Academic Advisors can be some of the most helpful resources for students in college, particularly for those enrolled in a large university with a ton of classes/courses. Sometimes, advisors are assigned to a lot of students, which makes it a bit harder to get time to speak with them, but being proactive, consistently reaching out, and planning ahead can ensure that you get the one-on-one time you need with an advisor, and that you get all of your questions answered.
Academic Advisors are professionals that will work directly with you to plan out your 3, 4, or 5-year college course load, and ensure that you are on track to successfully complete your chosen major(s) and/or minors. This can be tremendously helpful, making sure nothing slips through the cracks: you aren’t supposed to be an expert in all things college planning as a student - that’s what these advisors are for! They provide so many benefits and resources:
1. Optimize your course plan: Talking to an advisor can ensure that you know what courses you have to take, when you have to take them, and how quickly you will graduate. They will make sure that you don’t miss any essential prerequisites, and they will also often be able to help you get into required classes if you are having trouble/are on the waitlist. Additionally, they will make sure that you don’t miss any small requirements to graduate, which can be an unpleasant surprise for some students as they prepare to graduate and realize a bit too late that they haven’t fully completed breadth/major courses.
Furthermore, they can help you figure out what AP/IB/Community College courses can transfer/count for credit towards your degree, which could save you some work in the long run. This means that they could let you know what courses you might be able to test out of/skip based on your existing course credits, and they can help you figure out how to strategically take classes that are the most efficient in terms of satisfying breadths and major/college specific requirements (sometimes, a course can count for 1-2 specific requirements in one major, but not in another).
Advisors are particularly helpful when trying to navigate requirements for 2 or more majors at the same time!
2. Explore new majors, programs, or topics: Advisors can also help you plan out your schedule and figure out how much wiggle room/extra time you might have to take non-essential classes. This can be a great way to find time to explore topics you are interested in outside of your chosen major, or find programs that complement your main focus nicely. Oftentimes, this is how students also plan to accomplish auxiliary certificates or awards, as well as minors.
I was able to talk to an advisor and not only fit in a Spanish Language and Literature minor, but also classes about other ideas I was just interested in learning about (fabrication/invention classes, psychology/physiology).
3. Plan Study Abroad: Figuring out which of your courses will transfer/count from a school abroad can be confusing, and is much easier when you have someone to talk to that knows how to navigate that application system and has done so with many students before. That way, you can make sure it fits well into your schedule, or figure out if you need to go somewhere during the summer instead. They can also point you to great programs that you might otherwise never know about (this can save you money, open you up to new experiences, and make the whole process less stressful)!
4. Manage your mental health: Academic planning is closely tied to mental health: having a manageable course load can really make the difference between being overwhelmed, anxious, & stressed, and having time for relaxation, socialization, and whatever else keeps you happy and healthy. College is stressful enough with your required course load, so being able to plan out the classes you will take (an ensure that you take a relatively consistent load from semester to semester, or plan accordingly for particularly demanding jobs or commitments from term to term (maybe you know your spring semester will be a hard one regarding your employment, so you’d want to take 5 classes in the fall, and 3 in the spring)).
Advisors also have a good idea of what courses are technical and may take more dedicated time vs. courses that are historically a bit easier or less time consuming. Because of this, they can recommend ideal pairings of classes to make for manageable work-loads, and therefore much less stressful semesters.
5. Other resources: Advisors are the most knowledgeable when it comes to other online academic resources (course catalogs, program websites), or social support systems that might help you balance your mental health and time. They can discuss potential extracurricular activities that might pair well with your academic interests, or groups/activities that might introduce you to something new (or provide you with the emotional support you’re lacking). They can show you how to get in contact with tutoring services, mentoring programs, or therapy outlets, which are resources that can often go unnoticed among students that don't know how to look for them.
6. Job opportunities: Though this is not always their specialty, advisors may be able to enlighten you when it comes to potential career paths, job/internship opportunities, or professional connections. If not, they can likely point you to useful resources like the career center or job fairs that could benefit you in your chosen field.
7. Having someone to talk to: Although advisors aren’t therapists, they are sympathetic when it comes to the stress of planning your course load and navigating college life. Come to them with your concerns: they’ve worked with so many students and have helped them be successful in college, so they have likely seen most of the kinds of struggles students might be going through in college. That experience can directly benefit you - don’t be afraid to be open and express your concerns and questions to them.
I personally found great friends in my academic advisors - they’re people too! I always enjoyed being able to walk into the advising office and have a real conversation with someone - even if it wasn’t strictly related to academics. Building relationships like that can make you feel more secure and happy with your college administration, and can also establish connections that might help you down the line. If you get into a tough situation with your academics later on (for instance, if you need to petition a requirement to the academic board of your college), if they know your name and can put a face to your petition, you are more likely to truly make headway in whatever you need! It’s always nice to be known and recognized, and have someone “on your side” within your college admin offices.
Overall, academic advisors are certainly underutilized, and most students don’t know how many resources they can be connected to just by getting to know their advisors. Navigating college is hard enough - why do it alone? Sometimes, you can even talk to advisors before you are a student at the college you are thinking of attending. Asking for help is always worth it, and will set you up for success in the long run.
Sarah is a Consultant on the Study Hall College Consulting Team. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley in the class of 2020 where she majored in Architecture and minored in Spanish Language and Literature. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.