You feel motivated to take on challenging coursework as you make progress towards graduation and, ultimately, your dream career. As a self-starter, you’re confident that you can plan an academic trajectory that prepares you for success both on a short and long-term basis. These qualities are admirable, but have you ever stopped to consider how you might benefit from academic advising?

Every student — regardless of degree program or personal motivation — can gain a great deal from academic advising. Many do not realize the significant role advisors can play in all areas of the academic journey. Some view meetings with these advisors as just another checkmark on the way to getting a degree. In actuality, academic advising has the potential to transform numerous aspects of the college experience, along with the career path following graduation.

To illuminate the power of academic advising, we’ve explained all the essentials of this process below. Keep reading to learn why it’s so important and what sets the best advisors apart.

What Is Academic Advising?

Definitions of academic advising vary slightly from one resource to the next, but, in general, it involves guiding students to ensure that they achieve desired outcomes while attending a given school or university. The National Academic Advising Association goes into specifics with its definition, explaining that academic advising entails “a series of intentional interactions with a curriculum, a pedagogy, and a set of student learning outcomes.”

While academic advising can look different depending on the type of institution and the needs of each student, it generally rests on building a strong relationship with a professional. Ideally, this relationship will span the student’s entire academic journey, although adjustments may be needed for those who switch between programs or make other significant changes while attending college. Throughout an ongoing series of meetings, advisors can help students determine what they want out of the academic experience and what they can do to achieve their long-term objectives.

Academic advising is valuable at several levels of the education system. These positions are largely associated with the college environment, but they can also be found in high schools. Top distinctions between high school and college advising are outlined below:

High School Academic Advisor

Sometimes referred to as guidance counselors, high school academic advisors help students determine which classes they’ll need to take to graduate — and how they can take (and succeed in) courses that correspond to their goals for college. Depending on the student, this may mean focusing on certain types of advanced placement courses or enrolling in specific electives.

Academic advisors can also help high school students balance the demands of their personal lives, hobbies, or even part-time jobs with the challenges of their school schedules. This begins early on with carefully selecting coursework they can handle, understanding that classes chosen during the first year or two of high school may impact eligibility for classes later on.

At the high school level, academic advising is sometimes confused with school counseling. Both roles are important, but they also hold several key distinctions. First and foremost, advisors primarily focus on academic planning, while counselors may spend more time on other facets of the student experience. For example, school counselors may help students address mental health concerns, behavioral issues, or other problems.

Postsecondary Academic Advisor

Postsecondary academic advisors focus far less on the college admissions process, although their help may still be needed for students who hope to attend grad school or even enter specific programs as undergraduates. Otherwise, postsecondary academic advisors are on hand to help students navigate college in a way that maintains their health and wellbeing while also positioning them for success in their eventual careers.

The role of the postsecondary advisor may differ to an extent based on whether students have selected a major. For many students, advisors are instrumental in this process. These professionals can help students clarify where their natural strengths and interests lie — and how these might influence their potential for success or enjoyment in specific academic programs or career fields.

Once students have selected their preferred major, they will need help from academic advisors to ensure that they sign up for the right courses at the right time. Advisors offer insight into what, exactly, it takes to excel in their program of choice.

What Does an Academic Advisor Do?

No two days look exactly alike for academic advisors, who spend a considerable amount of time meeting directly with students. Still, these professionals tend to focus on a few main tasks, as outlined below:

Conduct Orientation Sessions

New students may feel overwhelmed by the variety of programs available — not to mention the prospect of adjusting to a completely new academic environment. Advisors can ease this transition by organizing orientation sessions. Students should come away from these feeling confident in their academic prospects.

Inform Students of School Policies

While students should be granted easy access to handbooks, they may need more overt guidance to ensure that they understand and abide by school policies. Academic advisors can alert students to the most important policies and ensure that they understand why these rules are so important — and what the consequences are if they’re broken.

Help Students Understand Graduation Requirements

Students should enter degree programs understanding exactly what it will take for them to graduate. They should be made aware of required classes, eligible electives, and the minimum grade point average. Academic advisors provide a thorough overview of these and other essentials so that there are no surprises later. Equipped with this understanding, students will find it easier to remain on task and on track for graduation.

Inform Students of Resources

Many students are entirely unaware of the wealth of resources they have at their disposal. Academic advisors can alert students to these opportunities and let them know how taking advantage of them may prove beneficial, both now and in the future.

For example: students who require hands-on experience may be desperate to score internships. Academic advisors can point them towards the best internship opportunities and consult with them on application strategy. Additionally, academic advisors can help students make the most of tutoring, counseling, and other excellent resources.

Assist With Student Performance

Hardworking students sometimes encounter major obstacles on the path to their degree. When these roadblocks involve GPA issues, advisors can help students determine what, exactly, is standing in the way and how such concerns can be resolved. Depending on the nature of the problem, this may involve things like targeted schedule adjustments, extra help from tutors, or referrals to counseling services. 

What Makes a Good Academic Advisor?

Academic advising requires a specific skill set and personality type. While these professionals can bring many different qualities to the table, the following are among the core essentials:


Students face a variety of concerns that can keep them from achieving their full potential. Unfortunately, many feel as if they lack empathetic mentors who care about their wellbeing. To build strong connections with students, academic advisors should be capable of placing themselves in the shoes of those they serve. If they struggle to understand why students feel a certain way, they should ask questions and be willing to learn.


Both written and verbal communication skills are crucial for academic advisors. They must feel confident conversing with many types of students and shifting their tone as needed to fit the situation.

Nonverbal communication is also important. Advisors should be able to read between the lines to determine what is left unsaid. By noticing and responding to nonverbal cues, these professionals can adjust their style and their advice to make their students feel as comfortable and supported as possible.

Attention to Detail

In academic advising, no detail is too small. While it’s important for advisors to understand the big picture (especially as it relates to long-term career objectives), they must also know how to break down major goals into small parts. Often, this means piecing together various courses and credits, like a puzzle, with the understanding that students can only handle so much in any given semester — and they may need to take specific classes at specific times to remain on track for graduation.

A Well-Rounded Education

While the qualities outlined above play an important role in academic advisors’ day-to-day work, aspiring professionals will struggle to find work in this niche without a targeted degree. Typically, these professionals have completed extensive coursework in psychology, educational administration, organizational leadership, and other relevant topics.

What to Ask Your Academic Advisor

There is a lot that goes into modern academic advising, and your advisor can draw on a wealth of knowledge and experience to help you achieve your most ambitious outcomes while keeping your stress levels manageable. To support this process, however, you’ll need to arrive at each session prepared to engage. Often, this means asking plenty of questions. Examples of pertinent questions to ask an advisor include:

  • How much time or flexibility do I have to explore various fields of study if I have yet to select a major?
  • Are the classes required for graduation offered every semester? Which courses should I take first to help me graduate on time?
  • Which courses in my program are typically considered the most difficult? How can I best prepare to succeed in these classes? Are there any other typical roadblocks to graduation I should know about?
  • Are there any opportunities for tutoring available? What are the eligibility requirements for becoming a tutor for other students?
  • How will specific programs, classes, or internships prepare me to apply for jobs or a master’s program?

Meeting with an academic advisor can help successfully shape the entire college and post-graduation experience. You’ll never regret making the most of this valuable opportunity. Siena Heights University is proud of our academic advising team and confident we can work together to design the education path that helps you achieve your goals in a way that works with your life. Contact Siena Heights today!