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Tina Greathouse, Franciscan University of Steubenville 

Discussions at colleges and universities across the country are often centered on retention and student success. While post-secondary institutions have historically strived for their students to achieve, the need is now even greater considering the 4.1% decline in college enrollment—including both undergraduate and graduate—since spring 2021 (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2023). Thus, when first-year advisees share their concerns, struggles, and fears with transitioning to higher education, it is important for an academic advisor to be equipped with an abundance of resources in their toolbox pertaining to student success. While first-year experience programs and learning centers are tasked with encouraging students to focus on strengthening their study habits, time management, organizational skills, and wellness abilities, there are other academic aspects which can often impede student success. Taking the time to discuss these facets can be very beneficial to advisees.

Understand the Difference Between High School and College Study

Many new students enter college misinformed about how to succeed academically in a college environment, often expecting their college academic experience to echo that of high school. To combat this way of thinking, encourage your advisees to think about an apple and an orange. Obviously, both are fruits. However, the two look, feel, and taste completely different. Next, have them apply this train of thought to comparing high school and college. Both are forms of education but are vastly different in terms of classroom make-up, instructor expectations, assessment methods, parental involvement, etc. Students often enter college believing that they can depend on faculty to keep track of them and remind them daily of upcoming assignments; the amount of time they spent on homework in high school is adequate for college; they will not have any trouble doing well in all their classes; and college will be a repeat of high school academics in regard to their grades and their ability to handle the workload. Identifying and sharing the reality of these differences with first-year students will better prepare them for the academic rigor ahead.

Avoid Digital Overload

Students entering college are technology/digital natives and have not lived in a world without smart phones. In response, all information is now distributed to students digitally through a variety of websites, platforms, and applications. While this provides information which can be easily accessed at any time and from anywhere, there can be drawbacks. Most institutions use a variety of sources for information distribution: websites, email, mass texting, student information systems, learning management systems, student success apps, new student apps, departmental blogs, etc. This leads to students getting blasted with so much information that important messages are often missed, or students just choose to ignore them because of the vast number received. It is important to encourage students to identify which sources of digital information should be reviewed daily verses weekly, which information sources provide personalized verses general information, and what sources are important for academic work as opposed to recreational.

The University Catalog Exists for a Reason

“There is a catalog?” is a phrase I have often heard in my office. Many new students (a) do not know the university catalog exists, (b) are unsure about what information it contains, and (c) do not know how to locate it online. Explaining to students why it’s important to know their catalog of record and what that means in terms of general education and program requirements provides an opportunity for student ownership for their degree completion. Taking the time to show students how this valuable resource can be accessed is one of the first items new students should be shown.

Email Etiquette is Important

Email is an important and valuable means of communicating with instructors. While college students are used to communicating by electronic means, most have developed poor habits from corresponding primarily with friends. Through the overuse of texting, students have adopted shortcuts, such as not spelling out full words, ignoring capitalization and punctuation, and not bothering with grammar or full sentence constructions. Students are often unaware of how inappropriate it is to send a poorly crafted email message to a professor who expects professional quality of writing with full sentences, correct spelling, and appropriate grammar. To an instructor, email etiquette speaks volumes about who a student is as a student. Taking the time to provide guidelines regarding appropriate email etiquette, including addressing the reader with their correct title, identifying oneself, including course section meeting time, and clearly stating one’s needs, will positively impact an advisee’s relationship with instructors.

Read the Syllabus

Students often view a course syllabus as something they go over on the first day of class and then it is thrown in their backpack never to be looked at again. However, a course syllabus includes important classroom policies regarding late work, attendance, cell phone usage, make-up testing options, etc. In addition, these documents provide detailed reading lists, course objectives, additional resources, information regarding the weight of assignments, and faculty office hours. As an academic advisor, taking the time to explain the key elements of the course information sheet and encouraging advisees to read through each syllabus thoroughly will start students off in the right direction.

Faculty Office Hours

Students entering college are often intimidated by professors and therefore do not take the time to meet with them regularly. Unfortunately, students inaccurately believe a professor will think they are unintelligent or will be rude or even mean if they approach them outside of class. It is important for students to understand that meeting with a professor provides an opportunity for clarification of course content, feedback on an assignment or paper, or time to discuss research and internship opportunities. Faculty are not bothered when students come to visit during office hours: that is why they have office hours! Reiterating to advisees that meeting with their professors should not be optional and providing students with some tips and suggestions for their meetings will assist them on their road to success.

Keep Track of Grades

Unlike previous generations, many new students have not kept track of their grades prior to entering college. K-12 school management software, such as Progressbook and PowerSchool, have provided the opportunity for students and parents to view grades, homework, schedules, and attendance since the start of elementary school. The result is college students are often unsure of their grade or where they stand in a course. As an advisor, meetings regarding midterm deficiencies often entail students stating, “I didn’t know I was doing so bad,” or “I am not sure what my grade is in the course.” Thus, teaching advisees the important skill of grade tracking from the beginning of their academic career will lay the foundation for academic success.


College success requires students to have a high level of organization, communication, and personal accountability. Because of this, academic advisors have the unique opportunity to assist new students with these types of skills as they transition to higher education. Thus, it is important for an academic advisor to have a wealth of tools, tips, and techniques available pertaining to student success to share with their advisees. Academic advisors can have in-depth discussions with students on how to help ensure academic success in a variety of ways. This article discussed just a few important topics. In closing, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:

1. How can I assist advisees with transitioning to college academics?

2. Where do I see my advisees struggling?

3. What advice or wisdom can I share with my advisees at the beginning of their first semester?

4. What is the best modality to share this information with my advisees?


National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. (2023). Working with our data. https://nscresearchcenter.org/workingwithourdata/

Posted in: 2024 March 47:1


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