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Ellen Murkison, Georgia Southern University

EllenMurkison.jpgChoosing a major is a major problem for many students. At Georgia Southern University, Peer Academic Advisors (PAAs) help make the major exploration process more enjoyable and less stressful for students. PAAs’ positive attitudes help counteract many fears, concerns, attitudes, and motivation issues displayed by students who begin college without a major. Peer advisors play both formal and informal roles within the advising center as they assist undeclared students.

Academic advising centers at Georgia Southern provide intrusive advising to students. As defined by Glennen (1984) “the intrusive advising approach is based on the philosophy that schools should not wait for students to get in trouble, but should continually call them in for advising and counseling throughout the year” (pp. 604-605). While intrusive advising practice encompasses many strategies, mandatory advising meetings are a hallmark of our university’s commitment to frequent student/advisor contact. These practices support the university’s larger retention, progression, and graduation goals for our students.

In support of Georgia Southern’s student success goals, First-Year Experience (FYE) became the first advising center on campus dedicated solely to advising undeclared students. With student success in mind, FYE created the PAA program to provide roughly 800 undeclared students with assistance in major exploration each fall. FYE staff members (one full-time coordinator and two part-time graduate assistants) were stretched to devote the time each undeclared student required for major exploration and course advising. Clearly additional staffing was necessary if we were to provide the quality of assistance our students needed to make good progress toward degree completion. Peer advisors helped us meet the needs of our undeclared students and PAAs continue to be an important component of our major exploration efforts even after gaining two additional full-time professional positions.

Peer academic advisors are undergraduate students recruited, hired, and trained by the FYE assistant director. From summer orientation, through first semester advising sessions, to the intensive pre-advising program designed for sophomores who are still undeclared, PAAs are a constant presence. Peer advisors do not take the place of fully-trained academic advisors, rather they “enrich faculty or staff advising by offering a different but complementary point of view from faculty or staff advisors’ perspectives…” (Koring and Campbell, 2005, p. 11).


PAAs first interact with undeclared students during a small-group orientation activity. A version of the Cocktail Party exercise (Bolles, 2001) is distributed and students self-select the Holland Codes that best match their abilities and interests. Each PAA facilitates a series of exercises with the small group, discussing potential majors linked to the traits in each of the six codes. PAAs help relieve many anxieties new students have as they explore majors, meet with advisors, and register for classes.

During each semester, students meet with a PAA as a component of their scheduled advising time.  PAAs administer an initial questionnaire to students, collect important data on student success activities (or lack thereof), provide referrals to campus services, and help students become comfortable as they engage in the advising process. PAAs guide undeclared students through major exploration and provide specific suggestions for students on ways to explore various majors. PAAs enthusiastically encourage students to complete exploration activities after the advising session.

Special pre-advising appointments are required of undeclared sophomores (students yet to declare after earning thirty to forty-four credit hours) during the initial weeks of the semester to expedite these students’ major declaration. With only forty-two hours of general education required at our institution, undeclared sophomores are at-risk of delaying their progress to graduation the longer they fail to declare a major. A worksheet details activities sophomores must complete to be eligible for a regular advising appointment later in the semester. Typical activities include attendance at the Majors Fair, completion of a majorexploration program, individual consultation with a professor or expert in a field, or completion of personality/skills assessments sponsored by Career Services.


Quantitative data suggests that students are not delaying declaration of a major at the rate seen prior to the creation of the FYE advisement center. The percentage of undergraduate students who are undeclared dropped from a high of 12.9% (1999) to a rate of 3.6% (2010). Likewise, the number of students reaching the 45-hour mark still undeclared continues to drop. The number of students in this undeclared cohort fell from 57 students (spring 2007) to only 11 students (spring 2011). Since the 45-hour mark is the required declaration point, this progress is significant.

Qualitative data describes informal benefits students found from their interactions with PAAs. When asked to rate agreement to the following statements (fall 2010), students responded:

  • The PAAs directed me to appropriate resources for major exploration. -- 
    100% Strongly Agreed or Agreed
  • The PAAs improved my overall advisement experience. -- 
    96.6% Strongly Agreed or Agreed

The Peer Academic Advisor program at Georgia Southern University has made a significant impact on the ability of staff within the First-Year Experience advising center to support the broad institutional goals of retention, progression and graduation of students.  Additionally, the positive atmosphere and empathetic attitude displayed by PAAs encourages student engagement in a cohort which is traditionally less likely to feel connected to the institution by virtue of their undecided-ness. These benefits will continue to improve the Georgia Southern campus and community for years to come.

Ellen Murkison
Georgia Southern University
Assistant Director, First-Year Experience
[email protected]


Bolles, R. (2002). What color is your parachute?: A practical manual for job-hunters and career-changers. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Glennen, R. (1984). Is counseling’s bottom line at the top? Personnel and Guidance Journal,62: 604-606.

Koring, H. & Campbell, S. (2005). An introduction to peer advising. In H.Koring, S.Campbell (Eds.), Peer advising: Intentional connections to support student learning (Monograph no.13) (pp. 9-19). Manhattan KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Cite this article using APA style as: Murkinson, E. (2011, September). Peer advisors and the major exploration process. Academic Advising Today, 34(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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