My College:

Building a Relationship with Advisors and Mentors

Vicki Nelson

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Your college student may be required to work with an academic advisor at least once each semester or quarter, usually around the time that they plan courses for the following term. Colleges build in this advising partnership to help students choose appropriate courses to stay on track to graduate.

For many students, this one required meeting may be the only interaction that they have with their advisor. This can be a waste of a potential gold mine.

The wise college student will find ways to go beyond the minimal advising requirement to take advantage of every aspect of a good advising relationship.

Doesn't good advising happen naturally?

A few years ago, Purdue University joined with Gallup, Inc. to survey nearly 30,000 recent college graduates. Only 22 percent of graduates polled said they felt they had a professor who personally helped and guided them. Twenty-seven percent said they had professors that cared about them as a person.

It’s easy to look at these statistics and conclude that colleges and professors need to do more. That is probably true. But your student should also take responsibility for pursuing someone on campus who will care about them and guide them throughout their college career.

Help is there, but your student may need to seek it out.

What can my student do to get the most out of an advisor or mentor?

Your student can do many things to find a helpful advisor and to drive the mentoring relationship. Here are a few suggestions to share.

  • Make sure you connect with the right person. This may be your assigned advisor or it may be someone else on campus. Get to know professors and reach out to someone who seems to go out of their way to know and interact with students.
  • Take the initiative and reach out to your advisor early. Some advisees may want only minimal contact with their advisor. Make sure your advisor knows that you want to build a relationship and take advantage of whatever they can offer.
  • Be clear about what you want from this relationship. Is it just advice about courses, or are you open to guidance about studying, research directions, career suggestions, networking, or other areas of your life? Work with your advisor on setting both short-term and long-term goals.
  • Work at building a relationship with your advisor. Remember that any good relationship is a two-way street. Both you and your advisor need to work to establish understanding and trust. Be sure to start early and do your part.
  • Touch base consistently. Don’t wait until there is an emergency or crisis. It takes time and attention for a good working relationship to develop. If possible, try to meet regularly.
  • Be respectful of your advisor’s time. Make an appointment if you need a longer discussion. If you have an appointment, make sure you show up — and show up on time.
  • Be honest. Your advisor can’t help you if they don’t have accurate information or know the full picture of your challenges, mistakes, successes or failures.
  • Be prepared for appointments with good questions. Don’t waste time asking questions you can find answers to yourself. Do your homework. Make the most of the time that you spend with your advisor.
  • Listen carefully to whatever your advisor tells you. Don’t pre-judge or assume that you know what they are going to tell you.
  • Take notes during your meetings and keep records. Pull together all forms, paperwork, deadlines, meeting notes, emails — anything that can help you keep track of what you need to do.
  • Be open to taking their advice and to learning from them. Accept honest feedback. Be willing to be guided and led — even if they tell you something difficult or that you may not want to hear.
  • Follow through on the advice that your advisor gives you. Check in to report your progress. Your advisor will want to know how things are going.
  • Remember to express gratitude and say “thank you.” Don’t take a good advising relationship for granted. Being a mentor can be a rewarding experience on its own, but it’s always nice to know that you’re appreciated.

College advisors come in all forms with different approaches and styles. If your student can find the right person and do their part to build a relationship, the advice of a caring mentor can be just the boost that they need.

Talk to your student about the importance of mentoring and suggest ways they can build and maintain that relationship once they find it. You might even share stories of your own mentors and their importance in your life. Your student will appreciate it.

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Vicki Nelson has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She also weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She established her website, College Parent Central, to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance and appropriate involvement as they prepare for and navigate the college journey with their student. Vicki also serves as co-host of the College Parent Central podcast.
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