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Voices of the Global Community


Tammy A. Russell, First-Generation College Student Advising Interest Group Member


Are students’ first-semester course schedules setting them up for academic failure? A common advising practice is to assign first semester course schedules based solely on students’ intended majors. This system may make the initial advising process easier. However, the practice begs advisors to ask if retention comparisons have been made between students who entered college after completing a rigorous high school curriculum and those students who entered college meeting only the minimum admission standards? Were both populations successful with the typical 16 credit semester hour schedule? Were first semester students who met lower admission standards better served by a less rigorous 12 credit semester hour schedule?

Do students meet individually with advisors from their assigned academic department during summer orientation programs or does the registrar’s office assign a schedule based solely on the students’ intended major? In both situations too much concern can be directed toward math/science heavy schedules without consideration of majors loaded with curriculum content heavy in reading and writing. If the first semester schedule is loaded with social and behavioral sciences and humanities courses, how well will a student do academically who is entering the institution with a 2.00 high school cumulative grade point average, “C’s” in high school English and History, or low entrance test scores in verbal areas?

Not only is the curriculum content of each course important when advising students, but the teaching pedagogy practiced in each course is an important advising consideration. How many multiple-choice exams will be given during a particular course? How many papers will be required of students? Advisors must also take into consideration whether a combination of courses fits with the students’ learning strengths. Advising can be difficult and involve far more than following a department “course schedule model.” Institutions that encourage advisors not to look at all pertinent information inadvertently put students at risk.

Individuals responsible for first semester schedule planning should learn something from the typical high school schedule. High school students tend to enroll in a combination of curricula each year: English and Math are combined with Art, Health, and Physical Education. Other courses typically found on high school students’ schedules include Social Studies and Science. When students enroll in college, they are often loaded with courses heavy in one or two areas; their schedules may not provide for a balance among curriculum content and teaching pedagogy or be suited to students’ learning strengths. Applying a strengths-based model of advising will not only help students with first term schedule planning, but will help students focus more on their own academic strengths rather than their weaknesses.

Student motivation is a foundation of strengths-based advising which puts the focus on students’ possibilities and not on the students’ problems (Schreiner & Anderson, 2005). Self-reflection allows students to define themselves as individuals. What in-born talents do I have? What skills appear to come naturally? Do my strengths match my current academic direction? Schreiner and Anderson (2005) noted that strengths-based advising practices differ from development advising practices in that advisors help students focus on the situations, both in and out of class, that enable students to be successful. This advising model can also help undecided first-year students successfully choose a major and focus on academic talents rather than future employment and academic deficiencies. Not every student should major in business or pre-medicine as an undergraduate!

Anderson and McGuire (1997) propose that a strengths-based approach can lead to increased self-motivation in students. Information providers tend to focus on what recipients need to know in order to improve instead of the strengths people bring to an environment. This statement is true for a variety of relationships including, among others, supervisory, parenting, classroom management, and advising. Academic advisors play many roles as students progress through our institutions. Helping students increase their levels of positive self-reflection can help students increase the expectations they set for themselves and lead students to regularly view themselves as positively engaged and academically talented. Positively engaged students leave advising sessions reflecting on their strengths rather than focusing on their deficiencies.

 Assessing current advising practices is important to student success. Strengths-based advising can help advisors focus on students’ strengths. When we implement an advising model best suited to students’ strengths, we increase students’ chances of success at our institutions.

Tammy A. Russell
Director, Academic Services & Learning Support
Mount Aloysius College
[email protected]


Anderson, E., & McGuire, W. (1997). Academic advising for student success and retention: An Advising perspective. In M. Hovland, E. Anderson, W. McGuire, D. Crockett, J. Kaufman, and D. Woodward (Eds.), Academic advising for student success and retention. Iowa City: USA Group Noel-Levitz.

Schreiner, L. A. & Anderson, E. (2005). Strengths-Based Advising: A New Lens for Higher Education. NACADA Journal, 25 (2), 20-27.

Cite this article using APA style as: Russell, T. (2008, June). Using strengths-based advising  to promote persistence and restructure 'one size fits all' advising models. Academic Advising Today, 31(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]

Posted in: 2008 June 31:2


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