Whether you are attending a large university or a small liberal arts college, academic advising is more challenging than ever. An advisor is often a working member of the faculty who, in addition to his/her class load and university responsibilities, helps students pick which classes to take. The implication is that an “advisor” is supposed to be someone who mentors you through the path of your classes and gives you advice and feedback on possible careers based on those choices. On the basic level, he/she needs to rein you in when you are taking too many electives and not enough required classes. Your advisor can also help you stay balanced when your schedule is anything but (I remember a particularly long discussion in which my advisor started our conversation with: “You’re not seriously taking four English classes this semester, Stephen?” Due to scheduling challenges in the semester prior and to follow, this was the only way I could graduate on time. It was the toughest semester of my undergraduate life, and although I knew it when I registered, I appreciated the extra warnings from my advisor).
Some schools require advisor sign-off before you register for classes. At other schools, advisors simply audit a list of classes after you have registered. Whatever their particular function within the school you attend, advisors are important people to get to know for three reasons:
1. They know the school. If you are interested in a particular major or minor, or just in asking some questions before taking a class, in all likelihood your advisor will know the professor or someone within the department to give you a direct connection to. They also have the cumulative experience of advising others in your same position, so you can use that crowdsourcing info to your advantage.
2. They have seen different paths to careers. Some people are going to have a straightforward path. They want to be accountants or doctors, so they know exactly the requisite classes and course load. Others have no idea, or at least, have only some idea. This is where an advisor can shape/push a passion that manifests itself within class choice towards job prospects or career paths.
3. They want you to succeed. Now, this is where it gets interesting. Your advisor has to take a certain number of students but not every student is going to receive (or listen, even if they do receive) the advice we are giving today. So the advisor will, by default, give more time to the student who wants more time. Take that extra time. Invite your advisor to coffee. Pick his/her brain and get to know him/her better. It will be the first sort of networking you do out of the high school, and it’s probably the least stressful.
The moral of the story here is that if your advisor knows you, your dreams, your passions, and your desires, when he/she hears about a new class, an upcoming lecture, a possible internship, a new scholarship, a summer opportunity, or, as you inch closer to graduation, some career opportunities, guess who will be the first person to get an email about it? The person he/she knows best. (Pssst: this is how life works, too.) Endeavor to be that person and you will not just reap the reward of having a well-advised and thoughtful schedule that gets you to graduation as expected, but you just might make a friendship that will last long after you’ve thrown that cap in the air.
High school seniors nearing graduation, put “get to know my advisor” on your to-do list for your first semester.
Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.