Home > Academic Advising, Careers, Profession > So You Want to be an Academic Advisor….

So You Want to be an Academic Advisor….

As the office winds down a search for a new academic advisor, the process has really provided some unique insight into the question, “How do I become an Academic Advisor?”

If you take a couple of minutes to Google the question or even visit NACADA’s LinkedIn forums, one quickly can see there is no real answer to that question. Each response is its own prerogative based on past experiences and current policies at an institution. There is not a right or wrong answer which makes becoming an academic advisor a process with minimal direction.

When I became an academic advisor close to 10 years ago, the advising profession was seemingly treated as a stepping stone, a position to just bide one’s time until they got the real job one was looking for. Turn the page to today and it is not out of the ordinary to actually hear the tale of another’s quest to become an academic advisor. For me it is quite refreshing to see a pool of potential academic advisors who plan to be academic advisors for hopefully quite a while.

NACADA’s Clearinghouse has a great primer on how to become an academic advisor. It provides much more timely information for those in the job hunt than some of the four year old answers on random question and answer sites like Yahoo! Answers, eHow and Indeed (not too far of a reach eh?). It goes to show just how much has started to change over the last few years.

So as we begin to wrap up our candidate search for the new position, I thought I would offer a quick glimpse into what this committee was looking for and frequent comments about the applicant pool.

  • Education: While a master degree was preferred, some relevant academic advising experience can make up for holding only a bachelor degree. Relevant being the keyword here. While higher education and student affairs work is appreciated, actual time as an advisor or in an advising office goes a long way. Quality of the academic degree was also taken into consideration.
  • Experience: Previous academic advising experience was definitely preferred. Experience in higher education was next on the list if there was no time in academic advising. Those with the experience in student affairs (res life, admissions, registrar, etc.) have value. A very valid concern here is the quality of responsibilities help previously. A title is just a title in the end. If you were more of a sales person than advisor, it shows through pretty quickly.
  • Cover letters: It is quite evident when someone is submitting a generic cover letter. It is even worse when it is the cover letter for another position. Double and triple check all of your attachments to make sure you are submitting a unique and applicable cover letter. One does really need to take the time introducing who they are and how they are uniquely qualified for the position. Double and triple check grammar and spelling as well.
  • Résumés: Just like the cover letter, this can’t be the same résumé you have sent out for every job opening during your search. It should identify how your previous experience meets the duties and qualifications of the job.  And while I personally don’t like an “Objective” area on a résumé, if you have one, please make sure your objective is to actually become an academic advisor. Not something generic or even worse, an objective with the wrong job position. Take the time to rewrite a résumé and cover letter specifically for the position you applying.
  • Translate your past: Regardless of if your résumé if chock full of advising experience or if you have relevant, if not directly related, experience, we needed to see how you fit into what we need now. Having a past in student affairs may not directly win you the interview, but making it clear and obvious just how your student affairs past leads you to the now to be the perfect fit for the job. Do that through tailored cover letters and résumés, highlighting the key points of the job responsibilities. Is more clear you make it, the better your chances.
  • Objective: Your objective is to become an academic advisor, plain and simple. Not find a job in higher education, not relocate to the area, but be the academic advisor the hiring unit is looking for. Having non-specific goals in your application, résumé and cover letter leave doubts as to if you really want to be an academic advisor or if you are simply just looking for a job. You must somehow convey you have a genuine desire to be an academic advisor now and into the future.
  • Treat it as a profession: Academic advising is no longer a stepping stone of a job. We want academic advisors to fill an academic advisor position. It all goes back to not being a generic applicant. You should be invested in the advising career path and that shows pretty quickly in a quality application package. Those just looking for a job are quickly shuffled to the bottom of the stack. Applicants should make reviewers feel that this is the job they have always wanted and are in it for the long haul.
  • Involvement: It never hurts to show that you are a member of a related organization or have ventured into giving presentations on topics in academic advising. It shows investment into being an advisor and offers hope that one will continue those endeavors should they fill the open position.

