How to Become an Academic Advisor

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A college student meets with an academic advisor to discuss their college course load and develop a plan for graduation.

An academic advisor is a professional whose job is to make a positive impact on the lives and education of students. According to a 2018 report by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, 65% of the 90,000 students surveyed felt their academic advisor helped them establish an academic plan.

The role of an academic advisor can also extend beyond academic planning. For example, these professionals can help students find resources and information on careers in their chosen fields.

Professionals interested in pursuing a career as an academic advisor should consider earning an advanced degree in higher education leadership. A master’s degree can provide students with the knowledge and skill set to counsel the next generation of students and prepare them for academic and occupational success.

What Is an Academic Advisor?

Academic advisors assist students in developing academic plans. The advising process may begin with aptitude testing. This helps gauge where students stand academically by evaluating their skill set and knowledge base. Advisors can also review academic transcripts to discern a student’s strengths and weaknesses.

For example, a student with an academic record that shows excellence in math and science, but who struggles in liberal arts, may benefit from choosing a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) major. The advisor might also suggest that the student take advantage of academic resources to strengthen their areas of weakness. For example, they can encourage their advisee to enroll in a school-sponsored writing workshop or even a beginning English course.

Following a thorough review of students’ past academic achievements, aptitude tests and initial discussions, an academic advisor can work to guide them in developing both academic and career strategies. Ideally, advisors should work with their advisees throughout the academic process. They also need to build rapport and develop communication strategies to stay connected with students throughout their academic journeys.

By developing a trusted relationship, these professionals can help students reach specific milestones, such as acquiring a high school diploma (or equivalent) or a bachelor’s degree. Academic advisors can also connect students with internship opportunities during school or after graduation. At the high school level, academic advisors can help students navigate the complex college application process and connect them with admissions officers to learn more about the schools they hope to attend.

Impact of COVID-19 and Online Learning

For students accustomed to face-to-face meetings with their academic advisors, the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging. To overcome this hurdle, academic advisors have had to learn to conduct virtual meetings with their advisees.

Another challenge advisors face is addressing student concerns about online learning. For example, a student may feel stressed about carrying too many virtual classes and may want to take less of a workload. Academic advisors can help students drop classes and adjust their educational plan so they still graduate within their desired time frame.

These professionals may also refer students to mental health resources, such as group or individual counseling, to help them succeed socially and connect with on-campus clubs or student organizations.

Lastly, academic advisors act as mentors to students and support them when they struggle. When their advisees are stressed or in crisis, empathetic advisors support them in their time of need. Some advisors may also suggest that students take a break from school if they are feeling too overwhelmed — and then help them re-enroll when they’re able.

Steps to Become an Academic Advisor

Becoming an academic advisor requires an educational background, licensure and developing essential skills.

Education

Individuals interested in becoming an academic advisor need to have at least a bachelor’s degree to work in the field. While a bachelor’s degree in a related field is a great first step, many academic advisor positions require more. A master’s degree with a concentration in higher education leadership, for example, can better position individuals for career success.

Licensure Requirements

Many organizations and states require academic advisors to be licensed. States have varying licensure requirements. In addition, many states require professionals to have experience in the field, an advanced degree, and pass either the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) or the National Counselor Examination (NCE).

Individuals who want to sit for either exam must have earned an advanced degree in counseling with at least 48 semester hours and 3,000 hours of postgraduate counseling work experience, according to the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Applicants with graduate degrees in fields other than counseling are subject to review and approval by the NBCC. Professionals need to also have at least 100 hours of postgraduate counseling supervision. Many advanced degree programs offer students the opportunity to gain these hours while taking courses.

Professionals can check the NBCC’s website for a better understanding of their state’s requirements for becoming a licensed academic advisor.

Fundamental Skills

Professionals seeking a position as an academic advisor must meet the various requirements listed above. They must also hone a specific skill set to do the job well. These skills include analytical, interpersonal, communication and organizational competencies.

Analytical

Academic advisors use their analytical skills to identify students’ weaknesses and strengths. They can accomplish this by using aptitude tests, reviewing transcripts, or through conversations with students. An analytical approach enables advisors to accurately guide a student through their academic journey.

Interpersonal/Communication

These professionals must develop strong interpersonal and communication skills to work with individuals from different backgrounds and academic experience. Being a great communicator requires active listening. Effective academic advisors actively listen to their advisees’ needs.

Organizational Competencies

Academic advisors understand the various policies and procedures that may impact a student’s academic journey. College academic advisors know which courses are required and in what order to take them, as well as the various resources that can help students who are struggling personally or academically. High school academic advisors know the classes students need to take to be accepted to colleges. They may also assist lower income students in navigating the financial aid process, a major hurdle for many aspiring college students.

Academic Advisor Salary and Job Outlook

In 2019, the median annual salary for academic advisors was $57,040, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Several factors can affect earnings, including educational level and years of experience. Individuals with an advanced degree plus several years of experience can command a higher salary than those just starting out.

The BLS projects jobs for the profession to grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029. Professionals who work in larger states — California, Texas and New York, for example — command a higher salary than their counterparts in states such as Tennessee, Oklahoma or West Virginia.

Discover a Rewarding Career as an Academic Advisor

Professionals interested in guiding students from different backgrounds and educational levels should consider pursuing an advanced degree in higher education leadership. A master’s degree can help aspiring advisors achieve their goal of helping students realize academic success and career goals.

Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership provides students with the opportunity to obtain the education and skill set to excel in the field of academic advising.

Students have the opportunity to focus on three distinct areas of concentration: Life and Career Coaching, Developing People and Organizations and Higher Education Leadership. Professionals pursuing a career as an academic advisor can benefit from pursuing the Higher Education Leadership concentration. This concentration will expose students to courses in Leading Operations, Change, and Assessment in Higher Education; Legal and Ethical Issues in Higher Education; and The Higher Education Organization.

Explore how Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership can prepare you for a rewarding career as an academic advisor — and help you make a lasting impact on the next generation of students.

Recommended Readings

Challenges and Issues in Leadership in Higher Education

How to Become a Career Coach: A Career in Organizational Leadership

The Path to Becoming a Postsecondary Education Administrator

Sources:

Center for Community College Student Engagement, Show Me the Way

EdSurge, ​Report: Advising Attendance Is Up, but More ‘In-Depth’ Student Support Is Still Needed

Frontiers in Education, Skills and Competencies for Effective Academic Advising and Personal Tutoring

Houston Chronicle, How Much Does an Academic Advisor Make?

Inside Higher Ed, Academic Advising in a Pandemic and Beyond

NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, Three Things About Academic Advising You May Not Know But Should

National Board for Certified Counselors, National Certified Counselor (NCC)

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, School and Career Counselors