Making the Most of Your Academic Advisor

I met with my academic advisor recently, and he agrees that I’m on the right track to graduate. It’s a good sign when your advisor agrees with you on that.

At my university in particular, though, the advisors have very bad reputations. In fact, both of my best friends have situations where our music advisor has not enrolled them in the right classes, etc. I believe this is true at most schools. I have never had a problem with our advisor, but I think that I approach him very differently than most students. He is responsible for all undergraduates in the music department, and is very knowledgeable, but that has to be a ridiculous workload. I can understand if someone in that situation makes mistakes occasionally.

For that reason, I do all my research before my advisor meetings. When I go in to ask him questions, I make sure I know what I’m talking about. When I met with him last week, I printed off the progress report and went so far as to highlight classes that I had questions about or still need to take. All I really wanted to do was make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything in my calculations, but it helps to know what I’m talking about.

I do my research every semester when I register for classes as well. I look at what classes I still need, and which ones I can sign up for that semester. Some classes have prerequisites, so I need to check that I’ve met them. Other classes (especially in the music department) last for two semesters, so I need to make sure that I’ve enrolled in them at the right times to be able to complete the whole course. Usually I go see the advisor after I’ve enrolled for the next semester, to check that I’m enrolled in the right classes.

I very highly recommend this approach to advisor meetings.

Be prepared. Your advisor can’t think for you. Many students assume that if they just take the advisor’s word on what classes they should take, they’ll be fine. Be careful with this – academic advisors are still human. They make mistakes. Try to minimize the number of mistakes yours can make by knowing what classes you should be in. Then if he says something that conflicts with what you think, ask him about it. Ask why he thinks you should take that class, or not take this one. Your advisor does have a lot of experience, and can see problems that you may not have considered. This is your education – it’s your job to run it.

Check in only as often as needed. I’ve never seen any point in meeting with the advisor more than once or twice a semester. If you have a quick question, send an email. It will get a faster response. If you need to check and make sure you really are as close to graduating as you think you are, schedule a meeting, and make sure you know what you still need to complete. If a special situation comes up, talk to your advisor. Don’t forget that these people have seen a lot of students and know how best to handle many different things.

Ask questions. I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t understand why he thinks you should take a class, ask why. If she thinks that you shouldn’t be taking this other class just yet, ask why. If he looks at you like you’re crazy when you say you’re ready to graduate, ask why. If you see absolutely no point in taking a class that is listed as “required”, ask why it’s required. Get the picture? Advisors are there to answer questions.

Advisors make mistakes, but they are still some of the most knowledgeable people in the whole department. Being prepared for meetings will greatly minimize both mistakes and stress.

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