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Academics

Make the Most of an Advising Appointment

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D.


“Dr. Baldwin, can I talk to you about something before I go see my advisor?” a student asked last week. We had just discussed college majors and minors in class, and something I'd said sparked the student’s imagination.

Though I'm not a trained advisor, I often work with students to help them think creatively about what they want to study. So even when a request is a bit surprising, like this one, I always jump at the chance to talk about academic stuff with my students.

“I was thinking,” the student said, “about majoring in business and minoring in psychology. But before I talk to my advisor, I wanted to see if you thought it was crazy to add a minor to my degree and a psychology minor at that.”

A quick review of the student’s degree plan showed that she indeed had room to focus her elective courses into a psychology minor without lengthening her time to graduation.

“Looks like you could do it easily. Tell me why you're thinking about a psychology minor,” I said.

The student talked about her long-term plan to work as a mortician. She thought that knowing about business and how people think would be beneficial to her career. I agreed, but I wanted the student's advisor to weigh in and help her make that plan for the next four years. “Be sure to tell your advisor about your long-term goals and why you think this would be a good fit.”

I realize that not every student feels comfortable talking to an advisor when they think their ideas may be viewed as “off the wall,” but trust me when I say that the advisors at your student’s institution have heard it all and seen it all, and they can be pretty creative when it comes to helping a student find ways to complete their degrees.

But that is not all an advisor can do. In fact, advisors can help your student connect with resources if they are having academic, personal or financial challenges during the semester. In some cases, they can intervene on behalf of the student if there is a class that is closed that they need to graduate.

In short, an advisor is like that utility knife that can do more than just cut something open. (Sorry, advisors, to reduce you to a tool!) This is why your student should make the most of every appointment and begin to view their advisor as a guide, coach and support system.

You can help your student by preparing them to use their advising appointments wisely. Here are three steps they should follow.

1. Plan the Visit with the Advisor

Any time your student makes an appointment with an advisor, your student should prepare ahead of time. Your advisor needs to know what your student needs as soon as they get there.

  • Create a list of questions or a goal to share with the advisor. For example, your student might say, “I'm here to talk about what classes to take next semester and what would happen if I change my major.”
  • Look up any policies, forms or other information that will improve the conversation. Your student may want to look at course descriptions or download a copy of their degree plan.
  • Identify a note-taking strategy beforehand. Will your student take handwritten notes or record the session? Your student will need notes about what was discussed and what steps they will take next.

2. Role Play the Conversation

I know from my own son, who is a college sophomore, 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 with your student before their appointment.

You don’t have to know the ins and outs of college advising to be a good person for role play. You just need to help your student learn how to ask questions, take notes, and follow up with additional questions. Here's an example of a simple role play:

Advisor Role: What can I do for you today?

Student: I need some 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 is motivating you to change your major.

Assist your student in identifying what preparation they still need to do before their appointment and in clarifying what they want from the meeting.

3. Follow Up If Needed

One advising appointment will most likely not answer all your student’s questions throughout their entire college career. A follow-up — even multiple ones —will most likely be needed.

Encourage your student to make a point to check in regularly with their advisor even if there is not a pressing issue. Other reasons to make another appointment with an advisor include:

  • Your student didn’t get all their questions answered.
  • 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.
  • Your student isn’t able to get into a class that is required for their degree plan.
  • Your student may not graduate on time.
  • Your student wants advice on a different major, a minor or a career pathway.

Advisors can’t solve all of your student’s problems while in college, but they can certainly do a lot more than help your student register for classes. 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., the former Director of Student Transitions at the University of Central Arkansas, currently teaches student success and literacy to first-year students. She is co-author of a number of books, including A High School Parent's Guide to College Success: 12 Essentials and The College Experience. Amy and her husband are parents of a college student and a recent college graduate. She also blogs at www.higheredparent.com.

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