Liz Schunk, Kennesaw State University
Kevin Simmons, Louisiana State University
While some academic advisors remain at one institution, many professionals inevitably move to another institution throughout their careers. Whether it be for monetary, family, or other reasons, it is often necessary to make the leap. Many advising roles have some similarities regarding registration, graduation, and orientation. However, there are many subtle but significant differences that can be taken into consideration when looking for a new academic advising position.
Mandatory Versus Optional Advising
The culture around academic advising at each institution can largely be determined by the mandatory or optional nature of academic advising for students. Mandatory advising is a requirement that students must get academic advisement once per semester whether that be face-to-face, virtual, or in a group setting. If the advisor-to-student ratio is particularly uneven, this may be completed via email. Communicating with an advisor regularly has been proven to increase persistence rates of students (Klepfer & Hull, 2012; Nutt, 2003). Mandatory advising can be tough to manage with a large caseload. Sometimes, advisors simply do not have enough time to hold a 30-minute advising session with each student in their caseloads. Additionally, mandatory advising may be unnecessary for certain students. However, one study found that mandatory advising is supported over optional advising by students (Smith & Allen, 2014). The consistency of meetings also enables advisors to easily build rapport with students.
Optional advising allows students to only utilize academic advising when necessary and ensures that fewer advisors can serve a larger volume of students. While many students would benefit from regular meetings, that is not the case for every student. Not all colleges and universities have the capacity to implement mandatory advising or may choose to utilize these resources on other retention efforts. These may include academic coaching, tutoring, supplemental instruction, first-year seminars, or additional orientation efforts (McFarlane, 2019).
Advising can be mandatory for some students and not for others. For example, institutions may have preventative measures in place to require first-year students, students performing poorly, or students nearing graduation to meet with an advisor. According to the most recent NACADA National Survey of Academic Advising (Self, 2013), advising is mandatory at 42.9% of institutions, optional at 34.3% of institutions, and mandatory for certain students at 22.9 % of institutions.
Both mandatory and optional advising have benefits and drawbacks. Shifting from one type of advising structure to another can create a surprising contrast, and the adjustment period takes time. Advisors should take their preference for the two into consideration when searching for a new position.
Caseloads and Other Advising Duties
The volume of students an advisor works with can fluctuate significantly depending on the office and institution. According to the previously mentioned NACADA survey data (Self, 2013), the median advising caseload size is 296. The data also shows that caseloads tend to be larger at institutions with higher enrollments. The number of majors that one may advise for can fluctuate as well. For example, the authors of this article have advised between 250–1000 students and between 1 and 10 majors per semester. It is possible to work with more majors than this, especially in an office that serves exclusively first-year students. However, some majors do have a significant amount of the same required coursework, making the process of mastering each curriculum more manageable. When considering a new position, advisors should ask about the caseload they may be faced with, including the number of majors serviced. This could help in determining the workload required and the training time needed (i.e., more majors to learn may need more training time to adjust).
It is possible for two advisors at similar schools with the same caseload size to have vastly different workloads due to additional advisor responsibilities. These additional responsibilities can include assisting with the study abroad process, teaching first-year seminar courses, managing recruiting and retention events, overseeing orientation efforts, and committee work. Similarly, the professional development opportunities will vary at each institution. Professional development opportunities and additional advisor duties should be discussed prior to accepting any new role.
The importance of office dynamics should not be underestimated in an advising job search. The office may be decentralized or centralized. With centralized advising, advisors are housed (physically and/or administratively) in one central academic or administrative unit. In a decentralized model, advisors are organized in their specific departments. Institutions with both centralized and decentralized models are very common as well (Pardee, 2004). There are pros and cons to each advising model. For example, the authors of this article have noticed that a centralized model allows for better interaction with fellow advisors, making it easier to navigate best practices. On the other hand, a decentralized model allows for closer interaction with faculty members and departments, thus allowing advisors to form a better idea of curriculum requirements and career opportunities in the major(s). Advisors should consider their preferences in advising structures while searching for new positions to better understand their daily interactions at work.
The supervisor or leader of the office may be a staff member with a similar advising background or a faculty member with additional instructing and research responsibilities. A supervisor often sets the tone for office morale and dictates what the priorities of the office are. The ability to build rapport and maintain a trustworthy relationship with one’s supervisor is paramount to success in any role.
