Academic Advising Resources


History of Academic Advising
 Authored By: Brian Gillispie

Academic advising encompasses an increasing level of presence and involvement in the development of college students and the educational paths they choose. Although academic advising has been a defined region within education only a few short decades, it has been a prevalent concern since the birth of the college institutions of America. A basic knowledge of the history and evolution of academic advising is imperative to providing the best practices possible.

The concept of advising students has been present in some shape or form since the inception of higher education in America. In the late eighteenth century, America gave birth to its first colleges: Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, New Jersey, King's, Philadelphia, Rhode Island Queen's and Dartmouth (Rudolph, 1990). These institutions were created from the English template of Cambridge and Oxford and aimed to educate young men in becoming gentlemen. The collegiate faculty, even if only consisting of the school's president, were clergymen and were concerned with the overall development of the student both morally and intellectually (Gallagher & Demos, 1983). The vocational development of the student followed naturally from this because most students were being trained to be clergymen themselves. During this time students and faculty often shared residence, providing the faculty a close disciplinary relationship with the students both in and out of the classroom (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997). Referred to as the collegiate way, instructors had great effect over the strict guidance and control of the students.

As America neared the American Revolutionary War, the distance between the English and American college models grew wider. American faculty began to become less involved with student discipline due to the growing needs of the school as a whole. The paternalism that had once been the norm in classes and dormitories was disappearing. Collegiate faculty began treating students as free thinking gentlemen who were responsible for their own developmental choices.

The proliferation of colleges throughout the nineteenth century provided a time for academic guidance to secure its place in education and advising groups began to emerge (Gordon, 1992). Faculty within specialized curricula took charge of guiding students to the classes they needed. Frank Parsons contributed to the movement for vocational guidance by stressing three imperatives for personal development: 'First a clear understanding of yourself, aptitudes, abilities, interests, resources, limitations, and other qualities' (p. 11), second, a knowledge of the requirements and conditions of different professions, and thirdly, the opportunities and advantages of each field. (Zunker, 2002) It was the third imperative, comparison of the first two needs or a comparison of the self and the vocational interest, that lead to the idea of counseling and advising in the collegiate environment.

Counseling and advising interests were inadvertently strengthened as a result of World War I (Gallagher & Demos, 1983) when industrial psychology practices placed recruits into specific occupations in the U.S. Army based on their skills and intelligence. Seeing the utility of the methods employed by the army, universities adopted the study of psychometrics in personnel placement and established vocational guidance centers that utilized occupational aptitude assessments as a tool for advising students in their academic pursuits.

The Progressive Education Movement of the 1920s focused on the self-direction of the student, placing emphasis on the role of educators as 'mentors' who were integral in the development of the student. In 1937, the American Council on Education published the Student Personnel Point of View, which spotlighted individual interests and differences and the idea of holistic learning (Strange, 1994). Editor's note: Gordon cites Diane Strommer in Portals of Entry: University Colleges (Published by First Year Experience, Univ. of South Carolina, 1993, Monograph #12) stating that the first university colleges were established in the 1930's. According to Strommer, 100% of this innaugural group included advising and 49% were 'advising centers.'

Throughout and after World War II a similar growth of interest was seen in the use of measurement to classify one's interests and aptitudes (Zunker, 2002). The influx of   'baby boomers' on college campuses in the 1960s and 1970s brought an increased demand for student advising and counseling. Student developmental issues exploded onto the academic forefront (Gordon,1992).While the issues of social justice, access, usefulness, and accountability became the focal point of a variety of student services, it was especially true of academic advising (Komives, S. R., Woodard Jr., D. B, and Associates, 1996).

Today the services directed toward student development are an amalgamation of their historical components.   Measurement and development are still practiced, but under the microscope of accountability, validity and efficiency.   An appreciation of the past is an important key to moving academic advising through the next millennium.

The movement of advising throughout history has offered practitioners valuable insight to theories and issues that continue to be of relevant concern to the world of academe. Professionals must grasp this theoretical data in order to develop and continue the research necessary to generate new and more effective ways of understanding and assisting future generations of learners.

Hall (1988, p.36 as cited in Komives, Woodard, and Associates, 1996) suggests that theory should help us 'grasp, understand, and explain-to produce a more adequate knowledge of-the world and its processes; and thereby to inform our practice that we may transform it' (p. 151).   For a more comprehensive view of the relationship between academic advising and theory, readers are encouraged to visit the Clearinghouse's Theories and Philosophies of Advising

Author: Brian Gillispie
Graduate Student, Counseling and Educational Psychology
Kansas State University


Brubacher, J. S. & Rudy, W. (1997). Higher Education in Transition: A History of American Colleges and Universities (4th ed.). New Brunswick, N.J. : Transaction.

Gallagher, P. J. & Demos, G. D. (Eds.). (1983). Handbook of Counseling in Higher Education. New York : Praeger.

Gordon, V. N. (1992). Handbook of Academic Advising. Westport , CT : Greenwood Press.

Gordon, V. N., Habley, W. R. & Associates. (2000). Academic advising. A comprehensive handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Komives, S. R., Woodard, Jr., D. B., & Associates. (1996). Student Services: A Handbook for the Profession (3rd ed.) . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rudolph, F. (1990). The American College and University: A History. Athens, GA : University of Georgia Press.

Strange, C. (1994). Student Development: The Evolution and Status of an Essential Idea. Journal of College Student Development, 35, 399-412.

Strommer, D.W. (1993). Portals of Entry: University Colleges and Undergraduate Divisions. National Resource Center: Columbia, S.C. as quote by Gordon, V.N. in personal correspondence.

Zunker, V. G. (2001). Career counseling: Applied concepts of life planning. (6th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA : Brooks/Cole.

Additional Resource

A Chronology of Academic Advising in America (2001). The Mentor. Retrieved 12/10/04.

Cite the above resource using APA style as:

Gillispie, B. (2003). History of academic advising. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

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