At this point there are many paths to being an academic advisor. No one path will fit every open position. But perhaps a little insight will help you prepare going forward. For what it is worth at least.

Have any tips for the weary job searches? Feel free to share.

  1. June 21, 2012 at 10:18 am

    I’d add that joining professional organizations (e.g., NACADA) indicates a level of commitment to the field that isn’t apparent in all applicants. I have seen a number of advisors who live elsewhere attend our regional conference in hopes of networking and developing themselves professionally. I have forwarded a number of them position openings that might be a good fit, and several have landed advising gigs in our region.

  2. Jason
    June 23, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    I would have to say I love it when I run into those who come to conferences without currently being attached to a university in an effort to make the necessary connections.

  3. August 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Many people coming from student affairs positions imagine that (A) Academic Advising is just another student affairs position and/or (B) that being a professional in any other field of student personnel services automatically qualifies them for Academic Advising. I would never presume that my 21 years of experience in Academic Advising prepares me to simply switch over to another office on campus, so automatic red flags go up when I read resumes or hear applicants suggesting that they can cross over from another field into Academic Advising.

    • larry macklin
      May 14, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      hello I have an interview for advising and I really want to help advise students so this is my path for students. I want to know what questions will I be asked?

      • Jason
        May 14, 2014 at 2:52 pm

        I would be ready to comment on some of the following:
        * What is you academic advising philosophy?
        * What is customer service to you?
        * Explain a difficult advising situation and how you resolved it.
        * Your career path and progression and how the position fits uniquely within that.

  4. August 11, 2012 at 8:47 am

    I have been working in Student Affairs as an English as a Second Language instructor and a Writing Center consultant since 2006 I believe I have the adaptability to cross over into another academic field. What could I do to alleviate the apprehension of professionals like Tim Bond who have every right to see “red flags” when confronted with resumes from individuals with profiles similar to mine? I recently applied for such a position at the university where I currently am employed and I never heard back from the hiring manager, so perhaps she also saw those same red flags.

    The fact that I am easily trained should put hiring managers’ minds at ease. I plan to conduct an exploratory meeting with those who are already in the field on campus. The more I learn about the field, the better I can fulfill the immediate needs.

  5. Jason
    August 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    I think using campus resources to explore the field is a great idea Lori. Who better to learn from in what they look for in an advisor? Even more if you would like to stick around on your campus. I would also recommend taking a very close look at the job responsibilities and directly connect your experiences to the responsibilities in cover letter and resume. One really does have to blatantly show the crossover ability through experience rather than rely on using a certain amount of time spent in student affairs/higher education.

    • August 13, 2012 at 9:50 am

      I do like the word “blatantly” to describe crossover ability. For starters, “student learning outcomes” already exist in the teaching field and I make it a point to fulfill them. Exploring the student’s career goals is another aspect I have dealt with in the writing center, when students came in with cover letters/resumes that needed revising. Active listening is something I practice as a writing center consultant, and teamwork with other consultants is key to the success of the writing center. So it looks as if there are at least four categories with crossover potential to emphasize.

      • Jeff
        December 11, 2012 at 8:58 am

        I’m extremely interested in what you have learned since you made this post. I am in a similar boat. I have an M.S. in Student Personnel Services, but have spent the past 9 years teaching ESL in Korea to students of all ages. I also served as an Academic Director at a private language institute for 3 years. The educational landscape is strict, harsh, competitive and unforgiving. The family pressures are intense as well.
        I, too, worked at a university learning resource center as a writing tutor for a year (in the US) performing the same duties you described. I performed those same duties, in one capacity or another, in Korea as well. I wish to make the transition to student advising. I cannot imagine a field in Student Affairs that I would rather be involved with other than International Student advisement. The question is… How can I convince a potential employer that I have the required skills and abilities?
        ….and 9 years of references that are difficult to verify because of the time difference and, depending on who answers a phone, the language barrier as well. I don’t think many employers in the field can speak Korean.

