Academic advisors spend 40 hours (or more) a week giving the same answers to the same questions again and again. Being the idealists that we are, we believe that our expert advice will inspire students to change–to start reading their degree plans and registering on time.
What this tells me is that academic advisors are by definition insane.
I began advising college undergraduates in January 2012, and our ratio of students to advisor was about 600:1. It was not fun. I soon realized that if I was going to survive this profession without becoming a bitter old woman I would need a strategy. Here is what I came up with:
#1 Stop assuming. Start understanding.
At the beginning, I would become a tad annoyed when students would ask me to pick out their classes because I just assumed this meant they were irresponsible. Eventually, I learned to ask advisees an important question, “At your previous school, did you meet with an advisor every semester to pick out your classes?” Most students answer “Yes,” so I then explain to them how our college works differently. Talk less. Listen more. It works.
#2 Schedule time to take care of my other duties.
Have you ever thought, “If it were not for all these students, I could get so much more work done!” 😛
Seriously, though, I have learned to block out certain times of the week during which I take no appointments, phone calls, or student emails. I use this time to tidy my cubicle, update my office’s social media sites, contact high school counselors for recruiting opportunities—or simply catch up. Do not underestimate the power of shutting your door.
#3 Keep a “Happy Messages Board.”
Once in a while I get that glorious email that confirms what I have always known, “You are the best advisor I have ever had!!!!!!!!” I don’t dare just move that over to the “done” pile. I print it and slap it to a white board in our office. It is great to remind myself that I am really making a difference.
#4 Get to know students outside of the advising office.
I remind myself why I got into this business by getting my butt out of my office. You can do this, too! Be the staff advisor for a student organization or volunteer to help your Student Life office with their next event. I volunteer as the PR Coordinator for our campus media outlet, the Patriot Talon. It is refreshing, and I am reminded how amazing our students are and why I enjoy supporting them.
#5 Remember, it is not my responsibility to change people.
I used to take it upon myself to point out to students their errors: “Registration has been open for THREE months,” I would say as my blood pressure rose, “If you needed this course to graduate this semester, WHY did you wait until the week before classes begin to enroll?!” That approach left me mentally and emotionally exhausted. It just did not work for me.
I finally let go of the idea that I can change people by scolding them, and instead I simply let people know what their options are. I can only hope that they will see the consequences of their actions (or lack thereof), and make the corrections on their own. Reminding myself that it is not my responsibility to change a person’s behavior or habits keeps me focused on my actual responsibilities—which in turn helps me better serve my students. (My sincerest apologies to any students who had me as an advisor before I learned this lesson!)
There comes a point in each semester when none of these methods work, and I just have to go home for a few days and not look at my email.
So, tell me–what do you do to cope with the insanity that is academic advising? How do you plan on winding down after spring 2014 registration ends? Feel free to vent all about it in the comments or message me @MrsStephLong on Twitter.
Thanks for reading! Look for my next post on February 15.