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Sarah A. Forbes, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Sarah Forbes.jpgVarney (2013) defined proactive advising as “intentional interactions with students before a negative situation cannot be ameliorated” (p. 140). Adhering to this definition necessitates that a student be present in some capacity for those interactions to occur. Since most at-risk students are not likely to take the initiative to ask for help, proactive advising puts the onus onto the advisor to reach out to the students. Failure to attend a proactive advising meeting can have repercussions; at many institutions, however, there are no penalties. The carrot, then, is learning better strategies to be successful. Unfortunately, students are not always intrinsically motivated. The best an advisor can hope for when scheduling proactive advising meetings is to pique curiosity and reduce barriers.

Prior to establishing a formal proactive advisor position at Rose-Hulman, the chair of the retention committee would reach out to at-risk students via email, with text such as the following:

Subject: Want to chat?


I hope this message finds you well. I was wondering if you would like to sit down to chat about how things are going for you so far. I want to be clear: this message does not mean that you’re in any trouble whatsoever. Rather, I’d just like to sit down to speak with you about your experiences thus far and what your plan is for making sure you are successful moving forward. Please let me know if you have a time when you can sit down with me for a brief chat sometime next week.

Have a good Friday and a great weekend! I look forward to meeting with you soon.

These emails were well intentioned, with an underlying message of support rather than punishment. Unfortunately, they were not as effective as expected. Attendance was not formally tracked during this time, but the chair estimates that about 50% of the students he emailed actually attended.

The more the retention committee worked with students, the more we realized there were assumptions in our outreach attempts that created barriers. As mentioned, most students during the first couple of years do not want to ask for help, especially those classified as at-risk. We made an assumption that if we ask these students “if they would like to sit down to chat” that they would respond in the affirmative. Requesting that they “let me know if you have a time . . . to chat” typically generated an onerous back and forth conversation about what times work for each party. Given that some of the messages were sent late in the week, they were likely buried in their email or dismissed. Ultimately, this approach still placed the burden on the student.

Establishing the Director of Student Academic Success position provided an opportunity to rethink outreach. The goal was to remove as many barriers as possible, which resulted in three distinct changes. First, rather than engaging in a back and forth dialogue about what times would work, the student’s course schedule was reviewed to find out when he or she would be walking right by the library where the Student Academic Success office is housed. Employees have access to a schedule lookup page through the Registrar’s Office. A course grid, like the example below, will display for a selected student. 












MA111 in G219


PH111 in O103




RH131 in A219




MA111 in G219


PH111 in O103




RH131 in A219




MA111 in G219



RHIT100 in G310


PH111L in BL113

PH111L in BL113

PH111L in BL113



MA111 in G219


PH111 in O103




RH131 in A219




MA111 in G219


PH111 in O103




RH131 in A219




The entire course schedule gets taken into account in order to maximize the likelihood a student will attend. In this example, there are two good options. The first is at 9:00 a.m. because the student will be walking past the library to go from one academic building to another. The second is 3:00 p.m. (except for Wednesday) because the student will be walking past the library on the way to a residence hall, the union, or even the library to study. Appointments also considered when the student might need to eat lunch and how many hours straight they had spent in class (with the idea that after five straight hours of class, they are more likely to want a break and less likely to show up to a meeting).

The second change related to the format. Rather than sending a traditional email, a Microsoft Outlook appointment was created. When the student receives the notification email, the format looks different enough to catch their attention. The notification contains a set of action buttons at the top for “Accept,” “Tentative,” and “Decline.” Even if they choose not to select an action button, it still helps to differentiate the email from others.

Finally, the message itself was revised to be short and intentionally vague. Less text increases the chance that they will actually read the full notification, and it reduces the likelihood that they will get defensive or project denial that something is wrong. It also piques their curiosity. An example of the current message format is:

Subject: Let’s Chat! (LastName/Forbes)

Hello [Name],

I hope your week is going well. Would you stop by my office on Thursday at 9:00 a.m. to chat for a few minutes? My office is on the main floor of the Logan Library, L227, near the restrooms.


Meeting appointments are sent 20 to 23 hours in advance. Scheduling more than a day out resulted in a lot of confusion. For example, for an appointment scheduled two days in advance, the student replied with an apology for missing the meeting, assuming it was for that day. Appointments are rarely scheduled on Monday, unless requested, as it is too easy to forget about it over the weekend. Only a few students have replied to the invitation asking about the nature of the meeting. More context is provided in those situations:

Some of your professors expressed concerns, so I just wanted to see how you are feeling about the quarter. When faculty express concerns to us, we reach out to students so that ultimately we can connect the student with resources that will be beneficial. I promise we are not the principal’s office! Most students struggle with asking for help, so we take away that barrier.

Formal attendance has been tracked since launching this new approach. Attendance rates for the past two years have shown a steady incline overall. Students who use the calendar feature of Microsoft Outlook will receive a reminder 15 minutes before the appointment. Aside from that, no other reminders are provided. 

Academic Year


Attendance Rate




















We cannot attribute, with 100% certainty, the successful attendance rate to just the changes described.   Having a dedicated position certainly helps, as does being located in the library where many students congregate. As such, there are likely other factors involved. This approach is certainly not an efficient process, but with our mission of individual attention and support, it has been an effective process. For larger institutions, this may not be a feasible approach for all proactive advising meetings; however, it may be worth trying with a subset of at-risk students.

Sarah A. Forbes, Ph.D.
Director of Student Academic Success
Academic Affairs
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
[email protected] 


Varney, J. (2013). Proactive advising. In J. K. Drake, P. Jordan, & M. A. Miller (Eds.), Academic advising approaches (pp. 137– 154). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cite this article using APA style as: Forbes, S.A. (2019, September). Scheduling proactive advising meetings to create the path of least resistance. Academic Advising Today, 42(3). Retrieved from [insert url here] 


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