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Voices of the Global Community


Authors: Emma Hage & Jaimie Engle

Individuals who enjoy their jobs are more likely to stay. Job satisfaction is positively correlated with employee engagement, retention, and other positive organizational outcomes (Lavigna & Basso, 2020; Shuck & Wollard, 2010). For advisors, certainly there are many factors that influence job satisfaction, including workplace relationships, compensation, caseload size, and more. When we (Jaimie and Emma) met through the NACADA Region 5 mentorship program, we realized that although we loved our colleagues and work environments, we shared similar dissatisfaction with our jobs that seemed primarily due to the types of programs we advised for.

At the time we met, Jaimie was an assistant director of advising, working with biology and neuroscience students who were primarily interested in attending medical school. Emma was finishing her first year as an advisor for information technology (IT) programs. Although our overall satisfaction was influenced by many factors, we wondered if we would be more satisfied advising for another discipline. Our instincts were yes, so we decided to explore the components contributing to our dissatisfaction.

Current Challenges

The theme of our dissatisfaction was that the majors we advised were outside of our own educational backgrounds and personal interests. The lack of congruence between our own interests and values and those of our students was challenging for several reasons.

Limited knowledge of discipline. First, it can be difficult to build relationships with students if they don’t sense that we as their advisor have an authentic interest in or understanding of what they are doing. For us (the authors), our limited knowledge of their field of study also prevents us from providing comprehensive advising. As natural helpers, it can feel discouraging for us (and students) when we don’t have all of the answers about course content, career prospects, or post-baccalaureate academic programs.

Lack of exploration and variability. Our programs in IT, biology, and neuroscience have prescriptive and technical curriculum requirements. Because of the limited room for exploration or error, we found it challenging to encourage students to take risks. The rigidity of the curriculum also equated to many repeat issues—failing a class, missing a prerequisite—and many advising conversations that sounded the same. At times, we felt bored with the repetitive nature of these conversations.

Repetitive career-oriented goals. Getting to know students and their goals can also feel repetitive in a career-oriented major. Many of our students began their majors with the same interests and values. Most of Jaimie’s students were fixed on the idea of medical school, while Emma’s students were interested in high-paying technology careers. There was little delineation from these goals, and we sometimes struggled to view each student as unique.

Contrasting expectations for advising. Our differences in values also manifested as differences in expectations for advising. While we value self-exploration, many of our students were hyper-focused on achieving the grades they wanted and finishing their degrees so that they could move on to a high-paying job or professional school. We could attempt to use these conversations as a gateway to deeper topics, but even then, we didn’t always have the time or cooperation from students to make these conversations more exciting and fulfilling.

These challenges were likely compounded by the fact that we had been advising virtually for over two years, with large caseloads and few quiet seasons. Still, finding satisfaction in our work required a great deal of effort that felt specific to the clash of interests between us and our students.

Considerations for Administrators

Administrators should be concerned about advisor satisfaction due to the impact advisor attrition can have on student satisfaction, student retention, and the quality of student services. If advisors do not stay, students cannot develop meaningful long-term relationships, and the quality of advising may not be consistent. There are several things advising administrators can do to engage individuals and promote satisfaction.

Consider the educational backgrounds or experiences that align with certain disciplines. Although many positions may require a master’s degree in higher education, job applicants who demonstrate both discipline-specific knowledge and relational skills may be effective advisors even without such a degree. Administrators may find that applicants with discipline-specific experience are more satisfied with specialized advising work AND more prepared to help students with discipline-specific questions.

Provide information upfront about student and program characteristics. Education professionals who do not have specialized advising experience may be unfamiliar with the characteristics of a program and its students. Providing this information in the job description and interview process can help professionals make an informed decision about whether the position aligns with their strengths and interests.

Encourage a work schedule that includes activities outside of major advising. Although meeting with students is likely how advisors spend most of their time, having a variety of tasks can promote engagement and satisfaction (Salanova & Schaufeli, 2008). Administrators can support advisors by keeping a large enough staff to achieve an appropriate caseload per advisor and by encouraging advisors to make time for additional projects or committees of interest.

