by Hilary Gan
Academic advisors are excellent but often underutilized resources for college students. Depending on the institution, advisors may be a specialized full-time staff member, a professor within the student’s chosen major, or an instructor of informational freshman courses. Students should strive to check in with their advisor at least once per semester—doing so can help students stay on the right track for their college careers in more ways than one.
To get the most out of advising sessions, and to develop a strong rapport with your advisor, consider asking the following questions.
- Given my strengths, academic performance, and interests, would you agree that I’ve chosen the right major?
This question will require a little prep work: students should take some time to jot down notes about their personal strengths, past academic performance, and the courses they’ve most enjoyed. After this step is done, students can share this information with their academic advisor and ask for input on their choice of major.
Why is this important? Some students end up declaring a major that isn’t really right for them; this can be due to simple unawareness of programs available, a lack of research on potential career paths, or even pressures to follow in family footsteps. Choosing the wrong major can send students in a direction that isn’t really best for them, so consulting with a trusted advisor is a great step to ensure you’re on the right path. Academic advisors have extensive experience with helping students find the right fit for them, so students should feel free to inquire about this at least once, and perhaps even more often, during their studies.
- How can I make sure I will graduate on time?
Asking about graduation timelines will open the door for advisors to help students create a concrete four-year plan. Students should be sure they thoroughly understand any general education requirements, the requirements for their major, and any tricky situations that may come up—like required courses that are only offered once a year or that have to be taken in a specific sequence. Flagging these items with an advisor in a planning session ahead of time can help prevent unwanted surprises senior year, and it can highlight any key deadlines by which students may need to get in touch with other offices, such as the registrar.
- What should I do during my college years to ensure success in my intended field after graduating?
Students should ensure their academic advisor knows why they’re studying in their chosen field and what they have planned for after graduation. For students who have specific career goals or who want to pursue graduate school, advisors may be able to help connect students with resources for getting internships or determine when to take exams like the GRE or LSAT. For students who are unsure of their future plans, advisors may be able to suggest viable options based on the student’s academic performance, achievements, and interests. Students who take advantage of academic advising to look to the future will likely feel more confident going into graduation and entering the real world. This may seem like a far-off step to some students, but it approaches quickly!
- I’m having trouble with ________. Can you help?
Whenever an issue comes up regarding coursework, graduation, or any other difficulties related to school, your academic advisor will often be able to help you directly, or at the very least, refer you to the most appropriate other resource for support. You can talk to your advisor about changing majors, challenges with courses, taking leaves of absence, conflict with professors, financial aid, or any other issues you may run into. Having those once-a-semester meetings can help your advisor get to know you better and make it easier for him or her to help you when problems arise.
Having an academic advisor to help assess the alignment of goals with personal needs and to help create a plan for achieving them is invaluable. Students should feel comfortable and encouraged to create more comprehensive, personalized questions going forward so they can maximize these sessions, as well as continue to build a rapport with their advisor.
Hilary Gan is a tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.