  6. December 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    In reply to Jeff: The associate director of our English Language Center spent 14 years in Korea and considers himself fluent in the language. The ELC is part of Student Affairs. I find that the more I work in this department, the closer I am to my goal of international student advisement. If you were in the Rochester, NY area, I would advise you to talk to the associate director of the ELC. I plan to set up an informational meeting with him. The chances are quite slim of meeting an employer who speaks Korean. I am fluent in Spanish and have more of a likelihood of finding my linguistic counterparts because our campus hosts at least 50 students from the Dominican Republic each year.

  7. Jason
    April 2, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    In the nine months since I initially posted this we have hired two more advisors into the office. To be honest, it seems like most of what I posited held through for both positions. However I think this time around, the quality of the applicant pool was higher as well. So when you combined both, it made for a great search. Advising experience won out in the long run, though there were some student affairs professionals who were definitely considered.

    The one other item that seemed to shine through were the cover letters that specifically showed how a candidate was built for the position by addressing the duties in the job description.

    • James
      May 19, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Thanks for this. Sheds more light on the subject. I am very interested in this line of work because I have a passion to guide people in a direction to success. I’ve watched too many students fall through cracks because there was little goal-setting taught them. I’ve also watched how goal-setting puts youngsters on track to a career…

  8. Jason
    April 2, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I also want to say if you want something, you go after it. I hope everyone doesn’t take this as if you don’t meet x, y and z then don’t apply. It is actually much more of there are many ways people meet x, y and z, how do you meet them in your own unique way?

    • Laura
      July 12, 2013 at 6:35 am

      Thanks for sharing this, Jason. I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and assumed that all advising positions would require a master’s degree, until I found a posting for one that did not. Up to that point, I wasn’t sure of my career path, but became excited at the possibility of a position where I could put my degree to use, help others, and work in an environment that fosters learning and development! I’ve been looking into ways to translate and improve my current skills and knowledge for this type of position. I lack the experience in working with students in an educational setting, and there lies my dilemma. I work full-time, so I was hoping to find a way to volunteer at a campus on evenings and weekends, but no such luck. Any other suggestions?

      • Jason
        September 5, 2013 at 10:03 pm

        Sorry for such a delayed response to your question, I hope you have had good news in the mean time. I definitely say take a shot at those jobs that don’t necessarily require a masters degree. As far as a lack of working in an educational setting, I would say be on the look out for positions within advising units that may not necessarily be straight advising positions. Perhaps it is working with student clubs, or maybe working on the careers side. Of course each of those has their own backgrounds they look for. It may just be putting in the time in an entry level position (which seems not be the academic advisor position any longer) or heading back for that masters degree where you make a directed effort to connect yourself to advising during your time as a grad student.

  9. James
    May 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Good entries. I am interested in academic advising at community colleges. I have been a teacher for over twenty years and would like a change. I like my work, but change is needed…

    • Jason
      May 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      There is some great academic advising that happens at community colleges, and a lot of it is very different from advising at a 4 year institution. Have you ever considered working as teaching faculty at a community college in your field? Perhaps with that you can add on the advisor/mentor role. Not a clean transition out of teaching, but could provide a pipeline. Also where is the level of your background and knowledge with regard to student development theories? As a teacher what mentoring roles did you take on outside of teaching the course material. Any student organizations or volunteer opportunities?

  10. May 28, 2013 at 5:56 am

    Jason commented that you need experience and that often, skills might not be as obviously transferable as we hope. But I wonder how an adult (as opposed to a student who can do an internship) can gain direct experience in advising without getting a job in advising which is difficult to do without experience in advising . . .

    Anyone have suggestions? I can certainly go to the conferences, but from reviewing the local college’s website and the NACADA website, it does not appear that area schools go to the conferences.

