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Academic Advisors and Versatility

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Academic Advisors are versatile

Full disclosure: I am currently an academic advisor. It’s my first full-time academic advising experience. I actually was quite pro-active about avoiding academic advising experiences when I was in graduate school. I never thought that I would be an academic advisor. I’ve been in my current advising position for 3 years. It’s been an incredible experience. Having said that, this post is not about me. It’s for anyone who has ever been an academic advisor who has dealt with the subject matter of this post.

A friend of mine is an academic advisor. She’s currently looking for a new position within student affairs. Having applied for several positions that have not yielded an offer. She came to the conclusion that having “academic advisor” at the top of her most recent experiences on her resume was resulting in her application being ignored or devalued. We chatted about how her resume could be re-worked to be more of a skills-based document. While I wasn’t happy about the apparent devaluing of academic advising that seemed to be occurring, I could empathize with both my friend and prospective hiring departments.

The state of academic advising in higher education is that it is a field that is predominantly seen as being in academic affairs. What this means is that while academic advisors may do exactly the same kinds of work as their student affairs colleagues, they might not be recognized for this due to the “silo effect” in higher education.

A lot of folks who are in charge of student affairs hires are looking for people with experiences and credentials that match the positions for which they are hiring. For example, let’s say that a student affairs unit is looking for an Assistant Director of Greek Life. Resumes with “Academic Advisor” on them might not be given as much consideration as they should do to the aforementioned “silo” mindset.

I would like to re-introduce anyone who has not thought of academic advisors as “versatile” to the myriad of skills that are required to be an academic advisor:

  • Listening and Empathy: The cornerstone of any practitioner’s toolkit.
  • Oral and written communication: We talk more and write more than most people…and that’s just the first hour of our day.
  • Knowledge of FERPA: Others may make the policy, we are the ones who have to walk the tightrope of privacy.
  • Ability to work with ANYONE on campus. Students, staff, faculty, parents, family members, etc.
  • Knowledge of student development theory: Academic advisors are the epitome of challenge and support. Thanks Sanford!
  • Event planning and management: Workshops don’t come out of thin air.
  • Public speaking: small groups to gigantor-sized groups. Hello orientation!
  • Collaboration: We have to know everyone on campus. It’s just a fact.
  • Career advice: Grad school, career planning, pro school, life..we set our students on the path to success.
  • Student Org Advising: What, you didn’t think that we just sat in our offices all of the time. We lead individuals and groups.
  • Teaching: We teach students in both individual and classroom settings.
  • Learning outcomes and assessment: We not only set goals and strive to reach targeted outcomes, but we also engage in comprehensive assessment projects.

According to the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education: “Academic advising is one of the very few institutional functions that connect all students to the institution.” Academic advisors are versatile. It’s part of the gig. Will someone please hire my friend now?

The next time you see “academic advisor” on someone’s resume, give it a thorough read.

Written by Eric Stoller

August 28th, 2010 at 5:12 pm

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  • http://kurtxyst.wordpress.com/ Kurt Xyst

    Interesting and smart post, Eric. I admit that my bias tends to run the other way: in my weaker moments I feel student affairs folks are largely in the customer service business, not concerned with educational matters. In our case at UW student affairs reports to student life whereas academic advising and the rest of academic affairs report to the vice-president for undergraduate academic affairs. In the last round of budget cuts student affairs and administration took a much bigger hit than the academic side of the university. It certainly paid off for us to be on the right side of the house.

    I understand that this is not the case many places, but I scratch my head at why student affairs would turn down an otherwise qualified candidate who also comes with academic advising experience.

  • Paige

    Eric-
    Being a new student affairs grad student I was recently discouraged from starting the degree from a friend who is an academic advisor. She felt that her work experience had “pigeon- holed” her because she started advising early in her career.
    As someone new to the field its definitely discouraging to see that this thought beyond my own circle of acquaintance.

  • http://www.thechronicleof.com/ Jillian Reading

    Thank you for this post Eric! It’s a fantastic reminder of what we do each day and how it impacts students. I hope all current academic advisors will revisit their resumes and add on some of the skills you’ve mentioned in your post.

  • http://undecidedlyadvising.blogspot.com Sarah H.

    I remember having this same conversation with on of my grad school professors when I was applying for my first set of jobs. Now that I am starting my third year in an academic advising position, I am slightly fearful of the reaction that you described. But thank you so much for the suggestions for how to rework my resume to be more skills-based…I should start working on that version of it in case I find a great listing for a non-advising position.

  • Valerie M.

