Academic Advisor Skills: What Makes a Good Academic Advisor?

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Portrait of a beautiful female manager in the office with a laptop with a visitor.If you have a love of learning and enjoy helping others achieve their goals, the thought of becoming an academic advisor has likely crossed your mind. Whether you’re working with students who are looking for guidance on the career opportunities that align with their studies or undergraduates who are interested in applying to graduate programs, working as an academic advisor is a rewarding and exciting opportunity to support others along their educational journeys.

However, it’s important to understand what goes into being a good academic advisor and the various types of job opportunities you can pursue before applying. Keep reading to learn more about how to become an academic advisor and what you can do to set yourself apart from the pack. 

What Is an Academic Advisor?

If you’re interested in becoming an academic advisor, the first step you need to take is understanding the role inside and out. The day-to-day responsibilities associated with being an academic advisor will vary depending on the specific job you take, but generally all academic advisors are expected to provide intensive counseling and support through regular contact with the students they advise. Academic advisors help students explore their academic interests, identify resources for additional information and support, and develop plans of study that are appropriate for their unique educational goals. 

What Does an Academic Advisor Do?

Once you know more about the basics of being an academic advisor, it’s time to start developing a comprehensive understanding of what academic advisors do and the benefits of academic advising. A student may work with an academic advisor at various points along their educational journey. For example, an academic advisor may guide students as they work to decide what they wish to major in, present relevant internship and research opportunities, and ensure students are taking the courses they need in order to graduate on time. Academic advisors also provide support, coaching, and problem-solving during periods of low academic performance when students often need guidance the most. They also help students identify minors and/or second majors, weigh the pros/cons of certain courses, and build their semesterly class schedules. Some academic advisors may also refer their students to resources like financial aid, mental health counseling, study abroad advisors, etc. if they recognize the student needs more specialized guidance. As graduation approaches, an advisor generally meets with students to help them determine what they’re interested in doing after graduating and to identify various stepping stones that will bring them closer to their long-term goals. Depending when an academic advisor is working with a student and what his or her specific goals are, the work the academic advisor does may vary.

What Makes a Good Academic Advisor?

Most job applicants who are interested in this career don’t just want to become an academic advisor; they want to ensure they have what it takes to become a good academic advisor who will serve their students well. There isn’t one specific formula that outlines what an academic advisor needs to be successful, but generally, they should be accurate and timely in their response to student questions. Academic advisors need to be ethical in their practice, strive to mitigate bias, and effectively refer students to the appropriate resources.

What Skills Does an Academic Advisor Need?

While wanting to help others along their educational journeys is an important prerequisite, academic advisors must also possess an array of skills in order to be successful. If you’re interested in learning more about how to become an academic advisor, here are some competencies that you should prioritize: 

Communication Skills

Communication skills will be essential to perform the duties of an academic advisor successfully. Academic advisors are expected to regularly check-in with their students, respond to emails on a frequent basis, and maintain connections with various networks in order to help students identify best-fit opportunities. Rather than solely focusing on verbal or written communication competencies, good academic advisors should excel at sharing information and exchanging ideas through various mediums, including phone calls, emails, Zoom sessions, in-person meetings, and presentations. 

Interpersonal Skills

Good academic advisors always have strong people skills. As an academic advisor, most of your day will be spent meeting with students, faculty, and other key stakeholders in the education sphere. Consequently, it’s important to feel comfortable engaging with all parties and maintaining an awareness of everyone’s objectives and the steps you can take to ensure they align. An advisor should be empathetic and able to build a rapport with a variety of personalities and stakeholders from students and colleagues to professors and possibly even parents. Above all, a good academic advisor is trustworthy.

Operational Skills

While building strong relationships is a key component of becoming an academic advisor, it’s far from the only responsibility you will have in the role. Academic advisors must also understand how various systems and processes work so they can guide their students and help them move from point A to point B in their academic journey. That means you must understand institutional guidelines inside and out and feel comfortable reiterating and interpreting these rules to the students you work with. 

Analytical Skills

The best academic advisors are more than just good communicators; they’re also strong decision makers. While the role of an academic advisor is to empower students to make good decisions by providing them with resources and guidance, academic advisors themselves must be able to weigh various pros and cons and come to logical conclusions based on the facts that are presented to them. Listening to students’ requests and goals and interpreting what they are saying is critically important to becoming an academic advisor. 

Problem Solving Skills

Academic advisors also need to be flexible problem-solvers as they need to be able to develop a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C for their students. Building class schedules is like putting big puzzles together and if one class fills up or is canceled, advisors must be able to jump from Plan A to B without compromising the students’ interests and graduation requirements. 

