1 Cranky Advisor + 600 Frustrated Students = 5 Tips For Maintaining My Sanity

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!)

The inevitable

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.

11 thoughts on “1 Cranky Advisor + 600 Frustrated Students = 5 Tips For Maintaining My Sanity

  1. I advised for 8 years in the 90s and got really burned out. Left and taught elementary school for 10 years. Now I am back. One thing I have to remind myself now and I had to back then is that all students are not I was when I was a student. College students are drastically different now than they were when I was one.
    Like you , I learned that if I don’t take time for myself during the day, I get hungry, resentful, and act as though I have a terminal case of PMS.
    I do my best to see students on an appointment only basis. They get an hour set aside for them. I can prepare for our meeting.
    Many students have gotten accustomed to having everything planned and done for them. I let them know that those days are gone. They are now going to have to manage their own time.

  2. What a great and refreshing post! Just what I needed for my Friday. Thank you for reminding me it is important to take care of myself and why I got into this profession in the first place. 🙂

  3. I just found this post today and it is very timely as we are entering three weeks of pre-registration at my institution. I plan on sharing the post with my other advisors (probably next week when we are starting to hit our peaks!).

  4. Hi Stephanie I enjoyed reading your blog as I saw similarities in our viewpoints the way we see our students and think as Academic Advisors. I loved the witty parts and hope to read more from you in the future. Thanks for the Wednesday laugh. I also shared it with my fellow Advisors. Great stuff

  5. I agree with everything you said here! It can be really tempting to work through lunches and answer emails in the evening from home, but the most important thing I have done to avoid getting burnt out is to set aside time for myself, like you said. I know I can’t give good advice if I am constantly taking appointments while I am tired or hungry or especially when I am sending half-assed emails from my iPad at 9pm. For this reason, I made a deal with myself to find a separation between work and me time. I nearly always take my lunch, either shutting my door for some peace and quiet or getting up and stretching my legs for a bit, and I don’t read my emails after 5:00 (for the most part 😉 ). Most of my co-workers talk about feeling burnt out and that they are over-extending themselves because they stay in the office until 6 or later every day and they take random (often non-emergency) walk-ins over their lunch hour. I applaud their dedication to their work, but I really just want to tell them that they can say “no” sometimes too, and it doesn’t mean they care any less about their students.

    1. You are exactly right! Any time I see someone who is just really frustrated with their job, I want to ask them, “And how many vacation hours do you have saved up that you’ve never used?” Anyway, glad you enjoyed my post, and thanks for the comment 🙂

  6. Dear Stephanie,
    I agree with all points but # 2. In my personal opinion, academic advising is a healthy combination of management consulting and customer service. A good amount of our time is spent on identifying the problem before solving it. Off course, it IS any academic adviser’s major duty! As an adviser, if I am giving priority to the tasks other than meeting/understanding my students, then I lack what it (read “patience”) takes to be a professional adviser. Besides, every successful professional has to acquire strong time-management skills without turning away students. Hence, I’d prefer to use open-door, open-channel (email, in-person, social media, telephone etc.) policy than scolding/turning away my students.

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