What is Academic Advising?

October 05, 2017

Of course we all know what academic advising is – or do we? The graphic above gives a view of how academic advising might still be seen from a variety of perspectives. [Click on image to enlarge.]

Over the years I’ve heard people use a lot of descriptions of academic advisers: “An academic adviser helps students schedule their classes,” “An adviser gives students information about their requirements,” and “A good adviser needs to be able to use the computer and be nice to students” are just a few.

All of those things are important to being a good academic adviser. But we would be selling academic advisers short by thinking of their role in just these terms. The profession of advising has changed radically in the past 20 years, in part due to the efforts of NACADA – formerly the “National Academic Advising Association,” and now the “Global Community for Academic Advising.” NACADA defines academic advising as a teaching and learning activity – and this means both that advising is tied to the academic mission of our institution, and that, like classroom teaching, it includes a curriculum, pedagogy, and student learning outcomes.

When I was trained as a classroom teacher long ago, we learned to begin the process of teaching by thinking about the content we wanted students to learn, the delivery method that would best help them do that, and the ways we would assess whether that learning took place. The same intentional process takes place with academic advising – academic advisers aim to assist students in learning a wide body of content over the course of their four (or two) years at UC Santa Cruz. Some of that content is information about the institution – the majors we offer, the policies students are expected to follow, and the opportunities and support the university provides. A significant part of the learning that academic advisers support, though, is in students’ learning about themselves – their strengths, interests, values, and goals. This is often thought of as the “developmental” part of academic advising. By supporting students to learn both about the institution and themselves, advisers assist students in clarifying their educational goals and developing academic plans to achieve them. This is at the heart of our mission, and ties directly to our student learning objectives.

At its best, academic advising is a collaborative relationship between an adviser and a student, focusing on the student’s academic success. In this way, academic advising has enormous potential for supporting students’ persistence and graduation, which George Kuh recognized when he wrote, “It is hard to imagine any academic support function that is more important to student success and institutional productivity than advising.”1

If you’d like to learn more about academic advising, see the NACADA website or check out a resource from the Office of Campus Advising Coordination’s Academic Advising Lending Library.

October 2017 Newsletter


1Kuh, G. (1997). The student learning agenda: Implications for academic advisors. NACADA Journal, 17(2), 7-12.