Kevin Simmons, Academic Counselor Louisiana State University
For those outside of the advising profession, prescriptive advising is often the expected format of working with students. While prescriptive advising is absolutely necessary, there are other critical conversations that advisors should be having with their students. These topics include referring students to campus resources, informing students of important deadlines and university policies, and promoting a student’s career readiness. The latter, promoting a student’s career readiness, is less commonly approached in an advising appointment.
Students are often required to meet with an academic advisor but are rarely required to meet with a career services professional. As a result, students may lack critical knowledge and skills related to their career development. For certain topics such as resume reviews, interview tips, and cover letter writing, it is almost always better for advisors to refer students to career services professionals. However, an advisor can provide a career development check-in to ensure that students are not neglecting priorities outside of the classroom such as joining a student organization or building a network of contacts. In many university career guides, advisors can find a four-year career development plan that provides students with important steps to take during each year of college to enhance their career readiness. Advisors can use a similar four-year career development plan as a guide to encourage students to take their career development seriously throughout their time at the institution. A summarized version of the primary objectives for each classification year is listed below.
Freshman: Adjust from high school to college
Sophomore: Explore majors and interests
Junior: Gain experience and transferrable skills
Senior: Transition to post college life
For traditional first-year students, adjustment and integration is a priority. Integration into the college setting both academically and socially is a strong predictor of whether or not a student will be retained at the college level (Tinto, 1993). A student’s first year is an excellent time for advisors to inform students of different majors and involvement opportunities inside and outside of their college or department to promote career readiness. While not related to career readiness, advisors should also inform students of any unusual or complex policies during this time such as academic forgiveness, unique study abroad opportunities, or applying to their senior college if necessary. This information is often best delivered in one-on-one advising appointments and is critical information for advisors to integrate into freshmen advising appointments to promote a successful adjustment period.
In the sophomore year, exploration is a key component as students have ideally settled into college life. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2017), roughly 30 percent of undergraduate students changed their major within their first three years of college in 2017 and roughly 10 percent of students changed their major more than once. Students in STEM majors were more likely than students in non-STEM majors to change their major. Working with students on the brink of changing their major is one of the most critical times for advisors to provide support and expertise. Advisors can provide details on options that are best suited for the student’s indicated interests and explain how this will affect the student’s graduation timeline. Advisors often have knowledge related to minors/concentrations that can be ideal for a specific student’s academic path and career development. Narrowing down career and major options is a top priority in most four-year career development plans. Advisors have a great opportunity to aid students in this process during the sophomore year.
For sophomore and junior students that are confident in moving forward with their declared major, advisors may guide students through the stages of gaining experience. Internship and co-op experiences are the most common ways students earn both real world experience and income while in college, but these opportunities are more abundant for students in certain majors. Students often misconceive that co-op and internships are the only way to gain experience. Advisors have the opportunity to inform students of other ways to gain experience and transferrable skills particularly those that are specific to the advisor’s university or department. These may include student organization involvement, participating in an academic competition, volunteering, assisting a faculty member with research or grading, studying abroad, shadowing, mentoring, and having a part-time job.
Advisors are most effective in promoting career readiness in the early stages of a student’s academic career. If students have not started the process until their senior year, there may be too much ground to make up. During the senior year, advisors should encourage students to attend their career fair or graduate/professional school information event, establish references, and schedule any necessary appointments with a career services professional for mock interviews, resume and cover letter critiques, and job search strategies. It is not uncommon for the job search to extend three to six months or more after graduation. Depending on the institution, the same career services offered to students may also be offered to alumni. This is critical information to relay to students who have not yet found a job or have not been admitted to graduate school at the time of graduation.
Pre-professional students and those seeking admission to graduate school can particularly benefit from advising appointments with a career readiness focus. These students have a stronger need to keep a competitive GPA on top of other obligations such as shadowing hours, volunteer hours, studying for professional and graduate school standardized tests, and possibly taking additional prerequisite courses for their professional or graduate school program. Advisors have a responsibility to make sure students are aware of the rigorous admissions criteria to be admitted to these programs. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (2020), 54% of medical school applicants were denied to every college they applied to in 2019. This does not include those students who began their college career with medical school aspirations, but ultimately chose not to apply. Advisors can serve students by having tactful conversations about realistic chances of getting into these programs and ultimately developing a contingency plan if needed.
Merging career readiness conversations into advising and using a four-year career development plan can be challenging while working with transfer students. As a result of being at their new institution for a shorter period, there is less time for a transfer student to adjust and explore. The four-year plan will likely need to be converted to a four- or five-semester plan. Advisors may need to be more strategic while promoting career readiness in transfer students in the same way advisors are often more strategic while helping transfer students build their academic schedules.
Academic advising has long been touted as one of the most effective retention methods offered by institutions of higher learning (Nutt, 2003; Tinto, 1987), but it is rarely recognized as a way to improve career outcomes for graduates of the institutions. While advisors should not leave their scope of expertise when working with students, advisors can seamlessly merge conversations related to career readiness into their appointments. Ideally, students will then recognize the importance of career development topics such as networking, gaining transferable skills, and contingency planning. Promoting a student’s career readiness is just one of the many ways that an advisor can ultimately make a difference and promote success while working with students.
E.J. Ourso College of Business
Louisiana State University
Association of American Medical Colleges. (2020, October 27). Table A-16: MCAT scores and GPA for applicants and matriculates to U.S. medical schools, 2017-2018 through 2020-2021. https://www.aamc.org/system/files/2020-10/2020_FACTS_Table_A-16.pdf
Nutt, C. L. (2003). Academic advising and student retention and persistence. NACADA Clearinghouse. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advising-and-Student-Retention-article.aspx
Tinto, V. (1987). Increasing student retention. Jossey Bass.
Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press.
National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]. (2017). Beginning college students who change their majors within 3 years of enrollment (NCES 2018-434). U.S. Department of Education. https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2018434
Cite this article using APA style as: Simmons, K. (2021, December). How academic advisors can promote career readiness in advising appointments. Academic Advising Today, 44(4). [insert url here]