An Open Letter to students in Higher Education
I’m an academic advisor (duh?!). Yes, many of the advising offices in which I’ve worked and programs I have directed have been responsible for we putting holds on your registration to make you come talk with us about scheduling your classes. And yes, you will talk with advisors about your course choices and how you can best plan your schedule, but REGISTRATION IS NOT ADVISING! I’m sorry for yelling, It’s just very important that you (and perhaps more importantly, others who read this) understand that academic advising is about so much more than simply registering for classes.
There are tons of definitions of academic advising, ranging from sentences long to book-length philosophical and practical discussions of what we do. The thing that supersedes all of that is the quality of the relationship you forge with your advisor, and the advising/mentoring/guidance that results from the learner-centered conversations you have with them.
Yes, “learner-centered” means “you-centered.” And yes, academic advisors considering you learners, because academic advising is a teaching and learning activity. You don’t go to your advisor so s/he can tell you what classes to register for—we have a conversation, s/he helps you learn everything you need to consider to select your own classes, and you register for them on the appropriate day. Again, that’s just the tip of the Advising Iceberg. You and your advisor should only be talking about registration before the first time you do it on your own.
When advising is done well, we should be guiding you through your transition to university-level learning. Those of you in your first year of college-level learning have likely been realizing, each day, how different your educational environment looks compared to the way you used to be educated. An advisor’s job is to help you make sense of it, to guide you down the road you’ll travel to earn your degree—they have traveled it too (albeit many years ago) and know what it looks like. Advisors, when doing it right, are there to earn your trust, to give you a voice, to see and help you celebrate your progress, and to challenge you – at times – to think differently (because no one is going to offer you a degree for telling them things you already think, or displaying skill you already have). Advisors exist to make certain you have the resources to overcome any obstacle that may befall you.
When done well, advisors will not give you classes to take. Advisors will not tell you what to major in. Advisors will guide you through the decision-making process so you can learn to do it for yourself the next time. Then your conversations deepen and you can talk about your development within your chosen discipline. You can talk about study abroad and internships. You can talk about ways for you to get involved with undergraduate research. All this is to make your educational experience more meaningful and broader than simply job training, so that when you graduate, you’re not subject to the job market in your given field. You will actually have options and more choices in the career you will ultimately select.
There’s so much more that happens within Academic Advising relationships, but I think I’ve rambled enough. I realize I’m just one guy—just one advisor. But when institutions get it right, everyone understands—professional advisors, administrators, and faculty alike—that this is what Academic Advising means.
Originally Published At Major Discoveries.
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Podcast on Anne Scheideler Sweet on Academic Advising