My College:
Academics

The Importance of Professors and Advisors

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D.


The student-professor relationship is one of the most important to cultivate. Academic advisors are also key players in a student’s successful adjustment to college and can guide them all the way through to an on-time graduation.

You can encourage your student to create open lines of communication with their professors and make the most of every advising appointment. Here are tips and talking points!

Coach Your Student to Communicate With Professors

1. Establish a relationship early.

Professors will be happy to get to know your student before a problem arises. Any time during the semester (with the exception of the day before the final!) is a good time to reach out, but the sooner the better.

Your student should take cues from the syllabus about the best way to communicate. Is the professor available to meet in person or is email or an online meeting better? It should go without saying — if the professor prefers email, then use email and check it often.

When your student meets with the professor for the first time, they should have a list of questions ready. Here are a few that can help your student learn more about the professor’s expectations:

  • “I want to learn as much as I can in your class. What can I do to succeed?”
  • “I usually [fill in usual study practices]. What will work best for this class?”
  • “I want to be sure I start off with solid work in your class. Can I come see you before an assignment is due to make sure I’m on the right track?”
2. Seek immediate feedback after graded work.

If your student gets a low grade, even if they think they know why, it’s good to check in with the professor as soon as possible. Here’s how to open a conversation:

  • “I reviewed my work. Can we go over what I did wrong so I understand what to do differently next time?”
  • “I’m bummed I messed up that assignment. Would you help me see where I made mistakes?”
  • “Can we talk about how this low grade will affect my progress in the course? I want to be sure to make the improvements I need to raise my grade.”

Because students share this fear with me, it’s worth telling you: Yes, professors really want to talk with students who’ve failed an assignment. No, they don’t think their students aren’t smart enough to pass their class.

Professors want their students to learn and to earn good grades. Your student shouldn’t be ashamed to speak to a professor about a class they’re failing. Reaching out demonstrates a willingness to improve.

Make the Most of an Advising Appointment

Academic advisors help students register for courses and keep track of credits and degree requirements. But that’s not all an advisor can do. Advisors can help your student connect with resources if they are having academic, personal, or financial challenges. Your student should view their advisor as a guide, coach, and support system.

Here are three steps to follow.

1. Plan the visit with the advisor.

Students should prepare ahead of time for every appointment. The advisor needs to know what your student needs as soon as they get there.

  • Create a list of questions or a goal to share. For example, “I’m here to talk about what classes to take next semester and what would happen if I change my major.”
  • Look up policies, forms or other information that will improve the conversation. Your student may want to read course descriptions or download a copy of their degree plan.
  • Be ready to take notes. Will your student handwrite notes, type, or record the session? They’ll need notes about what was discussed and what steps to take next.
2. Role play the conversation.

I know from professional experience and also from my own son, who’s a college student, that many students don’t know what to say in the moment even with a list of questions in their hand. That’s why it’s important to practice the conversation ahead of time.

You don’t have to know the ins and outs of college advising — you just need to help your student learn how to ask questions and follow up with additional questions. Here’s a sample script:

Advisor Role: What can I do for you today?

Student: I need help registering for classes and I want to talk about changing my major.

Advisor Role: First, what classes are you thinking about taking? Then, tell me what’s motivating you to change your major.

Help your student identify what preparation they still need to do before their appointment and clarify what they want from the meeting.

3. Follow up if needed.

A single advising appointment probably won’t answer all your student’s questions. A follow-up (even multiple ones) may be needed.

Encourage your student to check in regularly with their advisor even if there isn’t a pressing issue. Other reasons to meet with an advisor include:

  • Your student’s progress in a course or courses is in jeopardy and they need to know what will happen if they fail a class.
  • They can’t get into a class that’s required for their degree plan.
  • They may not graduate on time.
  • They want advice on a different major, a minor, or a career pathway.

Advisors can’t solve all of your student’s problems, but they can do a lot more than help with course registration. In fact, if your student cultivates a solid relationship with their advisor, they will have a coach, guide, and cheerleader all rolled into one.

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D., is a Senior Lecturer in the Student Transitions department at the University of Central Arkansas. She is co-author of "A High School Parent's Guide to College Success: 12 Essentials" and lead author of "College Success" (OpenStax), a free online student success book. Amy and her husband are parents of a college graduate and a current student. She blogs at www.higheredparent.com.

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