It may also be worth inquiring about the advising software prior to accepting a position. Experience with necessary advising and degree audit software may speed up the adaptation process. For example, one author of this article transitioned roles where the student management system was identical to their previous role, making the transition smoother. Conversely, the other author transitioned to a new role where the software was completely different, thus needing a longer training period.
The Student Experience
The student experience will also differ from institution to institution. In addition to traditions, athletics, and extracurricular activities, advisors should learn about factors and policies that affect the student experience and make the institution unique. These include secondary application processes, campus resources, class sizes, online or hybrid class options, majors and minors offered, and grade forgiveness. Grade forgiveness is an umbrella term used to describe a policy that allows students to retake courses and replace the old grade with a new grade in their GPA calculations. If available, grade forgiveness can be vital for student success. While the topics listed in this student experience section may not make or break an advisor’s decision to take a new job, these factors can be helpful to research. Ultimately, the student experience will also influence the advisor’s experience at the institution.
Salary and Benefits
As with accepting any new job, it is important to speak with a human resource professional and have a full understanding of the benefits package. There can be a considerable amount of variance in the retirement and insurance benefits as well as annual leave. Some institutions allow for a larger amount of annual leave after being at the institution for a certain number of years. Advisors moving from one public, in-state institution to another may be able to transfer benefits including annual leave. Also, many institutions offer discounted tuition prices for employees and family members of employees. This can range from a small percentage reduction of tuition prices to 100% tuition coverage in certain circumstances.
Additionally, as with any job search, it is important to consider the salary and mobility of the position. The current average salary for an academic advisor in the United States is $46,729 yearly, though this can range between $35,000 and $62,000 (Zippia, 2023). Knowing the average salary for a given area can assist in negotiations for a new position. Salaries, benefits, and other compensation for employees of public state institutions are often required to be made public. Advisors may obtain this information early in the job search process to assure the move is advantageous.
While salary is certainly an important factor in a job search, one should also consider the ability to advance in this position. Does this institution have a career ladder for advisors (i.e., Advisor I, II, and III or Advisor and Senior Advisor)? If there is a career ladder, take note of how someone can move between the positions. For example, are they applying when someone leaves a role, or are employees promoted for good work? If there is no career ladder at an institution or it appears difficult to be promoted, advisors may consider leaving to move forward in their careers. Advisors should take note of salary and advancement opportunities to understand the potential for longevity in a new position.
It is worth noting that the authors of this article both served as advisors at public, 4-year universities in the southeastern portion of the United States. There will likely be additional things to consider for roles at a 2-year college, online college, or an institution outside of the United States. Institutions and advising units are all different, but each has a similar goal to promote student success, increase retention, and propel students toward their academic, career, and personal goals.
When searching for a new position, advisors should take many things into consideration, even beyond those mentioned in this article. The authors of this article simply wanted to share a few differences they have noticed in their advising jobs across institutions. Caseloads, mandatory versus optional advising, and office dynamics may not be the first things that come to mind when researching new advising roles, but they can play a critical role in the daily life of an advisor. It is important to know preferences in these situations so advisors can find the best fit for them.
Klepfer, K., & Hull, J. (2012). High school rigor and good advice: Setting up students to succeed. Retrieved from https://www.isac.org/e-library/research-policy-analysis/Task-Forces-Working-Groups/monetary-award-program-MAP-task-force/documents/CPE.pdf
McFarlane, B. (2017, December). Mandatory advising, yes or no? Academic Advising Today, 40(4). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Mandatory-Advising-Yes-or-No.aspx
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
Pardee, C. F (2004). Organizational structures for advising. NACADA Clearinghouse. www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Organizational-Models-for-advising.aspx
Self, C. (2013). Who advises? Implications for practice based upon answers to the 2011 National Survey of Academic Advising. NACADA Clearinghouse. https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Implications-of-advising-personnel-of-undergraduates-2011-National-Survey.aspx
Smith, C. L., & Allen, J. M. (2014). Does contact with advisors predict judgments and attitudes consistent with student success? A multi-institutional study. NACADA Journal, 34(1), 50–63. https://doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-13-019
Zippia. (2023, April 6). Academic adviser salary. https://www.zippia.com/academic adviser-jobs/salary/