    Would love to know what others think.

    • Jason
      May 28, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Amy An, it is possible to pay your dues in something very closely related? Something that may allow you to develop an “advising” aspect to the position. We currently are search for an admin/prospective student advisor in our office that definitely does not have the higher bar of a full advisor position(http://utah.peopleadmin.com/postings/23879). However it does have an advising piece that will be invaluable in future job searches. But like I said, you have to sometime pay your dues in the position for a time period to garner the experience.

      I suppose for me its like when I was in athletics. I was an intern way too long, but that is how I got my foot in the door to move up in the department. I just got lucky that my internship was in athletic advising which opened the door to the advising world.

      Just my thoughts on a possible route.

      • May 28, 2013 at 5:10 pm

        I am a high school teacher and model un advisor – and I think that I have tailored my teaching toward advising. For example; I gave an assignment this year in US history that had them researching their future college majors and becoming the “class expert” in the history of that topic. If they were interested in a med tech degree/job – I had them looking at the history of medical care. I tried to make the classwork meaningful in their lives. But I am not sure that that or my experiences as a teacher are the kind of “blatant” cross-over that advising departments are looking for.

        Anyone have any thoughts about my “cross-over” or about getting that first advising job?

      • May 28, 2013 at 5:24 pm

        That job posting is interesting Jason, I have not seen anything quite like that near me but I will pay attention to that. I am very willing to pay my dues – just not sure where that would be. I see only advising jobs posted

        Also, I am most wondering about some of the specifics about learning the coursework flow about which you advise students. What I mean is, it seems to me that there are two parts to advising – 1. listening and guiding students in general in their path through the university – for this you need the ability to listen, build trust, and to reach out to students. There is a great deal of literature about this, theories on it, etc at the NACADA site.

        Part 2. knowing the details of the actual coursework of a department and basic core requirements and their equivalencies of the university. Is this something that you expect a new advisor to know on day one or is there always a training period to learn the requirements of a specific college/department? How do I show an interviewer that I can “hit the ground running” with this aspect?

        Many thanks to anyone who can answer.

  11. Suneeta
    June 5, 2013 at 12:43 am

    Hi Jason,
    I was wondering if you could recommend any university that provides online courses for Academic Advising as I live in UAE..
    I am in the process of a career transition after being a teaching Economics and Business Management for more than 15 years and I realize that Academic Advising is a field that I would love to move into.
    Any suggestion would be greatly appreciated.


  12. Stephanie
    June 13, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Reblogged this on Sunflowers & Green Tea and commented:
    I really enjoyed reading this blog post. It’s a great read for someone who is interested in pursuing a career in higher education. If you are interested in academic advising, please consider reading this article.

  13. Ryan
    August 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    I have thought of becoming a community college academic advisor. I work currently in health care. Would a masters degree in industrial/organizational psychology be beneficial to becoming a academic advisor?

    • Jason
      September 5, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      I think it is relevant Ryan. You might have to connect patient care and responsibilities directly to the job requirements as posted. Make those connections very clear in a cover letter and don’t send in a stock resume but rather one that emphasizes working with a vulnerable population and any work in developing individuals. We are not at a point in academic advising where a specific degree is required, but I think we are getting much more competitive with those who apply.

      Where a couple of years ago a search may not have had any applicants with direct advising experience, searches now tend to include those who have been advising. That is not to say they will always get the offer, but it just goes to show you really have to highlight why you are the best for the position. No stock resumes. No stock cover letters. Resist the urge to take the fast way to application.

