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Debra Y. Applegate and Gayle Hartleroad, Ball State University

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Being an academic advisor is no small task; we inform students about opportunities to expand their knowledge and experiences, help them make life-changing decisions, and assist them to achieve their maximum potential.  As budget restraints negatively affect academia, there is valid concern that institutions remain adequately staffed and sufficiently meet the needs of students in a timely manner -- two of the Council for Advancement of Standards in Higher Education requirements for academic advising programs (CAS, 2005). Many of today’s academic advisors are overwhelmed by the number of students in their advising loads and their responsibility to help these students develop academically and personally. What exactly defines a “large advising load?” How might an advisor effectively advise this number of students? What does it take for an advisor to manage this demand? Do advisors have accessible resources that are not being utilized efficiently?

Defining a “large” advising load

Although suggestions vary, Habley (2004) noted that a generally accepted recommendation for the number of students assigned to a full-time, professional academic advisor is approximately 300 (¶ 4). Habley noted that this recommendation should be qualified by the specific needs of the student population and the structure of the institution (¶ 5). Advisors assigned to work with undecided, disabled, transfer, adult, and international students, among other sub-populations, may require a smaller load to accommodate more extensive advising needs. Another factor which may determine an assigned advising load is the number of electives within a specific program. For instance, business and engineering are two programs with few electives so some administrators may not consider other student factors and think that advisors can handle larger advising loads. In these cases it may be helpful if advisors are assigned a select group of students within a specialty or in the same year.

Advising a large population of students (750 pre-business in our situation) has required us to think strategically in our efforts to handle the demands of a large number of students effectively without sacrificing student focus or our ability to assist students in utilizing campus resources to obtain the best possible college experience.

Defining student populations

When managing a large number of advisees, a critical component is advisor knowledge of the general and specific needs of each student population group. At Ball State University, we utilize a coding system for advisors. This has proven beneficial to categorize advisees using designated codes which indicate student progression through the required course sequence. For instance, pre-business students are coded “WW” when entering sophomore status, “XX” for students successfully continuing in the program after their first semester, “YY” if an international student, “ZZ” if an honors student. At a glance, Ball State pre-business advisors can see what type of student is being advised and know probable questions and concerns.

Defining effective formats for various student populations

Once student populations have been identified, a specific format is utilized to best meet the needs of advisees. Incoming or newly identified pre-business students (coded as “WW”) must attend a mandatory group orientation advising session in their first semester. Course sequencing, registration, GPA requirements, major choices, advising expectations, internships, and available resources are explained in this session. We encourage students to efficiently progress through pre-business toward admission into the college of business. Students who successfully advance to the next semester are coded as “XX” and will attend individual advising appointments until they are fully admitted into the college. This group often requires more specific advising to help them successfully progress to their declared majors. International students, also known as the “YY” population, meet with an advisor one-on-one in all cases since there are often additional requirements and specific needs to be addressed. For similar reasons, individual advising appointments are the favored format for the honors “ZZ” group.

Defining possible resources

The number and types of advising resources are diverse. A sampling of options include:

  • The NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. The web-based Clearinghouse is a primary resource for advisors on a multitude of advising-related topics. Clearinghouse topics are divided into two basic groups: resources to help advisors work with students and advisor/system related resources (NACADA, 2011c).
  • Individual institution websites. Many advising programs have their own websites that provide resources for advisors, faculty, and students. Advisors should search websites of programs that mirror their own in advisor load, student population, or program structure for ideas on how to best convey information within their advising situation. 
  • Technology. When considering advising resources many of us immediately think of technology applications; this is illustrated by the vast listing on the “Advising Technology” section of the NACADA Clearinghouse (NACADA, 2011a). We know that technology is a primary way students seek immediate access to information. Some specific technology applications for advisors and students may include, but are not limited to, the following:  
    • Email
    • saging s Instant me
    • Text messaging
    • User-friendly portal or website
    • Blogs
    • Social media (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
    • Pod or Vod casts
    • Electronic signage
    • School-specific systems, such as Blackboard
    • Applications created specifically for mobile devices
  • Institution or Regional Advising Groups. Some institutions have their own advising association within the campus community (NACADA 2011b). Colleagues can be one of the best resources for advisors because they have insight into the specifics of a particular campus community, student populations, or school-specific policies/procedures.
  • Current staff. There are almost always creative ways to modify current positions to better support advising. These modifications can include new ways to exchange “behind the scenes” administrative work for in-person assistance to advisors. 

When addressing the challenges of managing today’s large advising loads, academic advisors can benefit tremendously from categorizing their advisees, identifying specific student needs within these categories, selecting appropriate advising formats, and utilizing available resources. It is critical we remember that even though we may be overloaded with work each student is an individual with individual needs. Students deserve the guidance needed to help them navigate the bureaucracy and challenges of college in order to be successful. NACADA is an incredible support organization to assist academic advisors in this professional endeavor.

Debra Y. Applegate
Academic Advisor
Miller College of Business
Ball State University
[email protected]

Gayle Hartleroad
Director of Student Services
Miller College of Business
Ball State University
[email protected]


Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS). (2005). Academic advising programs: CAS standards and guidelines. Retrieved from www.cas.edu/getpdf.cfm?PDF=E864D2C4-D655-8F74-2E647CDECD29B7D0

Habley, W. R. (2004). Advisor load. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/advisorload.htm

National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). (2011a). Advising technology. Retrieved from www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/Links/Technology.htm

National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). (2011b). Allied associations.  Retrieved from www.nacada.ksu.edu/Membership/allied_members.htm

National Academic Advising Association (NACADA). (2011c). Clearinghouse topics index. Retrieved from www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/index.htm

Cite this article using APA style as: Applegate, D.Y. & Hartleroad, G. (2011, March). Effective ways to deal with large advising loads. Academic Advising Today, 34(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2011 March 34:1


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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.