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Liz Murdock LaFortune, University of Notre Dame

“If I take this course, what will it count for?”

LizLaFortune.jpgStudents are fond of asking this question of their academic advisors. On the surface, the inquiry seems harmless enough, but it reflects a broader philosophy of education to which high school students have become indoctrinated. To get into a good college becomes in their minds taking the “right” classes and participating in the “right” activities. However, a university education should be about more than checklists. There is no iPad app that will calculate the “right” journey through an undergraduate’s education, but good choices can prepare students to be competent for the work world or post-graduate study while also broadening their minds and cultivating a passion for questioning and learning. My philosophy of education informs my philosophy of academic advising: Education is a journey, not a commute.

As noted by Hagen and Jordan (2008), Chickering and Reiser’s model of psychosocial development of the college student maintains that students are generally moving from developing competence and managing emotions to autonomy and interdependence in their early years of post-secondary work. As they move through college, students develop mature interpersonal relationships, establish their identities, and begin to develop a sense of purpose. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, they choose classes, pick majors, study abroad, conduct research, and decide what they want to be when they grow up. This is complicated work. This is where an advisor can make a difference.

Since advisors are responsible to the individuals whom we advise (NACADA, Exposition, 2005), we serve as teachers, guides, and companions for students on their journey of education, challenging students to ask questions and reflect on why they are making certain choices: Who are they now and who do they want to become? How do the seemingly small decisions they make when choosing a course or a co-curricular activity shed light on future choices? Why should they care about history or economics if they want to study biochemistry? How can learning in one class enhance mastery in another? What can they create from their portfolios of academic experiences? Good academic advising enables a student to think not only about how to pass the next test, but why mastering the material matters.

Equally important is an advisor’s willingness to listen to the responses to these questions and help students interpret them. Advisors must be honest, well-informed, and skilled at making a student comfortable in our presence. It is important for academic advisors to be knowledgeable about our institutions of higher learning and curricular information, as well as be a good resource for referrals based on individual student needs (NACADA, Exposition, 2005). This skill is essential not to place the advisor in the role of expert, but to gain student confidence and to build a trusting relationship between advisor and student that enriches the student’s learning experience (Brown and Rivas, 1994). Advisors should also understand basic student development theory as well as students’ diverse backgrounds, cultures, and specific academic and personal backgrounds.

The student’s role must be clear from the beginning of an advising relationship; simply put, it cannot be as a passive observer or a mere recipient of information. A student must be the driver of his or her own experience. The University of Notre Dame First Year of Studies expects its students to identify their aspirations and challenges, acquire an understanding of how to navigate the university, be aware of how to seek academic support, and eventually choose the appropriate college and department in which to continue their studies (First Year of Studies). However, the college does not expect nor encourage students to do this alone. The institution provides faculty and staff to serve as guides and companions; it provides advisors whose primary responsibility is to work closely with students to ensure that they have a coherent educational plan for their four years at the university and that they are prepared to be a contributing member of its academic community, while infusing students “with an appreciation for the intrinsic value of education and a sense of responsibility as stewards of knowledge that is created, learned, and applied” on campus (First Year of Studies).

Part of the educational journey must focus on the needs of others. “The University seeks to cultivate in its students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings, but also a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice, and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice” (University of Notre Dame). What happens during the college years matters, not just in informing but in forming a contributing member of society. Academic advising makes such a lofty goal possible.

A commute from first year to graduation relies on good prescriptive advising, but advising for a journey helps students move beyond the box-checking mindset of an entering undergraduate. It challenges them to appreciate the drive, not just the destination. It teaches them to look up and around and take side trips that make the journey richer and more meaningful while still staying on the right path. As Marc Lowenstein (2007) affirms, “an excellent adviser does for students' entire education what the excellent teacher does for a course: helps them order the pieces, put them together to make a coherent whole, so that a student experiences the curriculum not as a checklist of discrete, isolated pieces but instead as a unity, a composition of interrelated parts with multiple connections and relationships.” An excellent advisor is along for the journey.

Liz Murdock LaFortune
Academic Advisor
First Year of Studies
University of Notre Dame


Brown, T., & Rivas, M. (1994). The prescriptive relationship in academic advising as an appropriate developmental intervention with multicultural populations. NACADA Journal,14 (2), 108-111.

First Year of Studies, University of Notre Dame (2012). First year milestones. Retrieved from http://fys.nd.edu/current-students/first-year-milestones/

Habley, T. J. Grites, & Associates. Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed.), (pp. 17-35). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hagen, P. L., & Jordan, P. (2008). Theoretical foundations of academic advising. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, T. J. Grites, & Associates. Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed.), (pp. 17-35). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lowenstein, M. (2007, February 12). The curriculum of academic advising: What we teach, how we teach, and what students learn. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. Retrieved from http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/old/articles/proc01ml.htm

NACADA. (2005). NACADA statement of core values of academic advising: Exposition. From the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/tabid/3318/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/122/article.aspx

University of Notre Dame. Mission statement. Retrieved fromhttp://www.nd.edu/about/mission-statement/ 


Cite this article using APA style as: Murdock LaFortune, L. (2012, September). Education is a journey, not a commute: A personal philosophy of academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 35(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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