How to Become an Academic Advisor

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College can certainly feel overwhelming in the beginning. And in the middle. And especially in the end. College involves a lot of newfound independence and learning about yourself. If you need some help along the way, you talk to your academic advisor. If switching from the stressed-out student to the shoulder to cry on sounds like a rewarding job to you, keep on reading to see what it takes to become an academic advisor.

What does an academic advisor do?

Do you want to see college students thrive and help them to succeed, but you don’t want to be a professor? All colleges offer some form of academic advising, and these advisors want to help you succeed. From counseling to planning schedules, they do it all. Academic advisors help ensure that college students complete class requirements in a timely manner so they can graduate college on time. They also:

  • Make students aware of resources available to them and act as a liaison between students and these resources
  • Help students explore different majors to figure out what they want to study
  • Counsel students who have a hard time adjusting to college
  • Create academic plans catered to each individual student
  • Organize orientation sessions for prospective students
  • Help students plan for post-college life

What does it take to become an academic advisor?

The path of academic advising differs from many other careers. No one set path exists. The requirements differ in each state and also from university to university. To start off as an academic advisor, you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree. However, there is no undergraduate major preference. Academic advisors’ backgrounds exist in many different studies including psychology, English, history, anthropology, communication studies and more.

In order to climb up the ladder of academic advising, you will need a master’s degree. But again, it does not matter what you get your master’s degree in. Many academic advisors receive higher education in a higher education major, or go for counseling or administration degrees. But any master’s degree will do, either an M.A. or M.S. Whatever you want to continue studying, you can pursue that master’s degree and apply it towards your future in academic advising.

You’ll also need to know the ins and outs of the discipline in which you advise students. If you plan to advise students within a college of liberal arts, you’ll deal with a lot of students that don’t know what exactly in liberal arts they want to do, so they’ll need a lot of help with major exploration. If you plan to advise engineering or nursing students, they’ll have a lot of questions about getting ahead in STEM careers, and you need to also have lots of knowledge about these disciplines.

A lot of academic advisors have experience working in higher education in some capacity, whether that includes previously being a professor or working in administration at a university. Academic advising is a competitive field, so having previous experience in higher education will definitely give you a leg up on the competition when you go to apply for the position. While working on your undergraduate degree, consider shadowing an academic advisor to see first-hand what goes into the job. You could also act as a peer mentor for other undergraduate students. Both a shadowing experience and peer mentoring count as experience in the field, and you can talk about these in an interview.

What should you know about becoming an academic advisor?

1. What is my expected income?

As per most jobs in education, don’t expect to rake in lots of cash. Educators and advisors do their jobs because they love what they do, not because they make a lot of money. On average, academic advisors makes about $45,477 yearly. Salaries typically range from $40,854 to $50,605. A number of factors go into how much you make as an academic advisor, including level of education and the size of the university.

2. How much will I work?

Similar to most factors of academic advising, this varies from university to university. However, at most universities, you’ll work a 40-hour work week, Monday to Friday, year-round. This includes summers and other breaks from school. Even though college may not be in session, you’ll still work since students need advising at all times throughout the year.

3. What will my work environment be like?

Because of FERPA, which protects the privacy of students, academic advisors will always have their own individual offices. They will never work in a cubical setting because FERPA requires them to provide students with a space where they can confidentially share information if needed. The work environment is also very fast-paced. Although you will work in an individual office and not directly with your team of advisors, you will constantly interact with different students, especially during class registration and the first week of each semester.

4. What do I need to know about the future of academic advising?

Academic advising grows as the number of enrolled students grows. Universities also pour more money and resources into academic advising as more research indicates that students are more likely to graduate if they meet with advisors to help keep them on track. “Academic advising is the heart of the College of Liberal Arts,” Temple University Academic Advisor Xiomara Gonzalez said. “It’s what keeps everything going.” There is also a professional association of academic advisors (NACADA), and this continues to grow in size.

3 Key skills you need to become an academic advisor

1. Creativity

While academic advising may not seem like the most creative job, you will definitely need to use your brain to think up solutions that don’t always go by the book. “Each student’s academic path is different, so you need to be able to put the puzzle pieces together for every student,” Temple Academic Advisor Beth Lawson said. You’ll need creativity to design a plan for every individual student that comes to your office.

2. Listening/Empathy

In academic advising, you have to actively listen to every minute detail of what an overwhelmed or indifferent student tells you. You need to meet them where they are and take away the expectations of where they should be. For example, if a student is graduating a year late, listen to how they’re feeling and come up with a plan for how to move forward. “You really have to hear what someone is saying and be present with them to determine what’s going on,” Villanova University Director of Academic Advising Linda Boettcher said. “Be attuned to everything they say.” Put yourself in the student’s shoes and really listen to them.

3. Sense of humor

Academic advisors meet with students from all different backgrounds and in many different stages of life. “It’s important to be able to connect with every student that you meet with,” Gonzalez said. You want students to trust you and what you’re telling them regarding their academic requirements. A good sense of humor will connect you with people in all situations in life, but definitely when trying to connect with college students.


“One of the most rewarding aspects of academic advising is helping students take advantage of opportunities so that they may achieve both their academic and personal goals,” Lawson said. “One of the biggest challenges in academic advising is helping students connect with the vast array of resources on campus to help them succeed.”

Gonzalez said that this quote by Harriet Tubman fully encompasses what it means to her to be an academic advisor: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” She said that she always wants to encourage students to follow their dreams and accomplish everything they set their mind to.

“For me, the key to serving as an academic advisor is right there in the etymology of the word ‘advise:’ ‘ad-’ means to or toward, while ‘vise’ has the same root as vision or visible: to see. So our task as advisors is to take our students toward, get them closer to, seeing: themselves, their goals, their likes and dislikes, their futures, and the pathways through the academic alternatives available to them to help their envisioning to become reality,” Doug Norton, Chair of the Math and Statistics Department at Villanova University said.

Anastasia is a senior at Temple University with a major in English and minors in theater and communication studies. She loves writing, theater, dancing, laughing, traveling, and eating mac and cheese.

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