Jennifer Noonan and Janice C. Stapley, NACADA Research Grant Recipients
Academic advising plays a crucial role in retention, progress towards degree completion, and student satisfaction with the college experience (Kimball & Campbell, 2013). With generous support from NACADA for the research study “An Examination of Academic Advice Seeking within an Emerging Adulthood Framework,” we collected data on more than 200 students’ behaviors, preferences, and opinions to assist in informing advising policies. Through the lens of a developmental psychology perspective, we made the decision to ask the students themselves, rather than assuming that college personnel in a different age group know how undergraduates feel about things like communication technology and social media. The interviews and open-ended questions from the questionnaires allowed the students to share with us, in their own words, their perspectives on the student-advisor relationship.
First and foremost, just because they contact their peers via social media, this does not necessarily mean that is the way students want to interact with their academic advisors. Are we stereotyping them if we refer to them as the “net generation” that interacts primarily through technology? Would students object to in-person meetings if they commute to school rather than living on campus? The study sought to help answer these questions in order to gain a better understanding of student preferences for how they receive academic advice.
Data obtained this year through questionnaires and semi-structured interviews suggest that regardless of whether undergraduates are commuters or live in campus housing, most prefer to have in-person meetings with their advisors. These data are consistent with the findings of Gaines (2014) who surveyed a very different sample. Gaines's study was conducted at a public university in the south among students who tended to be older than the traditional college population, many of whom took online courses. Although this is the type of question that obviously needs to be revisited every few years in a rapidly changing environment, finding consistent results across these two very different samples supports the assertion that current college students still prefer to discuss their academic plans with their advisors in a face-to-face meeting.
Thus, at a time in history when adults often assume adolescents and emerging adults are very technology focused and might prefer to communicate by email, text, or on a platform like Facebook, most undergraduates prefer to have personal interaction with their advisors. This highlights the need to empirically test our assumptions that might be based on a small anecdotal sample. The preferences reported by a northern private school sample and a southern public university sample have clear implications for college policies such as office hours for faculty who do academic advising as part of their contract. Assumptions that availability via email can replace time spent with students in a brick and mortar office are not borne out by the most recent research!
Students in our study reported that they prefer to email their advisors to make an appointment to meet or to ask a short, simple question. For all else, most students prefer to sit down and chat in their advisor’s office. One student explained, “If it’s an important topic, I feel like it needs to really be discussed, not back and forth emails.” Students feel that they can get more subtle information from a face-to-face meeting. As one student explained, “I like face-to-face interaction because I find, like, you get true answers. If they hem or haw you can kind of tell, instead of just for email you don’t really see emotion.”
One reason students may prefer face-to-face meetings is that although undergraduates are at a point in their development when they are individuating from their parents and focusing on their unique career trajectory, they generally want to do this with input from an advisor who knows them well enough to provide truly individual attention. Emerging adulthood (roughly 18-29 in industrialized countries such as the United States) is generally characterized as a period of both instability and the feeling that there are endless possibilities for one’s life (Arnett, 2007). If we understand that as the lived experience of the traditionally aged college student, it makes sense that they might be prone to thinking about changing majors and career goals and need someone with whom they can discuss and work through these thoughts. Most students want this to be someone who will not just go through academic audits or lists of major requirements, but rather someone who will help them make the best decisions for them as unique individuals.
One of our study participants who reported choosing to see someone besides his assigned advisor explained, “My assigned advisor didn’t seem as personally involved or committed to getting to know me individually. I feel like I hit it off better with the other two and they were more beneficial to me in terms of guidance and direction.” The description of what students dislike in an advising interaction was explained by a student who reported, “My advisor, on the other hand, I think he just needs to take the time to actually get to know the person, because the one time I did meet with him, it was just straight to like academics, like this is what—this is how you should plan out the rest of your career at Monmouth and not try to get to know me as a person.”
Students at our medium-sized, private university in the New York metropolitan area arguably have high expectations for individual attention, but these conclusions are strengthened by their consistency with the responses that Gaines (2014) found in a public university in the south. Students are happy to email their professors with quick questions or requests (like lifting a registration block) or to set up an appointment. Otherwise, most prefer to have a face-to-face meeting, where they have the additional information from emotional expressions and nuanced conversation. And they want this meeting to be with someone who is at least trying to know them as an individual, rather than giving them generic advice.
Of course, with heavy case loads, it’s impossible to know each of our advisees’ individual goals and needs really well, so it is important to ask questions and take notes in all advising sessions that may help us understand advisees’ individual circumstances better. We need to take the time to inquire about outside commitments or other issues that affect their schedule, as well as career goals and graduate school aspirations. Referring to the notes we have on past sessions in preparation for meeting with our advisees can help academic advisors tailor sessions to students’ needs and facilitates the interpersonal connection that allows the student to feel heard and understood as an individual.
Research Assistant, Social Development Laboratory
Department of Psychology, Monmouth University
Janice C. Stapley
Department of Psychology, Monmouth University
Arnett, J. J. (2007). Emerging adulthood: What is it and what is it good for?. Child Development Perspectives, 1, 68-73.
Gaines, T. (2014). Technology and academic advising: Student usage and preferences. NACADA Journal, 34(1), 43-49.
Kimball, E., & Campbell, S. M. (2013). Advising strategies to support student learning success. In J. K. Drake, P. Jordan, & M. A. Miller, (Eds.), Academic Advising Approaches (pp. 3-15). San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass.
Cite this article using APA style as: Noonan, J., & Stapley, J.C. (2015, March). The demise of in-person academic advising is nowhere in sight! Academic Advising Today, 38(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]