Academic Advising Resources


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Advising Syllabus 101
Authored by Tonya McKenna Trabant 

What is an advising syllabus and why should it be utilized?  An advising syllabus, whether used by individual advisors or by whole units, offers many benefits that can enhance our work with and for students. In addition, creating an advising syllabus can be the catalyst that leads to important explorations and questions about the role of advising on our campuses.
In essence, an advising syllabus is a tool which allows individual advisors or offices to outline the advising relationship and experience for their advisees. Use of this tool is grounded in our understanding that advising is essential to the educational mission of our institutions. On the majority of our campuses, course syllabi are a regular part of every student's classroom education. However, the role of our advisees' co-curricular experiences is not often as clearly defined even though literature indicates that student success highly correlates to activities outside of the classroom (see Cress et al., 2001, Higbee, 2002, Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).
Advisors often help students navigate between curricular and co-curricular issues; an advising syllabus is one way we can help students close the gap between the two. For example, advisors model and teach life and professional skills that support student academic success. Additionally, advising is one of the few resources students find consistent from semester to semester; thus it is at the center of student education.

Generally speaking, most advising syllabi have eight main elements:

  1. First and foremost, an advising syllabus must be relevant to the specific campus, office or advising philosophy. Some situations may call for a short two-page overview while others may require a longer, more detailed review.
  2. The advising syllabus should adhere to the course syllabus guidelines used by campus faculty. It is important to use the tool in a recognizable and consistent format for students and campus stakeholders.
  3. The syllabus should include a three to five sentence definition of advising and/or the advising mission statement used on campus. Some campus syllabi include historical definitions of advising (, while others use a definition crafted for their specific campus or student population.
  4. Clear contact information is necessary so students can easily contact the correct advising office.
  5. An advising syllabus should include a set of student expectations and/or responsibilities; when these are clearly delineated we can legitimately hold students responsible for their part of the advising relationship. 
  6. Likewise, an advising syllabus should include a corresponding list of responsibilities and/or expectations for advisors; if we expect to hold students accountable then we must do the same ourselves.
  7. Advising syllabi should include expected outcomes of advising. Students must easily understand how advising impacts their success. These outcomes may differ widely from office to office or campus to campus, but they are important method for communicating and measuring our impact on students' lives.
  8. The final element includes tools, resources, and/or recommendations for students. For example, a syllabus can include calendars of advising events and appointment times, book or Web site recommendations, detailed location descriptions, or a blank line for advisors to personalize the syllabus with a recommendation. 

Why should we define the advising relationship for our advisees? How do we communicate our expectations to them? Benefits of advising syllabi range from the discussion of large philosophical issues to the delineation of concrete, everyday ways to help students. Creation of a syllabus encourages us to write and commit to an advising philosophy and a definition of our work. Although these statements of our beliefs may not differ significantly from the departmental mission (and it is important that they not conflict), crafting of such statements is a useful way to communicate with various stakeholders. Advisees benefit from knowing how advisors define advising; parents appreciate knowing what they can and cannot expect from their child's advisor. In addition, an explicit explanation of the work of advising can be an invaluable tool to communicate with colleagues and administrators.
The U.S.worldview is predominantly western; this means that we have strong preferences for explicit, written expectations and instructions. An advising syllabus caters to this preference by collecting expectations and pertinent advising information in one uncomplicated format. Without an advising syllabus, students often are left to 'figure it out' on their own; this practice means that students can overlook key information.
If we fail to share our procedures and expectations with advisees, we miss an opportunity to carve out a place for advising in the student's education. When we state a dual set of expectations, we hold ourselves and our students accountable for the appropriate parts of our relationship. If we take a developmental view of advising (see, an advising syllabus can support students' active engagement in their education. Instead of simply receiving information, students are explicitly expected and encouraged to fully participate in the advising relationship. Furthermore, when we state expectations and outcomes we naturally create assessment parameters.
An advising syllabus also helps counter inappropriate expectations. Some questions that may be addressed include 'Will my advisor tell me what classes to take?', 'What can I talk about with my advisor?', and 'How are advisors different from my high school guidance counselor?' Furthermore, since syllabi are widely used on most campuses, we benefit from the familiar format; students, faculty, and administrators recognize that syllabi define a certain experience and are educational tools.As with any tool, advising syllabi present both benefits and challenges. While the benefits may outweigh the challenges, it is important that we actively discuss the challenges in order to reap the most benefit from an advising syllabus.

