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From Advisor Training to Advisor Development: Creating a Blueprint for First-Year Advisors

  • Pat Folsom, Emeritus Director, Academic Advising Center, The University of Iowa
  • Jennifer Joslin , Associate Director, NACADA, Kansas State University
  • Frank Yoder , Advisor, Academic Advising Center, The University of Iowa


cover of new advisor guidebookThe 2015 2nd edition of the monograph inspired by this article is now available - find The New Advisor Guidebook: Mastering the Art of Academic Advising Through the First Year & Beyond in the NACADA Store.


Becoming an excellent academic advisor is a little like learning a foreign language. Our ability to use and apply vocabulary and rules of grammar lags behind our acquisition of the language itself; we gain fluency by becoming immersed in it - hearing it, speaking it, and living it. The 'art of advising' -- the ability to seamlessly synthesize and apply information about the student and the institution to individual student situations in ways that help students grow and make the most out of their college experience -- is in large part learned in the advising chair. Advisors develop excellence over time, student by student, through an experiential synthesis of the conceptual, informational and relational components of advising
The extent to which gaining advising 'fluency' is a developmental process became apparent as we prepared a pre-conference workshop for the 2004 NACADA National Conference. We designed a workshop for first-year advisors instead of one about first-year advisors or how to train first-year advisors. As experienced trainers, we knew what new advisors needed to learn so the questions became:

  • 'What do new advisors think they need?'
  • 'What do they want in a session 'just for them?'

Results of our survey of workshop participants prior to the conference, along with discussion with our Advising Center staff with less than two years of advising experience, have clear implications for new advisor training.  Concerns expressed by workshop participants focused heavily on the skills needed for successful advising sessions including how to:

  • be realistic yet encouraging to students in academic difficulty;
  • handle students who repeatedly fail to show for appointments;
  • work with students who lack the skills necessary to be competitive in selective programs;
  • complete a conference within established time frames.

In short, first-year advisors felt less secure and had more questions about advising situations which demand a greater synthesis of conceptual, informational and relational skills. New advisors in our office agreed with these concerns and reported that the initial information overload subsides relatively quickly and is replaced by more professionally challenging concerns regarding how to deal with difficult advising situations.
Second, advisors new to the profession stated that they were overwhelmed. Period. We should not be surprised.  First-year advisors are highly attuned to their responsibilities and to institutional and professional expectations for academic advising. They read professional literature that outlines the knowledge and skills they should possess. They study institutional mission statements that emphasize the importance and power of advising for retention. They examine advising center mission statements that extol the advisor's role in helping students achieve positive, productive academic experiences. They observe veteran advisors during training and know the standards that will be used to evaluate their actions.  Therefore, first-year advisors compare themselves only to professional 'ideals' and measure themselves against the knowledge and skills of the experienced advisor.
During the workshop, new advisors most wanted reassurance that they were 'on the right track' and sought ideas and strategies to become better advisors. To meet these needs, we created a developmental blueprint these first-year advisors could use to measure progress toward their goals and designed activities that required them to think explicitly about synthesizing advising knowledge and relational skills. Creating the blueprint has given us, as experienced trainers, an important training tool to help new advisors have a positive and productive 'first-year experience.'  Our experience has broad implications for advisor trainers whether they are designing new programs or improving their current systems.
As trainers, we want new advisors to excel in their chosen profession and we should not needlessly discourage them.  Seamless synthesis of information and relational skills does not occur within standard, short, information-driven training programs. These programs leave new advisors painfully aware of the gap between the knowledge and skills acquired during training and the expertise of their more experienced colleagues.  Unfortunately, most training programs leave no clear path for new advisors seeking to reach a higher level of expertise. 

As a profession, we need to expand upon our short, intensive, information-driven training sessions. We should create year-long advisor development programs that recognize proficiency in advising as a developmental process and provide first-year 'blueprints' in the form of clear relational and informational expectations.  While first-year advisor programs should include intensive training, they must go beyond that to: 

  • set shot-term goals in the form of clear and realistic expectations of the knowledge and skills advisors must develop within their first-year;
  • create long-term goals in the form of clear, realistic expectations for their second year and beyond;
  • establish a cohesive training program for meeting these expectations.

Higginson (2000) offers an excellent foundation for creating first-year advisor expectations. She utilizes Habley's (1995) training classifications-concept, information and relationship-to provide a comprehensive listing of training topics adaptable to any institutional or advising setting.