  14. JG
    September 7, 2013 at 5:52 am

    I landed in higher education very accidentally. It’s a competitive gig. My master’s degree is in teaching. You definitely have to focus on transferability of skills… I have been an academic advisor for 4 years now at a for-profit institution. I’m attempting to make the transition now to a non-profit university. It’s amazing how many assumptions come from that alone… Simply because I started at a for-profit, there is the assumption that I do not use advising theory to guide my practice. I’m well-versed in intrusive, appreciative, and developmental advising practices. I’m also actively involved with NACADA and keep current with industry literature. I’m not a sales person, which shocks the heck out of search committees and deans when I interview. I would say to research the culture and backgrounds of the advisors at the schools you are applying to. They usually have their bios posted, and you can look at their Linkedin profiles. The job description may say that no masters is needed, but if they all have one… Chances are you will REALLY have to work to sell yourself. I do take issue with advising departments that value a degree in student counseling / personnel without looking at the overall experience of the applicant. That’s an immediate red flag to me when I review that advising department before applying. Case in point… I was a finalist for a position at one of the local community colleges. They went with a candidate that had the degree in student personnel but only had intern experience… She lasted about 6 months before burning out, because she was unequipped to deal with the population of students they served. Most of the practicums in those programs are at geared at first-year, high achieving students. The reality is that student demographics are changing dramatically. The degree is not everything. Coming from a for-profit has given me a unique perspective. I serve primarily non-traditional, first generation students, I know that some of these kids straight out of grad school would melt like a stick of butter in the microwave if faced with some of the issues I work with everyday. So, focus on your skills….

  15. CN
    October 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    JG-Thank you for your informative feedback. Sounds like you do your homework on what the culture of a particular institution is, before making up your mind if you want to work for that school. I have actively been looking at “breaking in” to academic advisement for the last year and a half. No interviews, no nibbles. I obviously, am not being considered and have to reconsider my paper (app, resume, cover letter, personal qualifications statement, blah, blah, blah). It is a frustrating endeavor, but what I’m understanding by reading your post and several others is that previous academic advisement experience is number 1 for landing an interview. How you express your transferable skills is 2, education is 3 and following non-traditional paths at a college, meaning taking classified/student services positions, that are somewhat related to advisement, is another option??? Am I correct in these assumptions? I have 13 years of faculty instruction experience at a community college in a CalWORKS program (welfare to work), where half the job requirements were teaching and the other half were career counseling and helping non-traditional, academically and socially challenged students develop career and educational plans. This is a college program taught by full-time Faculty similar to EOPS, DSPS, CARE, ESL. I can express my transferable skills, blatantly, I have a Master’s in Psychology-Counseling emphasis (MFT and counseling theory coursework) and I had 10 years experience in public sector work in employment & training, prior to my community college experience. What I don’t have is direct academic advisement experience. This might be a comment on how painfully competitive the job market is or how savvy one needs to become in accessing non-traditional ways to “get a foot in the door” to academic advisement, since there does not seem to be a direct route? Feedback, comments??? I have to say that this stream of posts have been the most helpful in considering all this STUFF!!!

  16. Tallis
    January 23, 2014 at 4:57 am

    This is kind of an old thread, but I’ll weigh in anyway. JG made some great points about some of the challenges one can face getting an advising job if it is a career change. Firstly, if your resume reads like a business resume, it gets tossed. If you’re not getting any hits at all, that might be the problem. However, based on how you describe your experience, I’m not sure that is the issue. Have you had someone in the field look at your resume? It also sounds like you have done a lot of applying, but I would suggest being more selective. If you make it to the interview stage, you need to be able to articulate why you want to be at that particular institution. Search committees cane sniff it out from a mile away if you’re just applying everywhere. I’ve served on a few before, and we want to know that you are 100% committed to OUR institution. Also, there are things we expect candidates to know, advising theory being one of them. For example, we actually had a candidate coming to us for an interview with no advising experience, but great transferable skills. She did quite until asked to discuss advising as teaching, intrusive advising, and prescriptive advising. Froze like a deer in the headlights. While she would have been great with students, she had not truly done any research into theories or advising as a profession… CN, You definitely have the transferable skills, but are you able to 1) Articulately share your philosophy of advising 2) Speak to current trends in higher education (including the value of a liberal arts education 3) Describe your experience with traditional and post-traditional students, as well as the unique challenges each population faces 4) Describe your experience working with transfer students. If you don’t have the direct experience, you should at least be able to address each of the topics and how your previous experience prepares you. Have you joined NACADA? GREAT literature available there to get you started…