    Eric,
    Interesting post! I teach at Community College and one of my responsibilities is academic advising. What are your thoughts on faculty advisors vs. professional academic advisors? Unfortunately, I was never taught how to properly advise students. This is more than likely the case for most faculty advisors at my institution. I believe that the lack of faculty training may result in students receiving ineffective academic advising. This can lead to student inability to succeed in college and increasing student attrition rates. My institution has recently began professional development trainings for faculty advisors; however, the trainings are not mandatory. I wonder then how many faculty will attend the training. Personally, I want to learn as much as possible about academic advising because I want students to succeed. Also, do you have any suggestions for advising culturally diverse students?

  • http://ericstoller.com/blog/ Eric Stoller

    Valerie – Great comments about professional advisors vs. faculty advisors. I think that faculty who advise students should have mandatory training/educational sessions. There are so many things that advisors have to know in order to advise their advisees properly. Faculty advisors should have multiple advising training sessions each year.

    In terms of advising students from culturally diverse backgrounds, I would suggest several different educational experiences. My own (and still continuing) journeys with multicultural competency have been multi-faceted experiences. I’ve taken courses, talked with a lot of mentors, read a ton of books, blogs, and websites, and worked really hard to become as knowledgeable as I can be. A terrific place for advisors to begin their journey would be via the NACADA Multicultural Concerns Commission.

    • LAV

      Do you think transferring from an Admissons Counsleor to an Academic Advisor is a great choice. For Example leaving Keiser to Kaplan?
      Do you think having a for profit school on your resume is not a good look?
      Someone told me that changing from an Admissions Counselor to an Academic Advisor is not a great choice and I will be stuck as an Academic Advisor for ever.
      Not sure, if I should seek employment as an Academic Advisor, I thought becoming and Academinc Advisor would actually open doors until someone made that remark

      • Gary C.

        I became an Academic Advisor after working as an Admissions Counselor. The versatility of an Advisors everyday life makes things interesting. Luckily as an Admissions Counselor I had been doing a lot of things that advisors do due to the nature of the college I worked for. So I gained a lot of transferrable skills. In my opinion, whether you have a for profit or a not for profit school on your resume won’t matter nearly as much as having the right experience and knowledge for the job you are applying for. Look at what you do as an admissions counselor and try to find skills you have gained or daily activities that transfer well to advising. Also having a degree in Higher ed Administration is helpful as well. I disagree with the statement that you will be stuck in advising forever…you do such a variety of things as an advisor and the skills you gain are transferrable to multiple other positions in student affairs or academic affairs, so don’t let that affect your interests in becoming an academic advisor.

  • Valerie M.

    Eric,
    Thank you so much for the response and for the NACADA link. I have begun my journey toward becoming culturally competent by doing as you have done (reading books, articles, blogs, etc.). I agree that faculty advisors must have mandatory professional development trainings each year to properly advise students. Unfortunately, most institutions are not in agreement with this. Some do not even train their faculty to be an academic advisor. It is all trial and error. This is a huge injustice to both the students and the faculty. My hope is that someday this will all change. I look forward to learning more from you on this blog!

  • Steve Young

    This is a very good piece. I think one of the most overlooked skills of an academic advisor is problem solving. We sometimes are forced to be creative problem solvers in keeping a student on track with their educational goals. Academic Advising has made me smarter. It’s helped me to become a true thinker. When I was in Admissions I realize now that I was just going through the motions. I’d stand behind a table at a college fair and answer the same questions night after night. I didn’t know much about my school’s academic curriculum nor did I really have to. But academic advising offers so much more. We are not just advisors but teachers, career counselors, and sometimes reality therapists for our students. It’s a great profession. I just wish it paid more than a Wal Mart greeter!

  • MSkoor

    Eric – this is so on point! I’m in this very situation and am finding it hard to make the transition over to student affairs. I’ve been the Director of Academic Advising at my institution for 8+ years – read: a LOT of experience working with a diverse student body in a variety of academic and interpersonal capacities. However, the skills and experiences would most definitely be an asset moving into a new student affairs position. Most importantly, regardless of the advising departmental placement, I think the real work is to breakdown the silo mindset and begin discussions on the work these two groups (advising & student affairs) can do on campuses through awe-inspiring partnerships. It can truly be a win/win for students and staff. 

  • http://discoveryourdirection.net/ Coach Morgan

    Eric, this a great article. Although my university may not always realize all the skills and experience I bring as an advisor, I believe working as an academic advisor helps me tremendously in my practice as a career coach.

  • Solesliesays

    Great article!   Except for the pay, I don’t know why your friend would want to leave advising or academic affairs!

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  • http://jeffsimms.com/ Jeff Simms

    I agree with the silo effect. It happens at many places of higher education. It’s challenging to break down those walls, but when you do it can open the door to great opportunities. I hope your friend gets a good gig!

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