Delegate advising and retention tasks based on strengths and interests. Staff, faculty, and student leaders each have unique skillsets and resources that lend themselves to different types of tasks. Taking stock of the strengths represented on their team can provide administrators with information to design an advising model that includes a fair balance of tasks that align with everyone’s expertise, preferences, and capacities.

Consider the culture of advising within the office. An advising syllabus can set clear expectations for students about the frequency and purpose of appointments, the preferred contacts for specific questions, and what types of questions advisors can answer. This information could also be disseminated and repeated during orientation, in first-year experience courses, in introductory major courses, throughout residence halls, or in other settings that students are likely to encounter often so that advisors are protected from excessive questions outside of their expertise.

Considerations for Advisors Who Aren’t so Satisfied

Farr and Cunningham (2017) emphasize the significance of self-assessment for developing an effective advising practice. If, upon reflection, an advisor realizes that they aren’t happy with their job, this dissatisfaction can negatively affect their ability to provide high quality care and support to their students. Therefore, advisors who feel dissatisfied with their work can consider the following strategies to address these feelings.

Reflect on the previous sources of fulfillment. Advisors can consider the elements of the advising profession that have been satisfactory to them and how they can create additional opportunities for such tasks. Joining a committee, collaborating with a campus partner, or developing a new office initiative are just some of the ways that individuals can be creative and seek out new opportunities to connect with the areas that fulfill them.

Realign one’s advising approach and philosophy. When advisors can align their advising approach with the advisor they want to be, they can increase their overall job satisfaction. For example, Emma realized that time constraints made it difficult to have the co-constructive, reflective conversations she considered important for advising. Realizing this misalignment of philosophy and practice, she created educational advising guides to help students learn and apply information about their degree. Consequently, her appointments now include much more student-driven conversation, and she can ask students to use these resources rather than having to recite degree information repeatedly.

Brainstorm strategies that can alleviate advising challenges. There may be opportunities for advisors to alleviate some of the most unsatisfying parts of work. Jaimie felt discouraged by the mass number of conversations she was conducting with ambitious pre-med students who repeatedly failed courses. Although this was an inevitable reality of Jaimie’s advising role, she was able to partially address it by adjusting the number of appointments she held per day. Decreasing her daily appointments helped her stay energized and ensured that students would receive consistently supportive advising.

Explore intersections of personal interests and students’ interests. Advisors who work with an unfamiliar program can consider any overlap in their personal interests and what students are doing. For example, Emma realized that her interest in advising technologies connected to her students’ interests in database management and user experience. With tuition benefits, she was also able to take IT courses related to her own interests that also helped her understand her students’ experiences. This connection allowed her to feel invested in the field her students studied, demonstrate authentic interest, and assert some credibility as someone who had experience with IT courses.

Leave! The best option for some advisors may be to leave their role. If it’s not possible to adjust their current position, there may be a role elsewhere that better aligns with their interests and expertise. Jaimie particularly enjoys the relational aspects of advising and collaborations with other campus stakeholders. After considering her dissatisfaction with major advising, she was fortunate to secure a new role focused more on students’ sense of belonging and community. She was able to consider what she liked about her advising role, which ultimately led to pursuing a new role more in line with her interests.


We hope these considerations are helpful to academic advisors who are unsatisfied in their role or struggling with their advisor identity. Whether advisors are struggling with burnout or just looking to find the most fulfillment in their role, it is important to consider the ways work can be enjoyable and meaningful. Besides the individual benefits of job satisfaction and workplace wellbeing, when institutions prioritize advisor satisfaction, there are also undeniable benefits to the institutions and the students advisors support.

Emma Hage and Jaimie Engle


Farr, T., & Cunningham, L. (Eds.). (2017). Academic advising core competencies guide. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising.

Lavigna, B., & Basso, P. (2020). Employee engagement: Why it matters (Part 1). Policy and Practice, 78(3), 16–19.

Salanova, M., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2008). A cross-national study of work engagement as a mediator between job resources and proactive behaviour. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 19(1), 116­­–131. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585190701763982

Shuck, B., & Wollard, K. K. (2010), Employee engagement and HRD: A seminal review of the foundations. Human Resource Development Review, 9(1), 89–110. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534484309353560

Posted in: 2023 March 46:1


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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.