  17. CN
    February 15, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Tallis, thank you, thank you, your feedback is just what I needed. I believe I DO have the transferable skills necessary to break in to academic advisement, I just have to do some research and get involved in NACADA. Then when I get the interviews, I will speak directly to my transferable skills and knowledge of advisement theory and practice. I do not want to be the “deer in headlights” woman that actually landed the interview and then could not speak to the profession itself. I have landed “classified” position interviews such as Counseling Assistant, Career Services Advisor and CalWORKS specialist, all paying considerably lower than what I made as faculty, but even those positions are painfully competitive. I have 23 years experience in two jobs, one as a community college Instructor (13 years) and one in career counseling at the Private Industry Council (10 years). It’s humbling to realize that my experience and Master’s degree, get me “foot in the door” jobs at community colleges across California. I feel that I am on the precipise of being extinct for quality, faculty positions. Hard to keep positive about this STILL dire job market.

  18. demetraab
    December 28, 2015 at 8:02 pm


    I noticed your remark about being a “sales person” more than an advisor. Is it feasible for someone with an admission/enrollment background to become a career advisor?

  19. Jason
    February 17, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    @demetraab When you say career advisor, do mean working with students in a career services setting?

  20. February 14, 2018 at 10:38 pm

    I’ve found academic advising to be a very boring job. Especially if you don’t subscribe to a certain and specific set of political views (the unspoken truth).

    Advising is still utilized as a stepping stone by many or a landing spot for failures and malcontents in my experience. Additionally, community colleges tend to significantly underfund and underpay advising departments and resources, viewing those departments as far less valaubale than faculty and administrators that make near or above six figures and have absolutely zero contact with students (“Foundation” employees of a college are good examples).

    If you’re comfortable with horrendous leadership, poor funding, stepping stone, agenda driven, and politically aspiring administrators, choose to be an advisor at a community college. You might be able to briefly avoid the constant drumbeat of racial vengeance and retribution against whites. Be prepared to constantly pontificate the virtues of victimology and decry those who disagree with your viewpoints as oppressors.

    However, at a major institution you will likely have far more resources and your disposal, better pay and more opportunities for involvement and student engagement, you will be on the front lines of the race wars taking place on campuses all over America, along with the hyper demonization of perspectives that even vaguely differ from extreme leftist soft bigotry narratives.

    At the big schools, You will have a front row seat to bear witness to the monster adminstratove bureaucracies that consume enormous amounts of resources and funding at the expense of tuition rates and costs of attendance. You will behold the largely white, “privileged” and “progressive” minded elite few of graduate and terminal degree holding individuals, who have deemed it their personal and moral responsibility to convince black and brown students, women, the disabled, immigrants, and essentially any other “historically marginalized” population (aka non-white, male, able-bodied, and American) that no matter how hard they work, how hard they try, how smart they are, how talented they are, and how many opportunities they may have, that the very systems, people, institutions, and countries in which they live in are inherently, systemically, and unavoidably racist, masoginist, homophobic, and openly discriminatory towards any individuals or groups that are not specifically white or somehow “connected” to the “underlying and overarching” menace that is White Supremacy. You better enjoy openly bashing and blaming whites for seemingly EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND (mankind is a microagression and we should utilzize a more inclusive phrase when discussing the population of the world). See? That’s how that one works.

    So, to hell with it. Be an advisor. What the hell do I care anyway? I’m quitting in a week forever and never coming back to higher education. If you don’t like pursuing true knowledge and basic academic inquiry based in logical processes and reasoning, the higher education might be for you.

    And I’m chunkin dem deuces ✌️

  1. June 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm

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