Student Advisement: What Works, What Doesn’t, and How to Make It Better

Student Advisement: What Works, What Doesn’t, and How to Make It Better
Student Advisement: What Works, What Doesn’t, and How to Make It Better

Academic Leadership//

August 22, 2021

The general concept of the student advisor sounds simple: Each student has a dedicated adult on campus to offer support, be a sounding board, and provide overall guidance as they navigate through school and life.

The reality is quite different. Recent ISM research shows a huge disconnect between the accepted premise of advisory programs vs. student perception. Of the students surveyed, 87% could not identify their advisory sessions’ purpose. If students don’t know why they’re attending, there is little chance meaningful work is taking place.

Advisory Predicament

It’s time to take a closer look at student advisement. Schools may have the best intentions, but without a clearly defined purpose, both advisors and students are inadvertently being set up to fail. Mission statements pave the way for progress by framing advisory sessions and clarifying expectations.

Lack of purpose is not the only area of concern. Multiple factors contribute to dissatisfaction with advisory programming, with students and teachers bringing their perspectives to the table.

Student Dilemma

Academic, cocurricular, and social commitments leave students’ schedules with little room for anything extra. In their current form, students do not view advisory sessions as helpful or informative. They are seen as either an odd break in the day or an awkward 20 minutes that cannot end soon enough.

Teacher Challenges

  • Professional Development: Advisory training covers well-being, confidentiality, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), mandated reporting, college counseling, and academic guidance. ISM research revealed a mere 3% of teachers surveyed said they received solid training for their advisory roles.
  • Time Management: Demands on teachers are already high—adding to their list of daily tasks may create frustration. Building trusted student relationships takes time—from scheduled sessions, to attending a sporting event or/ performance, to a quick hallway chat. Lack of administrative support regarding teachers’ time pressures fuels the problem.
  • Focus: Advisory sessions are sometimes expected to fill extemporaneous roles, such as social-emotional learning or focus groups—taking the spotlight away from the primary goals of the program.

System Overhaul

If an academic program isn’t working at its maximum capacity—leaving teachers frustrated and students disengaged or fending for themselves—it’s time to rethink the entire system.

First Steps

Before revising anything, there must be a blueprint for what comes next. Consider the following steps in this process.


Be a fly on the wall and witness advisory sessions in action. Pay close attention to teacher and student interactions.


Ask teachers and students why the program exists. Do they have similar expectations, or are they on opposite ends of the spectrum?


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Think about primary goals for the coming year:

  • Ensure advisors have the necessary expertise and access to training. Give them the tools to succeed.
  • Find ways to promote a positive shift in student thinking when it comes to advisory sessions.
  • Learn how to better engage and motivate faculty regarding their roles as advisors. Do not view this responsibility as a burden.

Rethink and Restructure

Now that the problem is identified, be open to new solutions. Setting up large advisory teams, or “families,” is one alternative to the traditional one-advisor-per-10-student structure. In this system, each student is assigned a primary advisor, with multiple advisors attached to each team or “family”—bringing individual skill sets in areas such as academic support, college guidance, and DEI. More eyes on each child reduces the likelihood they’ll fall through the cracks.

To expand this approach further, form smaller teams within each family, providing additional meaningful interactions. Potential mentoring opportunities between older and younger students may also present themselves.

There is no one-size-fits-all for a system redo. Brainstorm with administrators and faculty to elicit fresh ideas. Design programs to fit your school’s size, mission, and culture. Regardless of the structure, every school shares the goal of providing a comprehensive and positive advisory experience for all students.

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