  • The first challenge is that until we introduce an advising syllabus on campus, no on expects to find one.
  • One logical place to distribute an advising syllabus to all advisees may not exist.
  • the institutionalization of an advising syllabus may require a cultural shift in your office or campus.
  • The syllabi format was designed for another purpose. As such, some of our colleagues may feel that we are inappropriately co-opting a strategy that does not fit our work. Some faculty advisors respond posititively to the idea of an advising syllabus because it is a familiar format while others are alienated by our use of a classroom tool.
  • Students may note that the consequences for not meeting the expectations laid out in an advising syllabus differ from the consequences for missing an exam or a class assignment. Since co-curricular experience is neither time nor evaluation bound in the same ways as a course, consequences are difficult to articulate by our use of a classroom tool.
  • It can be difficult to be comprehensive in an advising syllabus; finding a balance between everything students need to know about advising and a summary of vital information is crucial.
  • While the outcomes we develop for our advising syllabus can help us assess our work, it may be difficult to assess the efficacy of an advising syllabus itself. How will we know if the actual syllabus helped our students understand the outcomes and their responsibilities?

Addressing these challenges can be daunting; however, with patience and persistence we can create another beneficial way to advocate for advising our advisees. Despite, and perhaps because of, these challenges, an advising syllabus is a worthy consideration for all advisors. Its many benefits help us create an understanding that advising is essential to the education and success for our students. 

Find examples of advising syllabus currently in use in the Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources at:

Authored by:Tonya McKenna Trabant
Cross-College Advising Service
University of Wisconsin-Madison


Cress, C.M., Astin, H.S., Zimmerman-Oster, K., & Burkhardt, J.C. (2001). Developmental outcomes of college students; involvement in leadership activities. Journal of College Student Development, 42(1), 15-26.

Higbee, J.L. (2002, Spring). The Application of Chickering's Theory of Student Development to Student Success in the Sixties and Beyond. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education, 18 (2). (pp. 24-36).

Pascarella, E.T., Terenzini, P.T. (1991). How College Affects Students: Findings and Insights from Twenty Years of Research; San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Further Readings - for syllabus design information

Davis, B.G. (2001). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

For creating student learning objectives:

For exploring advising as teaching related topics:

Appleby, D., (2001). The Teaching-Advising Connection. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. Online.

Lowenstein, M. (2005, Fall). If Advising is Teaching, What do Advisors Teach?NACADA Journal, 25 (2). (pp.65-73)

Metzner, Barbara S. Perceived Quality of Academic Advising: The Effect on Student Attrition. American Educational Research Journal. Vol. 26 (3), Fall 1989, pp. 422-442.

Smith, J., Dai, D., & Szelest, B. (2006, Spring). Helping first-year students make the transition to college through advisor-research collaboration. NACADA Journal, 26(1). (pp. 67-76).

For exploring learning outside the classroom

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. (2003). Self-assessment guides. Washington DC: Council for the Advancement of Standards.

Cress, C.M., Astin, H.S., Zimmerman-Oster, K., & Burkhardt, J.C. (2001).  Developmental outcomes of college students; involvement in leadership activities.  Journal of College Student Development , 42(1),15-26.

Higbee, J.L. (2002, Spring). The Application of Chickering's Theory of Student Development to Student Success in the Sixties and Beyond. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education, 18(2). (pp. 24-36).

Kuh, G.D., Schuh, J.H., Whitt, E.J., and Associates (1991).  Involving Colleges: Successful Approaches to Fostering Student Learning and Development Outside the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pascarella, E.T., Terenzini, P.T. (1991).  How College Affects Students: Findings and Insights from Twenty Years of Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schroeder, C.C. (1996).  Special Issue: The Student Learning Imperative. Journal of College Student Development 37 (2). Washington, D.C.: American College Personnel Association.

Skipper, T. & Argo, R. (2003). Involvement in Campus Activities of First-Year College Students. The First-year Experience Monograph Series. Columbia, SC : National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Historical views on the role of advisors as educators:

Gaw, Esther Allen. (1933), Advising means Administration. The Journal of Higher Education, 4 (4). (pp. 179-186).

Shofstall, W.P., (1938). Guiding the Teacher: Student Advising as a Means for Instructional Improvement.  The Journal of Higher Education, 9 (8). (429-435).

Cite this resource using APA style as:

Trabant, T.D. (2006). Advising Syllabus 101. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website:

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