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Anthony Smothers, Hawkeye Community College

Anthony Smothers.jpgHave you tried explaining academic advising to your parents or friends? My beginning attempts included phrases like “help students find a major and get registered” or “assisting students in learning about the university.” Mom would ask, “Is that a full-time job? I thought you worked at a university.” An entrepreneur friend asked, “Anyone can do advising, right?” My reply, “Yes, just like anyone can master running five food restaurants.” He replied, “Point taken.”

The next step may be to validate the academic importance of advising by referring to the NACADA Pillars of Academic Advising (NACADA, n.d.) including the Concept of Academic Advising, Core Values, Core Competencies, and advising standards from the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. Advisors may see their friends’ and families’ look of confusion.

Advisors may then turn to their higher education knowledge and refer to very intellectual resources like O’Banion (1972) and Crookston’s (1972) developmental advising; Gordon’s (1984) constructs connecting academic advising and career advising; Fielstein’s (1994) prescriptive advising; Bloom, Hutson, and He’s (2008) appreciative advising; or intrusive advising by Earl (1988). Advisors may add in higher education theorists like Astin’s (1984) involvement theory or seven vectors of student development by Chickering (1969). Who knows, some may even enjoy reaching back further to that inquisitive relative Kohlberg (1969) and Piaget’s (1952) theory of moral development. 

After 15 years in advising and 26 in higher education, I have decided to attempt humor when explaining academic advising. Don’t get me wrong; I have developed my personal philosophy statement of academic advising and student success guided by my learning from NACADA. This is essential when visiting with professionals in the field. My humor when explaining academic advising to those outside the field is related to daytime talk shows where I have confidence in people knowing the celebrities and their themes.

Academic advising is like practicing the characteristics of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Dr. Phil. These famous talk show hosts embody the heart academic advising practitioners demonstrate every day, whether advisors choose to use developmental, prescriptive, intrusive, or appreciative advising.

Oprah Winfrey is all about “tell me your story.” Academic advisors ask students to tell their story: Where are you from? What are some of your hobbies? What was your favorite class during high school? What kind of books do you like to read? Tell me a little about your family. Why did you come to college? What were some of your initial goals and dreams? 

Advisors look to build a relationship and understanding with students on the direction they have with their academic, career, and personal goals. For example, a student may express a major, study abroad experience, internship, campus job, research, some involvement like a club, sorority/fraternity, or just where to get their parking pass. As advisors, we search for areas of discussion to meet the needs of students at that moment while also sharing information that we may know the student will need to be successful such as study habits or time management. While meeting the needs of the student, we try to inspire students and build confidence or self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997).

Ellen DeGeneres is known for believing that anything is possible and for sharing the humanity of relationships. Academic advisors utilize this theme when asking students what their dreams and initial goals are. A student states that they want to complete three majors, a few minors, a study abroad experience, and a research publication before they graduate. In their head, the advisor is thinking that this is an incredibly challenging list and likely not realistic. However, anything is possible when students are willing to learn, work hard, map out their adventure, and take risks to achieve their goals. Advisors must have faith in students and advise them with gusto; they also must take the time to evaluate, check in, adjust, praise, and inspire.

Dr. Phil is famous for gathering information and then asking reflective questions like “How is that working for you?” Advisors may hear students explain home sickness, not attending class, not studying enough, relationship difficulties, working too much, traumatic events, or confusion on the purpose of college (why am I here?). Advisors can use this question to assist students in their reality of progress toward their goals. Advisors provide resources, ideas, encouragement, understanding of their development, and tough conversations when the student is not meeting their goals.

Advisors have many tools to describe what academic advising is to their family and friends. A safe bet is to always answer, “I assist students at the college.” Enjoy the greatest profession at a college that touches so many students, faculty, and staff. We work with everyone!

Anthony Smothers
Records & Registration
Hawkeye Community College
[email protected]

Astin, A. W. (1984) Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25(4), 297–308.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. W.H. Freeman and Company.

Bloom, J. L., Hutson, B. L., & He, Y. (2008). The appreciative advising revolution. Stipes.

Chickering, A. W. (1969). Education and identity. Jossey-Bass.

Crookston, B. B. (1972). A developmental view of academic advising as teaching. Journal of College Student Personnel, 13(1), 12–17.

Earl, W. R. (1988, September). Intrusive advising of freshman in academic difficulty. NACADA Journal, 8(2), 27–33. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-8.2.27

Fielstein, L. L. (1994). Developmental versus prescriptive advising: Must it be one or the other? National Academic Advising Association Journal, 14(2), 76–79.

Gordon, V. (1984). The undecided college student: An academic and career advising challenge. Charles C. Thomas.

Kohlberg, L. (1969). Stage and sequence: The cognitive developmental approach to socialization. In D. A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of socialization theory (pp. 347-480). Rand McNally.

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (n.d.) Pillars of academic advising. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars.aspx

O’Banion, T. (1972) An academic advising model. Junior College Journal, 42(6), 62–69.

Piaget, J. P., (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. International Universities Press.

Cite this article using APA style as: Smothers, A. (2020, March). Explaining academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 43(1). [insert url here] 

Posted in: 2020 March 43:1


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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.