By: Kaitlin Thach, Intern, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Communication and Outreach
“The main function of an academic advisor is to bring holistic support to students as they navigate their higher education to post grad journey.”
Universities and higher education institutions nationwide provide academic advising for both undergraduate and graduate students. This principal academic resource can go underutilized as students often consider advising as a resource only when they are frantic with worry when they realize that they have little time to sign up for classes.
As a UC Berkeley undergraduate student, I have come to realize that degree advisors exist at the institution solely for the purpose of helping the students, though you must seek them out yourself. It is upon the student to seek out appropriate resources and ask the questions they need answered. However, seeking out an academic advisor at competitive institutions can feel like a sign of failure or lack of independence for many students when this is not the case.
Throughout my college years, I have entered a pandemic, have had to navigate through the pandemic, and have transitioned from online schooling back to in-person classes. The changes that I had to overcome and adapt to were made easier through the help of my degree advisor.
Teresa Dinh, a student experience specialist at UC Berkeley, works with incoming freshmen and sophomore students with academic, admissions, and program-interest advising. She spoke with me about her experience as an advisor and some of the reasons why she believes in the importance of advising.
- Advisors assist in monitoring academic progress. While advisors help students in selecting, adding, changing, or cancelling classes on their schedule, this process also helps students understand how to navigate the university/major policies and procedures better. If a course requires a prerequisite or needs to be taken during a specific semester, an advisor is knowledgeable enough to guide students through that decision-making process.
“An advisor should be up to date and knowledgeable on university/college policies such as general education requirements, graduation requirements, adding/dropping courses, and if they are a major advisor, major specific policies.”
- Advisors can help you find opportunities. Advisors are aware of ongoing programs on campus and have the authority to recommend students with potential to certain opportunities that will enhance their experience as a student in higher education.
“Students can book advising appointments where we can cover academic, program-interest, program-admissions, or career advising services. As a program, we also send out a newsletter every other week that provides updates, resources, opportunities and events as well. Essentially, every opportunity I get, I try to make it known that students can reach out to me any time with any questions they may have or can book appointments with me if they need.”
- Advisors want to see you succeed. Being educated about the resources available to you on campus can help you feel part of a community that wants to see you prosper. Because students who enter higher education usually do not have their lives planned out, advisors are trained to help students map out their career and guide them through the process of achieving their goals/aspirations.
“I try to make it known to students that I am a resource that that they can reach out to, and through that, students in our program have always mentioned that they feel constant support from staff as they navigate(d) their higher education journey.”
Interview with Teresa Dinh:
- What is the main function of an academic advisor?
The main function of an academic advisor is to bring holistic support to students as they navigate their higher education to post grad journey. An advisor should be up to date and knowledgeable on university/college policies such as general education/breadth requirements, graduation requirements, adding/dropping courses, and if they are a major advisor, major specific policies. Academic Advisors should also be aware of on-campus resources/departments that they could refer students to in case they need additional assistance that I am not well versed in such as counseling, financial aid, etc.
- How do you work to support your students? What benefits do you offer students?
From my very first communication with students, I do my best to make it known to students they can reach out to me if they have any questions. As someone who identifies as a First-Generation College student, I understand how the transition into college could be overwhelming and sometimes, even though you were given information, you might not remember that information later on due to all sorts of new information being thrown at you. As students enter the summer, our program sends out communication to students that include an introduction to our program staff, how they could get in contact with us, and information on webinars our staff hosts that help prepare students to enroll into their fall courses. During their day of enrollment, we also offer students the ability to reach out in case they are unsure what classes they should enroll into or if there are not as many course options available. As the academic year starts, we offer advising hours typically from 9am to 4pm during the work week. Students are able to book advising appointments where we can cover academic, program-interest, program-admissions, or career advising services. As a program, we also send out a newsletter every other week that provides updates, resources, opportunities and events as well. Essentially, every opportunity I get, I try to make it known that students can reach out to me any time with any questions they may have or can book appointments with me if they need. Students have told me numerous times that they always feel they could come to me and that I have helped make them feel less of that “small fish in a big pond” feeling, and that is something I strive for as an advisor on campus.
- What expectations do you have for students?
I do expect students to do at least a little bit of research and come to our advising sessions with questions prepared. You don’t need to know about our program in depth, but at least have some context that can help you guide the conversation and for me to understand what you are asking. I also want students to practice some professionalism with me as well! This means coming to our advising appointments on time, speaking respectfully, and keeping our advising appointments within the time limit you booked (unless there are no appointments after you, then we definitely could continue the conversation past the time frame).
- What kind of resources do you share with your students?
Our website, professional/personal development workshops, any internship/research opportunities that we come across, campus resources, program-specific curriculum, and opportunities to speak/network with industry professionals.
- What would you say to students that don’t seek out academic advisors?
You could be missing something! It doesn’t hurt to have an academic advisor check over your academic progress, just to make sure.
- What kind of connections have you made with your students? How would you describe these connections?
Similar to relationships you make in your personal life, building connections is based on how much you want to contribute. To some students, they check in with me to make sure they are on the right track and then go about their day, which is perfectly fine! However, there are other students who end up meeting with me regularly, asking questions, update me on their life/opportunities, and also try to have more casual conversations with me. This results to deeper connections. Having these deeper connections help me understand the student, their goals, their passions, and makes it a lot easier for me to be a reference for students when they are applying to opportunities, or write them a letter of recommendation that is more tailored to them. As I mention before, I try to make it known to students that I am a resource that that they can reach out to, and through that, students in our program have always mentioned that they feel constant support from staff as they navigate(d) their higher education journey.