This is dangerous territory for me. My wife Suzanne is an experienced advisor. Like me, she is opinionated. If I get this wrong, Suzanne is likely to write a rebuttal and post it on this site. I admit to more than a little fear but I first decided to cowboy-up and write on this subject because I was hiring a couple of new advisors. While interviewing the candidates I had been reflecting on the challenges and rewards of academic advising and what qualities I am looking for when hiring advisors.
Most students think of their advisor far too narrowly. They see him or her as the person who is going to ensure that they fulfill all of their degree requirements in an efficient and timely manner so that they can graduate on time. Those students who are a little more bold will also ask their advisor about the relative reputations of the different faculty who teach the same course they need in an effort to get the best one.
If you can’t figure out how to complete a plan of study, I question our decision to admit you into the college. If you do need help, there are computer programs that perform progress toward degree audits. And if aIl I needed advisors to do is perform this function, I would realize that I can pay a computer program a lot less than advisors to do it. As for advice on which professor to take, if you need help with this sort of information, befriend some fellow students. They are much more likely to provide candid assessments of faculty teaching efficacy than advisors. Advisors need to have good relationships with faculty to be effective. Telling students that professor A is better than professor B is hazardous to their professional future.
Your advisor should be an expert on how you can best use the resources of the university to get the most out of your education and personal development. This requires that an advisor know something about you: your aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses. It also requires that the advisor be knowledgeable about the entire university and its many resources so that he or she can help you access them (e.g., tutoring, counseling, technology, libraries, career services, internships, study-abroad opportunities, community service experiences, leadership opportunities, student organizations etc. etc.). If they know both of these things, they than can help you reach your goals, providie you with an unbiased assessment of how well you are doing in executing your plan and provide options for mid-course corrections if necessary.
Understand that your advisor is responsible for about 1000 students each at UCF and most students want to see them at exactly the same time: registration. So if you plan on meeting your advisor during registration, realize that this is when you are going to get the least amount of time with them. Also recognize that it is hard to get to know anyone in 15 minutes. If this is the only time you can meet your advisor, be very prepared and use that time as efficiently as possible. The better strategy is to plan to meet with your advisor a couple of times each semester, at least once or twice at times other than registration. Get to know them and help them to get to know you so that you can create your professional development plan together and meaningfully assess your progress.
If you do this, your advisor can turn out to be one of the most important people you meet while in school. Suzanne has former students who write to her, follow her on Facebook, and invite her to lunch years after they graduate from school. Developing those kinds of professional relationships with students is what I want from my advisors. Computer programs don’t do this.
Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. This post appeared on March 20, 2013. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley