Academic Advising

Academic AdvisingAcademic advising has been important to the success of undergraduates in colleges and universities since the beginning of American higher education. Developmental advising, which addresses the social and cultural acclimation of a student as well as academic success, is the most effective type of advising. Developmental advising makes it possible for advisor and student to develop and maintain a relationship based on mutual respect and inquiry, which allows students to explore and develop academic and career direction.

Academic advising has its origins in the close teaching and learning relationship between students and professors. The Greek Sophists developed close relationships with their students, shaping their development politically, culturally, and intellectually. This model for teaching and learning was imitated as colleges developed in colonial America. After the American Revolution, a university education broadened its scope beyond religious and classical studies to include more practical knowledge that benefited the personal and work-related goals of students.

As the American system of higher education evolved, there was great concern that faculty were losing their close relationships with students. As related by Susan Frost, as early as 1832, a Harvard student claimed that educators did not show enough regard and interest for students. Nearly 200 years later, this concern remains and influences how colleges and universities provide academic advising.

Most institutions rely on faculty in academic departments to provide academic advising; however, as student populations have grown and there has been an increased emphasis in providing holistic support for students, many institutions have supplemented faculty advisors with “professional” advisors. Professional advisors have varied backgrounds, many being faculty members who continue to teach. Other professional advisors have expertise in counseling and related student service areas. Regardless of the configuration of faculty and professional advisors established by an institution, the most effective type of academic advising is developmental.

Developmental advising is a practice derived from theoretical positions about student growth and responsibility and the role of the advisor in facilitating this growth and responsibility. Developmental advising contrasts with prescriptive advising, in which the assumed role of the advisor is little more than to inform students about requirements, school policies, and course selection. In prescriptive advising, advisors do not emphasize issues of responsibility in the advising relationship. In developmental advising, advisors take into account the current level of maturity and experience of the student in deciding how to approach the issue of responsibility, with responsibility for the student’s academic success being negotiated and shared. One goal in this practice is to assist the student in moving toward full responsibility. The developmental advisor is a teacher, mentor, informed authority, and competent referral agent in the advising relationship.

With developmental advising, the advisor is concerned with the intellectual and social growth of the student and is also involved in discussion about curriculum and its relationship to the individual student’s strengths and career interests. The advisor interprets information, helps the student move toward integration and synthesis of ideas, and has a goal of assisting the student in becoming an independent learner. The advisor challenges the advisee but is also available for support and encouragement. The advisor does not coddle, but serves as a mentor. Developmental advising is consistent with a humane and caring learning environment and promotes the development of independent and responsible students.

Developmental advising is a process that students enter in different ways and at various times in their lives, but the process does have certain commonalities. While advisors need to be knowledgeable about various academic programs, the common human processes are what drive the advising situation, not the content discussed and studied. Burns Crookston and Terry O’Banion, working independently of each other in 1972, based their concepts of developmental advising on the psychosocial theory developed by Arthur Chickering. Outcomes of developmental advising for the student are extracted from Chickering’s theory: developing competence, or increasing the intellectual, physical, and social skills to master a range of tasks; developing autonomy, or confronting a series of issues leading ultimately to the recognition of independence; and developing purpose, or assessing and clarifying interests, educational goals, and career options.

Many students begin the college experience with uncertainty about the academic major they will select. The developmental advising process encourages students to play an active role in understanding the goals of a university education. For many, this is a process of understanding the difference between selecting an academic major and establishing a viable career path. The selection of the academic major is the critical building block for a lifetime of growth and continuous learning. Academic advisors must be able to articulate the competencies and skills developed in the pursuit of any college degree as well as the specific competencies and skills developed in specific academic majors.

For many students, a particular career interest is often the starting point for exploring a number of academic majors. The academic advisor plays a critical role in referring students to career counseling professionals and experts in various fields, so students can actively research and synthesize their ideas about careers. This exploration requires students to be independent learners; however, students are often overwhelmed by the responsibility involved in this process. Academic advisors need to coach and support students as they move through this process. Like the experience in the classroom, advisors and students need to remain actively engaged in the learning process to be successful at reaching academic and career goals.

See also:


  1. Chickering, A. W. 1969. Education and Identity. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Crookston, B. B. 1972. “A Developmental View of Academic Advising as Teaching.” Journal of College Student Personnel 13:12-17.
  3. Frost, S. H. 1991. “Academic Advising for Student Success: A System of Shared Responsibility.” ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, No. 3. Washington, DC: George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
  4. Frost, S. H. “Historical and Philosophical Foundations for Academic Advising.” Pp. 3-17 in Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook, edited by V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley and Associates. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  5. O’Banion, T. 1971. “An Academic Advising Model.” Junior College Journal 42:62-69.