Organization Skills

Finally, the most successful academic advisors are those that can keep tabs on multiple projects at once and help students work through tasks and ideas in a systematic way. Organizational skills are particularly important when it comes to guiding students through various application processes and ensuring that they are on track to graduate on time. Since college majors generally have specific requirements depending on the field a student chooses to pursue, academic advisors must be able to keep track of various rules, expectations, requirements, and deadlines. 

How to Become an Academic Advisor 

There’s a lot that goes into becoming an academic advisor, but for people with a true passion for education and helping others, the hard work will always be worth it. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in academic advising and you believe you bring the right set of skills to the table, the next priority to think about is ensuring that you’re on the right track to becoming an academic advisor. There are several steps you will need to take, so keep reading to learn more about how to get started:

#1 Determine Where You Want to Work

It’s important to be specific about any goal you’re setting and academic advising is no exception. The steps involved with becoming an academic advisor at a university may look very different than the process to become an academic advisor who works with students independently. 

Even within a university setting, you’ll need to pinpoint the types of students that you are more interested in working with, what kind of campus is the best fit for your professional goals, and any unique specialities or areas of focus that you wish to prioritize. The more specific your goals are, the easier it will be to identify opportunities that align with your own vision for long-term career success. 

If you’re struggling to decide what type of academic advising to pursue, start with research. If you happen to know anyone in your professional network who performs a similar job function, don’t be afraid to reach out to them to learn more about what’s involved and the advice they would give to academic advisors who are at the beginning of their careers.

#2 Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Once you have a clearer picture of the type of career you’re interested in pursuing, you’ll need to make sure you have the qualifications the role requires. At a minimum, academic advisors must obtain a bachelor’s degree, ideally in a field that can relate to the work you’re doing. Most colleges and universities will require its academic advisors to have a master’s degree. The master’s degrees generally sought include: Higher Education Administration, Student Affairs, College Student Development & Counseling, and Student Personnel Services.

#3 Get Work Experience

Even if you’re a natural, you’ll need to gain experience if you want to excel in the world of academic advising. Some aspiring advisors who are early in their careers may choose to pursue internships or shadowing opportunities, which will allow them to work closely with professionals who have been advising students for many years. If pursuing a master’s  degree in the fields listed above, students will most likely have internships, practicums, or graduate assistantships to give them a start in the field. Other academic advisors may take a different role at a university where they hope to one day work as an academic advisor, so that they can begin to build expertise on how the institution functions. Regardless of how you choose to start your work, it’s important to gain experience in order to become a good academic advisor. 

#4 Learn the Academic Disciplines, Requirements and Policies

In addition to building your experience and gaining valuable practice hours, you will need to make sure you understand the academic disciplines, requirements, and policies so that you can steer your students towards success. Since every college has its own rules and requirements, academic advisors will need to prioritize this learning each time they begin working somewhere new. In addition to any onboarding and training process you receive when beginning a new role, you should take it upon yourself to learn as much as possible by doing your research. 

Once you begin working with students, they will look to you to guide them and help them identify their best-fit path and without in-depth knowledge on various academic policies, this will be next to impossible to accomplish. Don’t be afraid to ask peers and colleagues about disciplines and requirements that are unclear to you, as you will likely be faced with similar questions from your students at some point. 

#5 Be Aware of Trends in Higher Education on Global, National and Local Levels

The best academic advisors don’t just keep tabs on their institution’s rules and policies; they also continually develop their knowledge of what is going on in the education world at large and how these trends may shape the student experience. To become a good academic advisor, you must enjoy learning and flex your own research and study skills to build the expertise you need to guide your students through their academic journeys. Academic advisors can deepen their expertise and keep a finger on the pulse of the education world by reading industry and trade publications, monitoring the news for relevant headlines, following thought leaders in the space, attending annual conferences and networking events, and pursuing continuing education opportunities to broaden their areas of expertise. Though a rare occurrence, the most ambitious advisors can go so far as to earn a graduate certificate and/or master’s degree in Academic Advising from Kansas State University. 

It’s best to monitor educational trends and developments not only on a local level, but globally as well, in case you work with international students, advise undergraduates who are interested in study abroad programs, or need to help someone weigh the pros and cons of attending a program in a foreign country versus a domestic option. Creating a network of fellow academic advisors is also beneficial, as this group can exchange ideas, share relevant news developments, and ensure they are staying updated by conversing with their peers and bringing their own specialities and professional nuances to the table. Most academic advisors will join NACADA (The National Academic Advisors Association), which holds regional conferences and a large-scale annual conference and puts out its own journal of academic advising.

Becoming an Academic Advisor with IvyWise

Becoming an academic advisor is an exciting opportunity that allows professionals to work closely with students and broaden their own knowledge and expertise to empower others to reach their academic goals. If fulfilling this kind of role sounds like an ideal opportunity for you, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the profession and what it will take to become successful. To find out even more about how to become an academic advisor and the steps you will need to take along your own professional journey, check out this blog to learn more in-depth about what is academic advising.


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Academic Advising
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