Career Planning

8 questions for academic advisors

By Jo Calhoun

In high school, your student had a guidance counselor, an all-around “go to” person for questions, concerns, scheduling, and support. In college, that “go to” navigator will be your student’s academic advisor.

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Depending on the size of the school, the academic adviser may be a First-Year Seminar instructor, a faculty member in the student’s intended major, or a professional full-time academic advisor. These advisors are your students’ front line of support; they should be engaged early and often.

Help your student make the most of the first advising meeting.

Suggest these key questions to ask the academic advisor:

1. What are my “General Education” requirements?

Almost all colleges and universities have a set of required courses that must be completed in addition to a major (and possibly one or two minors). At some schools these courses are totally prescribed but most campuses offer a menu of courses from which students may choose. Students typically complete these requirements (the “breadth” portion of their education) before they dive into the “depth” of their major. Gen Ed courses also serve as pre-requisites (i.e., courses that must be completed before students may enroll in more advanced courses).

2. What are majors/minors/concentrations/certificates?

Institutions describe them differently, but these groups of courses ensure the depth of students’ study and contribute to the coherence of students’ curriculum choices. Although the maxim “you are not your major” is true, students can build excellent resumes through strategic clusters of courses.

3. What are sequential courses?

Some courses must be taken in a particular order. Students should ask their advisors about majors that are highly structured. Not all courses are offered every term. It’s easy for students to get off track if they don’t take required courses in the terms in which they are offered and in the right order.

4. How will my AP/IB credits count?

Some schools offer credit for these courses if a certain grade is earned on the national exam; others do not. Your student shouldn’t make assumptions. Ask about and verify the school’s policy and procedures.

5. How do I build academic credentials outside the classroom?

Most campuses offer plentiful opportunities for students to join faculty members in research and independent study. Often financial stipends/scholarships are available. Students should begin cultivating relationships with professors during their first year. Advisors are great coaches here!

6. Should I do an internship?

The answer to that question is almost always yes. Advisors can help guide students through the policies at their institutions. Advance planning is key!

7. If I want to take summer courses elsewhere, how do I do that?

Some schools have a surprising number of restrictions on transfer course work. It’s crucial that students talk with advisors about those restrictions and get approval in advance.

8. I don’t know where to turn. Can you help?

An advisor’s answer to this question is almost always yes. No problem is off limits. Encourage your student to develop a strong relationship with his or her academic advisor, the first and best person to have in your student’s corner.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

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