Consider, for example, the information component of advising. To advise effectively, advisors must have institutional knowledge (rules and regulations, academic policies, majors, minors, certificate programs) and an understanding of the students they will advise including knowledge of any special population groups. This is a tall order.  What happens when we break this comprehensive set of information into smaller pieces and establish realistic expectations for both first-year and experienced advisors?  If we focus on the institutional knowledge component, short-term and long-term goals might look like:

Information Component - Year One

  • Know (and/or know where to find) and be able to explain basic institutional policies, regulations and procedures.
  • Basic policies, regulations and procedures are those which are most important, most used, and most likely to impact students.

Information Component - Year Two and Beyond

  • Know basic policies, regulations and procedures.
  • Understand nuances and varied interpretations of basic institutional policies including the basis for the granting or denial of exceptions and appeals. 
  • Know (and/or know where to find) more specialized or less frequently encountered policies, procedures and regulations including specialized policies, procedures and regulations that pertain to specific student populations, majors, and colleges or programs. 

There are distinct differences between what we expect of first-year advisors and the goals we set for advisors with more experience.  Do we really expect first-year advisors to memorize every institutional policy, regulation and major requirements?  Probably not; but if we provide only long-term, 'ideal' expectations, we create that impression.  Note that under 'Year One' we ask that advisors 'Know (and/or know where to find) 'basic' information.  We do not expect new advisors to have memorized all rules and regulations, nor to have a nuanced understanding of the various interpretations across the institution.  But we do expect them to know where to find needed information.  Note that we define the types of information advisors need during their first-year--basic policies, regulations and procedures--and define these as 'basic.'
We also need to set behavioral expectations for first-year advisors. For example, a common concern expressed by our workshop participants was how to conduct a good advising conference.  We can address this relational concern with the following expectations:

Relational Component - Year One

  • Learn to guide a conference effectively ensuring the student questions are addressed while the advisor covers topics/information the student needs.
  • Stay within session time parameters except in unusual circumstances.
  • Establish student expectations (e.g. student makes and keeps appointments).
  • Integrates the teaching function of advising into conference as appropriate.

Relational Component - Year Two and Beyond

  • Fully integrate relational and informational knowledge and skills in advising conferences.
  • Able to 'triage' information appropriately for individual students according to their developmental stage, needs, concerns, and situations.
  • Conducts conference as a conversation rather than a 'Q & A' session.
  • fully integrates teaching function of advising into conference.

Again, there are substantial and significant experiential differences between the short-term and the long-term relational expectations.  Advising conferences conducted by experienced advisors are jam-packed with information and teaching that is targeted appropriately for each student. Yet these conferences have an ease and fluidity about them.  New advisors, still reliant on information resources, cannot squeeze as much within the conference's time frame.  The Year One expectations acknowledge the advisor's developmental stage yet set timely conferences as a goal.
New advisors must have the tools and the experiences to meet first-year expectations and progress toward long-term goals.  Concrete, explicit short- and long-term expectations create a powerful blueprint for year-long advisor development.  They help administrators set training priorities.  Using this blueprint, initial training sessions focus on the most immediate training needs-what new advisors absolutely need to know and be able to do before advising a student in two weeks-but training doesn't end there. Subsequent training sessions, sprinkled throughout the first-year, provide developmental 'next steps,' that focus on synthesizing the various components of advising: nuanced understandings of policy, how to deal with difficult advising situations, what to expect from students in their second semester, how best to work with students who did not thrive in their first semester, and how to organize information and materials to improve fluidity within a conference.
Establishing concrete behavioral expectations has an impact on the delivery of training.  Training activities could include interactive simulations, role plays, case studies and observations of veteran advisors.  Trainers can address how to learn from advisees (e.g. how to use advising situations and information gleaned from advisees to build advisor knowledge and advising skills).
Explicit expectations allow first-year advisors to track their progress. They give administrators clear guidelines for evaluation.  A set of first-year expectations may not eliminate new advisor stress, but it certainly reduces it as new advisors gain perspective on their professional development.
Higginson (2000) notes that most advisor training programs focus heavily on information.  We can, and should, do more to help new advisors reach their potential.  A first-year advisor development program that incorporates explicit short- and long-term goals and expectations improves our training programs, gives new advisors a more positive and productive first-year experience, and provides a blueprint for achieving advising excellence.


Habley, W.R. (1995). Advisor Training in the Context of a Teaching Enhancement Center. In. R.E. Glennen & F.N. Vowell (Eds). Advising as a Comprehensive Campus Process. (pp. 75-79). (National Academic Advising Association Monograph Series No. 2). Manhattan, KS : National Academic Advising Association.

Higginson, Linda C. (2000) A Framework for Training Program Content. In V. N. Gordon, W.R. Habley, & Associates (Eds.) Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 298-307). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from

Cite using APA style as:

Folsom, P.,Joslin, J.,, & Yoder, F..(2005). From advisor training to advisor development: Creating a blueprint for first-year advisors.Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site

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