Academic Advising Resources


Developmental Advising in an On-Demand World
by: Sue Ohrablo


Today’s advisors are faced with increasing student loads, decreasing resources, and a seemingly unending parade of students needing their assistance. The students with whom they work expect immediate responses and answers to their questions. A common reaction by advisors is to allow student expectations to shape their response to them and deliver the immediate information students seek (Smith, 2002). Advisors often find themselves feeling pulled between wanting to deliver comprehensive, developmental advising (Appleby, 2008) and managing the demands of student loads and expectations. Advisors may resort to answering immediate questions for students so that they can move on to the next, eliminating the process of developmental advising. Ultimately, the student does not receive the assistance to which she is entitled, and may return on numerous occasions to seek additional advising. It can be a vicious cycle resulting in student frustration (Howard, 2005) and advisor overload.

It is important to consider developmental advising in terms of the content and direction of the session, not the length. It does not necessarily take more time to engage in developmental advising, but it does require strategy (Fox, 2008). The following components are key to a successful, comprehensive approach to each advising session: assessment, anticipating the student’s needs, exploring options, and moving the student forward.


In preparation for the advising session, advisors should gather as much information as possible prior to meeting with the student, if time permits. During walk-in advising, the advisor can review the student’s record as he speaks with the student. Determine if the student is a new or continuing student and review the records to understand the student’s academic history. Identify patterns in the history, including non-persistence or academic difficulty. Note any breaks in attendance (high school to college or within the degree program) as well as the duration of the break. Look for choice of major and possible major changes. Review notes to identify previous challenges and concerns that the student has faced that may require follow-up. During the advising session, assessment should continue. It may be the advisor’s expectation that the student “should” be able to register himself via the internet, yet the student continues to rely on the advisor for registration. An assessment of the situation may reveal that the student is unable or unwilling to do so (developmentally un-ready), and would benefit from gentle instruction, demonstration and encouragement as to how to register online. Advisor expectations should be adjusted to the student’s readiness level. Once level is assessed, the advisor’s goal should be to facilitate growth and skill development. It is this type of research and consideration that can assist the academic advisor in taking a proactive approach to advising, and enable him to be more effective in identifying and anticipating the student’s needs.

Anticipating the Student’s Needs

Anticipating the student’s needs is a crucial component of effective advising. The student is often unaware of what she doesn’t know, therefore, is unable to ask questions that will move her forward and help to avoid future obstacles (Chonko, Tanner, & Davis, 2002). Anticipating the student’s needs allows the advisor to “think for the student” for a brief while. However, it is essential that the advisor does not confuse this with generalizing or stereotyping, for these are dangerous blocks to effective listening and can lead a student down an inappropriate path. It can also lead to frustration on the part of a student, who feels as though the advisor does not truly understand her.

Anticipating the student’s needs is comprised of several components. First, the advisor should listen closely to the question at hand. An example might be a business student who asks, “If I take this course, will it apply business administration as well as psychology?” The answer may be a simple “yes.” However, the advisor should hear what the student is asking. The student, most likely, is in the beginning stages of considering a major change, or at least looking at career options. The advisor must use this opportunity to address the issue. A series of follow-up questions to determine her understanding of the two areas of business administration and psychology, her motivation for asking, and her possible need for career counseling will help the advisor to effectively guide the student. Presenting additional information to the student regarding minors and dual majors will provide further clarification and move the student toward an informed decision. Similarly, an apparently simple question as to whether it is too late to drop a course should be met with a line of inquiry about the student’s experience in class, attempts to be successful, motivation for dropping, and discussion about prerequisites, sequences, and resources.

Exploring Options

One significant characteristic of “thinking for a student” is helping the student to identify options. The more an advisor can model this type of thinking, the more the student will adopt similar problem-solving skills. In the example of the student above who is considering a change of major, the student should be exposed to as many options as possible in order for her to make an informed choice. For example, the advisor could help her select five courses that would apply toward either major. One of those courses might be an elective, and the advisor could point out that an elective in psychology would expose her to more information about the field. She could also use the elective to take a career exploration class. Another option is to enroll in four courses, and use the additional time to volunteer in a mental health facility. The advisor could help the student see that not only would that provide her with the opportunity to “try out” the field of psychology; it would also benefit her in starting to build her resume. Students often tend to view their decisions in terms of “all or nothing.” It is the advisor’s responsibility to help them see all of the areas in between.

Moving the Student Forward

The most crucial component to a successful academic advising session (and relationship) is helping to move a student forward. One can use the image of a children’s game board for illustrative purposes. Imagine the student on the “start” square, ahead of him are additional “spots” on the board, with differing values, obstacles, and shortcuts. His objective, as well as the advisor’s, is to navigate the course until successfully reaching the end. The “end” is fluid and complex. It may be immediate; for example, helping the student to register online; more significant, such as making a decision on whether or not to drop a course, or more long term, such as planning to study abroad. All of these decisions should be considered in the ultimate goal of degree completion (or transfer) and entrance into a chosen career. A useful gauge for the academic advisor to use when responding to a student is, “How will what I say or do move this student forward in the resolution of his problem or the attainment of his goals?” If the answer is “It won’t,” then don’t say or do it. Make statements that help to promote movement, knowledge, or growth. For example, rather than saying, “The policy is in the catalog, it is your responsibility to read it,” an advisor may say, “Let me explain our refund policy and show you where you can find it. I recommend that you refer to the catalog before making any major decisions. That way, you’ll avoid this problem in the future.” The advisor has now given the student something to work with; a “takeaway.” Keep focused on moving the student forward and remember that it is not about you, but rather the student. Instead of reacting emotionally to accusations such as, “You never told me…,” listen to what the student is really saying. Respond to the student’s fear and anxiety by providing information and support, rather than in a defensive manner which provides no forward movement.


A comprehensive, holistic approach to advising students has long been proven to help support and retain students (Habley, 1981; Nutt, 2003). Despite students’ proclivity to expect immediate service and limit interactions with their advisors to “must haves,” such as scheduling and registration, advisors can offer so much more to the students with whom they work. By strategically choosing the direction of the discussion, advisors can maximize the effectiveness of the advising session and its impact on the future decisions of the student.

References and Suggested Readings:

Appleby, D. C. (2008). Advising as Teaching and Learning. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed.) (pp. 85-100). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Chonko, L. B., Tanner, J. F., & Davis, R. (2002). What are they thinking? Students’ expectations and self-assessments. Journal of Education for Business, 77, 271-281.

Fox, R. (2008). Delivering One-to-One Advising Skills and Competencies. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed.) (pp. 342-355). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Habley, W. R. (1981). Academic advising: Critical link in student retention. NASPA Journal, 28 (4), 45-50.

Howard, J. A. (2005). Why should we care about student expectations? In T. E. Miller, B. E. Bender, J. H. Schuh, & Associates (Eds.), Promoting reasonable expectations: Aligning student and institutional views of the college experience (pp. 10-33). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nutt, C. L. (2003). Academic advising and student retention and persistence. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. Retrieved October 30, 2010, from

O’Banion, T. (2009). An academic advising model. NACADA Journal 29 (1): 83-89. (Original work published 1972 in Journal College Journal, 42, pp. 62, 64, 66-69.)

Smith, J. S. (2002). First-year student perceptions of academic advisement: A qualitative study and reality check. NACADA Journal, 22 (2), 39-49.

Cite using APA style:

Ohrablo, S. (2010). Developmental advising in an on-demand world. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

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