- Lenny Mullins
Despite their name, academic advisors do more than help students choose courses; they help them have a well-rounded university experience.
"The only thing a lot of students have to compare us to are guidance counsellors. There isn't really something like this in high school, so it's hard not to have those preconceived notions," says Heather Doyle, director of Student Academic Success and senior retention advisor at Dalhousie University.
Advisors can provide students at any level with general academic advice, and connect students to other resources. For example, Doyle says, a student might not have good time management or study skills. A Dalhousie advisor may refer them to On Track, a program to help participants move from a high school-based learning approach to a university one, or a service like Studying for Success.
"We focus more on that academic support, helping students find their place and goals," says Doyle. "We work from a strength stance in the office and help students identify what their strengths are, and how that relates to their program and the university as a whole."
Both Doyle and Mount Saint Vincent University's centre for academic advising and student success's manager Erin Tomlinson say sessions are student-led. They focus on the student's individual needs and interests, including ones they may not know they had.
"The approach is to help students see that first year is about exploring a wide range of disciplines, look at what they are interested in and (look at) their interests outside of academia to see if there's a course for that," says Tomlinson.
Advisors might also point students in the direction of clubs, societies and other extra-curriculars they might enjoy.
While academic advising is beneficial for first years, it can help beyond that first year, says Tomlinson.
"We encourage them to take things they've never heard of...and perhaps they stumble across something they are passionate about," she says. "It can have a big impact on a student selecting a major, that (first) year of exploration, deciding what they do and don't like and it can change their trajectory completely."
Once a student chooses a major, they are often referred to an academic advisor within their faculty for degree related questions. But they are welcome to visit with their original advisor or another within the department.
"Continuing that relationship throughout the years is going to mean a lot more for their experience while they're here, than just seeing advisor once a year during registration time," says Doyle.
Advising services are usually promoted throughout the year, but the approach varies from school to school. It can include lawn signage, workshops and other events, bulletin board signs, emails and classroom visits. Some schools touch base with students before the year begins with community and high school visits, emails and phone calls.
While university is an adjustment, Doyle says students shouldn't be scared to reach out.
"There would not be this many resources on campus if students didn't need us, so it's not an anomaly to need them and to look for those resources; it's actually the norm," she says. They should do also do it as early as possible.
"Seek out those services when things are going well and really understand how you can use them so it's beneficial for you, so you don't get to that point where it's so overwhelming," says Doyle.
CONTACT YOUR ADVISOR:
SMU: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com