Building a relationship with advisees based on trust and confidentiality (not including the knowledge of information that could result in the harm of the student or someone else) is most important to the success of the advisor advisee relationship. Meeting with a student and developmentally focusing on getting to know them, what they’re like, where they come from and what makes them tick; that mostly one way conversation is important to gaining the advisee’s trust. I, as their advisor will theoretically have an easier time working with them, understanding them, and helping them in the most effective way possible. This also gives the student the confidence to come to me, their advisor, with anything at all whether it’s personal, or academic.
Student-centered advising coupled with developmental advising, with just a hint of prescriptive advising (when necessary) is the perfect combination for advising. Although this will differ from student to student, in general, this combination stands out. Developmental advising focuses on building a student’s “rational processes, environmental and interpersonal interactions, behavioral awareness, and problem-solving, decision-making, and evaluation skills” (Crookston, 1994). Developmental advising helps the student learn things about themselves, in order for them to grow and flourish at college, in order to choose a fitting major and career. Similarly, in student centered advising the advisor acts as a mentor, with a relationship built on trust. The advisor demonstrates “knowledge of learner development models and formal and informal curricula, together used in establishing syllabi to guide development of individual learners” (Melander, 2002). In the past, prescriptive advising was thought to be too reliant on the authority of the advisor, who bears the responsibility by simply answering questions and sending the student on their way (Crookston, 1994). Using purely prescriptive practices as an advisor could potentially be disastrous. Combining prescriptive advising with a developmental, student-centered approach provides advisees with the perfect mix of general information and self-exploration. Students are given the opportunity to learn about themselves in a safe environment with the guidance of a trusted confidant.
Prescriptive advising necessitates the mention of responsibility, and it’s very important for both the student and advisor to know what they’re responsible for. While an advisor is there to know the curriculum, programs, requirements, prerequisites and other general information about an institution of higher education, the student isn’t just a passive part of the advising process. This is where an advising syllabus is a key tool for advisors to use to clarify who’s responsible for what. This gives the advisor the opportunity to lay it out from the beginning by using the advising syllabus to “reach an agreement on who takes the initiative, who takes responsibility, who supplies knowledge and skill and how they are obtained and applied” (Crookston, 2004). This will vary depending on the institution and the type of student being advised, but no matter what the situation, the syllabus will greatly help determine who’s responsible for what, so the advisor doesn’t feel wholly responsible for the student’s success at the institution.
There are several different ways to look at a student. There’s age, enrollment status (full or part time, online or on campus, transfer students, swirling students), residence (on campus, off campus, commuter students), gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnic group, international students and students with disabilities (Kennedy & Ishler, 2008), to name the most broad demographics. While each demographic group presents what seem to be clear-cut characteristics and ways they prefer to be treated, one demographic does not define a person. Two students may look the same on paper, but it’s highly likely that these students are very different in actuality. If there’s anything I’ve learned throughout my travels in life and through obtaining my master’s degree, it’s that you cannot pigeonhole people. It isn’t fair to them, and it doesn’t give you a chance to get to know them for who they are. I treat everyone as an individual first, and take into account their demographic information as it becomes relevant in my time spent getting to know them.
One of the most important things I’ve learned about advising is that you must treat everyone equitably, not equally. The chapter on ethics in the Academic Advising Handbook dictates that one of the basic ideals of ethics in general is to “treat all individuals fairly or equitably, granting no one any special rights or privileges that are not open to all. ‘Equitably’ does not have to mean ‘the same’; it just means that differences must not create inequalities, and should have a defensible basis” (Lowenstein, 2008). All students are entitled to advising, and although different students have different needs, advisors must treat every student with the same level of respect and effort. For so much of my life it’s been drilled into my head that everything must be fair and equal, and it’s refreshing to think that every situation isn’t cut and dry, and you don’t have to do the same thing for every student with the same problem, so long as you treat them all equitably.
The one thing I want my advisees to take away from their advising experience with me is the feeling that they are never in this alone; that they have someone trustworthy enough to turn to when things get tough or confusing in any respect. Maintaining relationships with people you don’t see regularly can be difficult, but by personalizing the advising experience for the advisee, listening to them, letting them know I care and that I’m invested in their future will help the advisee feel that they’re not alone in the often overwhelming realm of higher education. I’ve been there myself, so I know what I would have wanted as student in the masses of an institution.
In the end, it’s important to constantly evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. What works today might not work next month, and what works with one student may fail miserably with the next. By taking the time to build solid relationships with advisees, using developmental, student-centered and prescriptive advising together in a well-blended technique, assigning responsibility at the beginning of the relationship through an advising syllabus, remembering not to pigeonhole students, treating students equitably but not necessarily equally, and striving to make a difference in the lives of my advisees, my philosophy of academic advising is well grounded in theory, perspective and experience.
Crookson, B.B. (1994). A Developmental View of Academic Advising as Teaching. NACADA Journal, 14(2), 5- 9.
Fielstein, L. L. (1994). Developmental versus prescriptive advising: Must it be one or the other? NACADA Journal, 14 (2), 76-79.
Kennedy, K., & Ishler, J. C. (2008). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. (2nd ed., pp. 123-141). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lowenstein, M. (2008). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. (2nd ed., pp. 36-49). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Melander, E. R. (2002). The meaning of “student centered” advising: Challenges to the advising learning community.The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. http://www.psu.edu/dus/mentor/021127em.htm