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Back to School: Meet with your College Advisor

On my traditional, large-flagship university campus, back to school means different things for different people. Students are wrapping up summer experiences, and settling into new living arrangements. Faculty are finishing syllabi, and squeezing in a last day of research to meet summer writing goals. College administrators, like myself, are bracing for upcoming traffic influx. The increase in emails and meetings have showed signs for the past few weeks that Fall term start is upon us.

In my Academic Advisor position, I serve as a primary face to undergraduate majors and minors for a humanities department to whom I liaison from Central Advising Services. There are approximately 75 members across Main Campus that do a similar job, and this time of year we all anticipate many of the same questions. The formats I’m mainly asked these questions are through email and walk-in visits. From my roughly 500 student roster, I get so much traffic during week 1, I advertise my time as reserved for that term’s schedule and emergency related questions (no lengthy individual appointments offered). This means about every 10 minutes throughout that week, I’m asked generally the same question that requires a personalized reply. And I’ve found this is the best way to fit in everyone who requests to see me. The questions I’m asked are important for a student to maintain positive progress on their degree completion, and that has financial implications. I take that seriously.

This time of year main questions asked to Advisors include “Can you check my schedule?”, “Are these good classes?”, “I have to work during that class time, what do I do?” and “Will I be able to graduate in May?” To a degree, these questions are subjective, not to mention loaded with ambiguity for the advisor and emotion for the student. A quick schedule check by email will likely result in “those look like great course choices!” or “make a change to that Sociology course, you already took it; and you instead need to fulfill that other gen ed requirement.” There’s no depth of future planning that can happen, either in those sorts of emails or during the minimum time available within office hour interactions, this time of year. Similarly when a student asks me for “good” classes, I have to respond with, what’s “easy” or “hard” is subjective per person, and we need to discuss your best learning styles or I don’t know what is your measure of a “good” course.  “When will I graduate?” is a numbers game, where finding the right balance is critical to maintain a positive GPA with general well-being. Even “quick questions” requires an Advisor’s skill for blending both art and science.

In describing my first week of the new academic year, I aim to frame expectations around the advisor-student relationship. A student might work with their advisor for 5-10 minutes during the first week of every term, but that doesn’t mean you will get the best support they have to offer. One of the best ways to make the most out of your college degree is to also meet for an extended individual appointment at a time when Advisors are generally less inundated. In my world, that means scheduling a 45 minute session, sometime mid-September to mid-October, or similarly late-January to early-March. Late-October and mid-March are when the next term’s courses are posted, and that leads into a different batch of “quick questions” and demands on an advisor’s time. Student appointments that occur in late September or February will have a different experience for a student. Whether these are in person, phone, or video conferenced appointments, those are times the student and Advisor can build a working relationship, take time to plan their best path to degree progress, and I think, mutually the best advising sessions can happen. When this sort of intentional time for building an Advisor relationship is taken by the student, additionally the “quick questions” can also provide the best service a student needs.

The primary purpose of a well-planned advising session is to generally map out term-by-term what courses a student needs throughout their college career. Since I mainly work with declared humanities students, I don’t see as frequently a student exploring different potential majors, although this sort of conversation would be totally appropriate. Talking through a major’s requirements, combing through a student’s particular degree audit, as well as how to fit in a double major, minor, certificate, or general electives of interest, is a critical part of timeline to degree planning. Courses in sequence or co-requisites can come up in any major, and serious bummer for that student who doesn’t plan ahead in their course selection: this could cause delay in an intended graduation. Students must be prepared when their wave time to register arrives. Not adhering to an assigned registration time essentially forfeits a priority seat in a needed or exciting class. If a student waits until November or March to reach out and ask their Advisor that “quick question”, the scenario is not all that different compared to the first week of the term. Except on my campus, since all Advisors offer a combination of individual appointments and office hours during this time, it can mean a longer wait until a meeting is possible. Point is, a student must be proactive in their planning and outreach to their Advisor.

In addition to reviewing a student’s plan, a good Advising session provides opportunity for get-to-know-you questions. In turn a student can be guided toward campus resources and opportunities that allows them to make the most of their interests and undergraduate experience. Similarly, if a student is having any sort of personal challenges that has impact on academics, it’s valuable to notify their Advisor. Most Academic Advisors are not also licensed therapeutic counselors, so the goal in sharing a situation is to provide context for referral and navigation of additional campus services and academic options. For a student in a challenging situation, the best thing is to make an Advisor aware, so they can offer best possible options before there are any negative impact on grades and cumulative GPA.

Whether your reason for seeing an Advisor is for planning courses or personal circumstances, a quick check-in or extended conversation about future goals, proactive planning to meet with your Advisor and establish a working relationship is to your benefit for so many reasons. If a student doesn’t take the initiative to build this relationship, there is no guarantee that it will happen, let alone allow a student to gain the benefit that this relationship can offer. Welcome back to the Fall semester, now go get in touch with your college Advisor.

Katie Vahey Gaebler, M.A., Ph.D.

Katie Vahey Gaebler, M.A., Ph.D.

I am a professional Academic Adviser, having worked with undergraduates and graduate students since 2001. I specialize in providing personalize support for students experiencing transitions in their education. My goal is to help you consider what advanced educational options, and next steps in academic and career pursuits, are best for you.
Katie Vahey Gaebler, M.A., Ph.D.

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About the author: Katie Vahey Gaebler, M.A., Ph.D.
I am a professional Academic Adviser, having worked with undergraduates and graduate students since 2001. I specialize in providing personalize support for students experiencing transitions in their education. My goal is to help you consider what advanced educational options, and next steps in academic and career pursuits, are best for you.