Heidi Koring, Peer Advising and Mentoring Interest Group Co-Chair
Peer advising continues to grow in undergraduate programs (Koring and Campbell, 2005, p. 9). Despite this, little research has been devoted to outcomes of peer advising or student satisfaction with the process. What research has been done indicates that peer advising has positive outcomes in terms of student involvement, academic achievement and retention (Koring and Campbell, 2005). Nelson and Fonzi (1995) discovered that 80% of students who participate in a peer advising program find the process to be satisfactory, but they do not specify the terms of satisfaction (p. 42).
To understand the peer advising process in greater detail, this author examined comments from Lynchburg College 's 2005 survey of first year students, which queried 613 students concerning 42 peer advisors. Personal pronouns are substituted for names. Information about the peer advising program may be found at the Lynchburg College Connections webpage.
Peer advisors are most helpful to new students during the transition period by offering insider's information and by being a familiar face in the crowd. First year students comment:
- He 'helped me understand and learn how to adjust to life in college;'
- She 'was there to help me find groups in the community and on campus where I fit in;'
- He 'was a face to say hi to in a sea of unknown faces.'
Peer advisors were not usually mentioned as being helpful with specific academic matters unless they shared a major with their advisees. However, they were extremely helpful in teaching time management, goal setting and study strategies as the following comments show:
- He 'helped me see what my priorities should be in college;'
- She 'helped me learn how to manage my time;'
- He 'seemed actually to care about the different problems I was having with concentrating, focusing and studying and showed me where to go to get help with those things.'
As the last comment indicates, peer advisors' referral skills are valued by the students they advise. Students note:
- He 'clearly stated where resources and offices were located on campus when we needed them;'
- She 'helped us set up meetings with different people on campus;'
- He 'was able to teach me where everything was located so when I had to go to the computer lab or the writing center, I knew where it was.'
Why are peers so helpful to new students? Peer advisors are available at times, in places, and through communication channels not always used by advisors and administrators. The surveyed students valued this availability as seen by the following comments:
- She 'always had her door open night or day;'
- He 'says hello when he sees me in the dorm or dining hall;'
- She 'is readily available through Internet, cell phone, and instant messaging.'
Peers have validity that advisors, faculty and administrators lack because of peers' recent experience with college transition as the following comments demonstrate:
- He 'was a person I could come to if I had any problems because he has been through them.'
- She 'discussed the struggles and expectations of college on a more personal level, as one who had actually been there and experienced it.'
- He 'related some of his experiences with what I may have encountered or others may have encountered.'
Peer advisors have personal traits which new students value. Traits mentioned by survey participants include enthusiasm, helpfulness, and friendliness. However, two traits are mentioned most frequently: first, openness, by which new students mean respect for differing opinions and empathetic listening skills; and second, honesty, by which freshmen mean candor. New students comment:
- She 'was very open about sharing her experiences and letting us know that the major is very hard, but it is definitely do-able;'
- He 'was a very open minded person and listened to each and every person's idea;'
- She 'gave honest answers about how to adjust to college life.'
The relationship between peer advisor and first year student is most often described as an equal relationship. Words used by new students to describe the relationship with the peer mentor are often the same words used to describe friendships.
- He 'was a friend to all of us when we had no friends coming in to school;'
- She 'did not talk to us as freshmen. She made herself like a friend who we can talk to about anything.'
This sense of equality was often contrasted with a perceived inequality shown by upperclass students, faculty and administrators.
- She 'never looked down on us as freshmen, but as an equal:'
- He 'did not pretend to be one of our professors. He treated us like friends that he cared about.'
This friendship is a primus inter pares, or 'first among equals.' First year students referred to peer advisors as role models, mentors, and older siblings.
- She 'was a very good role model in the way of being a successful student, balancing work and play;'
- 'Although I only saw him once a week for fifty minutes, he is practically my best friend/mentor.'
- She 'was more of an older and wiser sibling than a drab administrator.'
This information is especially helpful to those training peer advisors. Training for time management, goal setting and study strategies is important since this is an area in which peer instruction is particularly effective. Interpersonal communication, especially in immediacy behaviors and empathetic listening, is important for peer advisors to master. Referring effectively is also a central skill. Finally, training should include a discussion of roles and boundaries, specifically how to be accessible without relinquishing personal space and how to present as 'first among equals' to maximize the positive value of peer advising.
Koring, H., & Campbell, S. (2005). Peer advising: intentional connections to support student learning. (NACADA Monograph No. 13). Manhattan, KS: National Academic advising Association.
Nelson, E., & Fonzi, G. (1995). An effective peer advising program in a large psychology department. NACADA Journal 15 (2), 42-43.
Cite this article using APA style as: Koring, H. (2006, December). Peers helping peers: First year students speak. Academic Advising Today, 29(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]