclusion of a session is when an advisor can provide contact information and assurance that there will be many more opportunities in the future to address the student’s concerns.   

It is also important for advisors to quickly establish students as active participants in the conversation (Lowenstein, 2005); i.e. turn the session into a dialogue rather than just instructing students on what to do.  When advising sessions are short, the window for dialogue is small, so advisors need to be creative in how they engage students.  For example, prompting students to talk about their expectations and concerns for the upcoming year or semester can provide a framework for discussing important degree plan information, course schedules, campus activities, and student services.  Instead of merely telling students which courses to take and then sending them along, an advisor can suggest and revise a schedule that will either conform to or challenge their expectations.  Similarly, prompting a student to voice concerns prior to giving important information can allow an advisor to talk about how a certain schedule might affect those concerns.  This way students feel like a moderator of the meeting and can be assured that their experience is not ignored.

Additionally, advisors should discuss information in the context of academic and career goals.  For example, if a student needs to take developmental courses, an advisor should discuss how those courses will set the student up for success in future semesters and, ultimately, in a career instead of merely saying that the student cannot move forward without them.  Contextualizing prescriptive information in this way makes it more meaningful and therefore more valuable as an asset towards graduation.

Finally, advisors should keep in mind that the shorter an advising session is, the more questions a student is likely to have about what lies ahead.  Advisors need to always be aware of their conversational tone and reassure students that they are on the right path to achieving their goals.  It is a good idea for advisors to ask students near the end of a session how they feel about the information discussed, and to emphasize that they will have many opportunities in the future to address their questions.

One more consideration is when a student will not be speaking with an assigned advisor and will instead be speaking with a student mentor, admissions counselor, or with a recruiter; i.e. anyone who is taking on an advisory role.  The previous points still apply, except that students need to leave the session feeling that the institution and its administrators (rather than a single person) will go above and beyond on their behalf.  In this case, the student is not building a relationship with an individual, rather that student is learning to trust the institution and its administrative teams.  This arrangement poses unique challenges to building relationships with students; however, if an institution emphasizes quality service across administrative offices, students can be made to feel that they are in good hands.

There are understandable concerns about how practicable these recommendations are.  It might not seem reasonable to expect an advisor to lay out session limitations, gauge a student’s academic expectations and concerns, discuss and contextualize important degree plan and institutional information, all while reassuring students and making them feel like the moderator of the session in a ten to fifteen-minute window.  However, advisors should be careful not to reduce the effectiveness of an advising session to its length.  Small gestures and brief statements can still have profound impacts. Also, while ten minutes might not be enough time for students to leave with perspective on their entire academic experience, they will at least get a feeling of progress towards it—a feeling that will hopefully keep them coming back for advising.

James R. Wicks
Associate Director
Recruitment & School Relations
Texas A&M International University
James.wicks@tamiu.edu

References

Lowenstein, M. (2005). If advising is teaching, what do advisors teach? NACADA Journal 25(2), 65-73.

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advisors. (2015). Advising session techniques. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advising-session-techniques.aspx

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advisors. (2017). Definitions of academic advising. Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Definitions-of-academic-advising.aspx 

Cite this article using APA style as: Wicks, J.R. (2017, June). Advising against the clock. Academic Advising Today, 40(2). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2017 June 40:2

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