Surviving and Thriving in the After Peak Advising Period: 7 Strategies to Regroup

Path concept built out of blocks

The beginning of the fall semester is a tumultuous time for students, parents, staff, and administrators. Everyone is focused on enrolling new students and supporting continuing students. The weeks preceding the start of the term up through add/drop are intense for academic advisors as we urgently strive to manage the influx of appointments, walk-ins, calls, and emails. During these weeks, it’s easy to let the stress and fatigue get to you. The job becomes essential, but almost meaningless as you wade your way through email after email asking to get into a closed class, override a prerequisite, or help students accomplish last-minute registrations and schedule adjustments. During this time of year, I’ve heard many advisors (myself included) exclaim “this is not advising!” The work loses its luster when it becomes reactive, transactional, and limited in scope. Even though students who access advising during these critical weeks most certainly value our assistance, it can leave advisors exhausted and at risk for burn-out. So, what can you do to avoid it?

This, too, shall pass.

Earlier in my career, I internalized students’ stress and thought I’d never get through everything I needed to in time to meet critical registration deadlines. I’d reach that point where I’d be certain that no more seats were available, and that I’d have to tell students that I couldn’t help them. But guess what? It always worked out. It still does. Somehow, with our blood, sweat, and tears, we make it work. At a certain point, I proactively told myself that it always works out. The students will get settled into their courses and, soon after, my life will calm down. This reminder has sustained me through many “start of terms.”

Now what?

It is bliss when things start to calm down. The phone doesn’t ring as often and there are a few open spots on your calendar. You may even be able to avoid reading emails on the weekend! It’s a great feeling, but one that may leave you feeling a bit like, “now what?” After you take some time to clean your desk and catch up on paperwork, you can decide how you want to spend the intervening weeks before the next registration period ramps up all over again. There are some highly productive and rewarding things you can do in the “down” times that will help bring more meaning into your work, benefit your students, and help to advance your career. Here are some ideas to keep you motivated and moving forward instead of waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Maximize the Use of Your Strengths and Interests

What do you really love to do? What skills do you have that can benefit the organization? The more you can tap into your skills and interests, the more value work will have for you. Throughout my career, I’ve tried to infuse my strongest interests (creativity) into what can be a tremendously tedious job. Here are some thoughts about how to infuse your skills and interests into your work:

  1. Review your website. Are there things students have trouble finding? Does it have all the information your students and you need? Is it appealing? Even if this is not within your job duties or skillset, you can positively contribute ideas to your supervisor and/or web designer. Offer to learn how to update the site so that, if one does not already exist, you can serve as the front-line person for time-sensitive updates.
  2. Contribute to social media. Do you have a message that you think students need to hear? Ideas for cute and engaging posts and stories? Your supervisor will love to hear them! Do you have skills with technology such as Canva or TikTok? Think about how you can contribute to the department and keep yourself engaged.
  3. Develop a presentation. What do students need to know? How can you help them get the message? By proactively creating content, you can offer group trainings, webinars, and “just-in-time” information for students. Start by putting some ideas on paper. Flesh the thoughts out and work towards a comprehensive tool (or set of tools) that students can use. While it’s important to loop in your supervisor, don’t let feedback deter you from developing content. Even if your department may not use it, you’ll be surprised at other sources that will welcome your work. These same strategies apply for developing training and resources for advisors, themselves. I started out by training my team, then university, and then other institutions. There are many opportunities to contribute to the field of academic advising and student success.
  4. Write. Writing is a great way to make internal and external contributions. Whether you want to contribute to creating a communication plan for students, develop an e-newsletter, start a blog, or write for a publication, writing can be a great way to contribute to the organization and field of advising. Again, don’t let naysayers dissuade you. I once had a boss to whom I excitedly brought an idea about a college-wide newsletter (pre-internet). She asked me if I thought I could manage the newsletter and my advising duties, to which I confidently replied yes. She asked my timeline for deliverables. Being the right-brained person that I am, that was a hard one. However, I assured her that it would get done by the deadline I had set for completion. She basically said no. I basically went ahead and did it anyway. The newsletter was a huge success, and students and staff alike benefitted from its publication.
  5. Explore Technology. Are there apps or programs that would make your students’ and your life easier? Is there a particular challenge you could help research and explore? Although some institutions leave technology purely to the IT department, your thoughts and ideas may be very welcomed. The IT department does not know the needs of students as they pertain to advising, so your input may be well-received. During the COVID lockdown, I (along with most of us) learned a tremendous amount regarding technology tools. By proactively exploring and using available tools, you’ll be able to contribute as needed.
  6. Assess Policies and Procedures. Ok, so this one might not be the most fun way to spend your “down time.” But what better time to do this than right after you’ve been putting out fires because of an unclear policy or cumbersome process. When you’re in the thick of it, think of those things you think “there has to be a better way!” Jot them down. When it slows down, think about how the process could be improved or refined. Present your thoughts to the team and your supervisor. You can be an agent of change, and your supervisor should welcome the help.
  7. Read. Keep up to date on current trends in advising and higher education. Examine problems and solutions. Learn about theory and advising models. So often we are thrown into advising with little time for training and development, so take the time to develop your own knowledge base.

I admit, I am on the tail-end of the baby boomer generation. We worked for the satisfaction of doing a good job. Times have changed as have generational values. We talk about “work-life balance,” and encourage employees to go home at the end of the day because “you’re not being paid for more than that.” However, some things haven’t changed. Supervisors welcome contributions, and those who make them have more opportunities for growth and promotion. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking “they don’t pay me enough to do that,” I encourage you to turn the sentiment around. The more contributions you make, the more valuable you’ll become. When advancement opportunities arise, your work and reputation will be known. Think of it as an investment in yourself. You get to do the work that you enjoy and inspires you while helping to make a positive impact on your students and institution.