Assessing the Training Needs of New Advisors

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Karen Thurmond coordinates the day-to-day operations of the general education program (core curriculum), degree audit system (DegreeWorks), and an 24/7 system for academic advising appointments (AppointmentPlus) at the University of Memphis. She has written extensively for NACADA, and recently completed work with a team to automate the graduation process at The University of Memphis.

Congratulations! You just hired a new academic advisor!

Whether your new advisor has just graduated from a master’s degree with a specialization in academic advising, or is making a transition from another area of higher education, is on a college campus for the first time, or is a faculty member taking on new academic advising responsibilities, they have a lot to learn. Academic advising is a wide interdisciplinary activity that will challenge them personally, professionally, academically, emotionally, and physically. How will you prepare them for this challenge?

You should be waiting for your new advisor on the first day with an agenda for their development into a quality academic advisor. This agenda will include the details the advisor needs to know to answer student questions and assist students with making and meeting goals, an understanding of what quality academic advising is and how it impacts student retention and graduation, and an understanding of themselves as an academic advisor. Knowing this, and learning the ways in which your particular campus structures advising and provides access to information, will get the advisor through your first year with flying colors and in one piece.

In the best case scenario, you have a written agenda, a full calendar of meetings and opportunities, and the resources to help the advisor get ready to advise the first student (at some point in the future).

But “best case” may not be the actual case. Here’s a story I heard recently:


“I am a new advisor in a college of science. I have experience in higher education, but my experience was mostly with student organizations. I love students, but as I have gotten a little older I am looking for something more ‘on the academic side.’ I was hired to lead advising in the college. I was so excited to get the job! I was accomplishing my goal of making the transition to the academic side. Also, this institution has a doctoral program in higher education – I can get prepared for the next career move. It really seemed like I was moving forward in the way that I had hoped I could.

“When I arrived on campus for my first day, I went through a new employee orientation which helped me understand benefits and get my employee ID. That was a great start. Nothing in the new employee orientation was specific to the job I was going to be doing in the college. After a few days of new employee orientation, I was back in the office. My supervisor stopped by and welcomed me.  I got flowers from the students in the program. There was a card on my desk from the faculty. What a lovely welcome!

“Then I began to notice the reality of my situation. My telephone and computer didn’t work properly. I could access information in the “system” as no access had been set up for me. After some visits from the campus director of advising, I got questions answered about how to set up access to information. Then the bombs began to hit. My supervisor let me know that my first task was to check the graduation folders for the semester. When did I sign up to check graduation folders? I didn’t know that was part of the job. Before too long the students began to pop into the office to ask about the advising schedule. Registration was coming up. I had no idea what to tell them.

“Each day brings a new challenge, and right now I feel very inadequate and frustrated with the job. I am ready to go work at Walmart. I don’t feel like anyone prepared for my arrival, thought about what I needed to know before I started the work, or understood what they wanted me to accomplish on the job. They just wanted someone to come in and start working. How am I supposed to know how to do the work unless someone teaches me?”

An Alternative to That Scenario

Does this sound like the typical scenario where you work?

It doesn’t have to be. The tools to successfully assess the skills of the new academic advisor may be developed and reused, customized, and redelivered.

Here are some of the basics. The academic advisor needs the skill and knowledge to:

  • Answer student questions and assist students with making and meeting academic, (personal, professional) goals
  • Articulate the concept of quality academic advising is and the ways in which it impacts student retention and graduation
  • Be aware of themselves as an academic advisor
  • Internalize the ways in which your particular campus structures advising and provides access to information

The good news is that all of this can be taught, modeled, and learned.


Depending on the experience of your new advisor, it is possible that they are more “job ready” than the next person. For example, consider one important skill: finding out how to use the student information system. Does the advisor have the skill to access needed information, and to what level has that skill been developed?

To find out, ask the new advisor:

Who are the go to people for more Student Information System information?

A. I don’t know, and I can’t imagine how to find
B. There is someone in my office who helps me with
C. I know where I can get a list
D. I know the people to ask, and I have a directory; I can look it up
E. I have it all in my head

Through a collection of questions such as this, the skills of the advisor may be assessed coming in the door.

More than Just an Assessment

Incidentally, the items in such an assessment may also provide an outline for a program of professional development for advisors. Teach what will be examined, “train,” determine if the expected learning has occurred, teach/train some more, determine again. Continuous professional development and examination of what has been learned by the advisor are elements of a program of quality academic advising.

So what of our new advisor with the sad story? She didn’t go to Walmart. She found a way to gather the campus community around her and is getting what she needs to be a quality academic advisor.