How To Become an Academic Advisor

Updated July 21, 2022

As an academic advisor, you have the ability to help students reach their academic potential and help them find them suitable careers they can excel in. Knowing what this role entails can help you determine whether you see yourself pursuing this career. In this article, we define the role of an academic advisor, list the steps for becoming an academic advisor and give you greater insight into this career overall.

Related: Learn About Being a Guidance Counselor

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What is an academic advisor?

Academic advisors provide guidance to students who want to know what to do with their academic or professional career. Working at a private or public institution, they essentially help students assess their educational and career options and plans. While some academic advisors help high school students, others provide guidance to college students. Here's a look at both high school and college academic advisors:

High school academic advisors

High school academic advisors help teenage students as they approach their high school graduation. They determine their interests, ensure they meet graduation requirements and help them earn acceptance to a higher education institution or plan their career after graduation.

College or postsecondary academic advisors

College or postsecondary academic advisors provide guidance to students of varying age groups. They help them enroll in the right classes, help them choose the right major, help them transfer to other universities, evaluate their career options and help them find job prospects. College or postsecondary academic advisors also provide students with advice regarding both their professional and social life. For example, they may help them through test anxiety, gain independence and manage their priorities.

Related: 9 Types of Counseling Jobs to Consider

What does an academic advisor do?

Whether you're a high school academic advisor or a college academic advisor, you typically have the same set of responsibilities. Both types of academic advisors provide assistance and help students reach their academic potential. Here are some of an academic advisor's duties, whether they work for a high school or a university:

  • Meet with students to determine their interests, skills and potential career or academic choices and help them assess their academic or career options and plans.

  • Establish and build professional relationships with students to better understand their interests, goals and academic needs.

  • Speak with students about colleges and help them fill out and submit their college or job applications.

  • Offer networking and mentorship to help students reach their academic goals.

  • Monitor a student's academic progress and provide guidance to help them reach their goals more easily.

  • Review student standardized test scores, transcripts and program prerequisites to determine whether students meet the eligibility requirements for certain academic programs or classes.

  • Provide guidance regarding which classes to take each academic term and ensure they meet the graduating requirements.

  • Maintain a schedule to manage student appointments and meetings.

  • Determine how credits transfer between schools.

  • Maintain accurate records of a student's work and their interactions with them.

  • Represent their school to prospective students.

  • Maintain good relationships with fellow staff members including advisors, various colleges and academic departments.

  • Refer students to specialized staff members for issues including counseling or financial assistance.

  • Assist students with course registration, college applications and job applications.

  • Hold career workshops to give information, inspire and present opportunities to students evaluating their future career choices.

How to become an academic advisor

Now that you know what the role of an academic advisor entails, start planning for your future career. Knowing how to pursue this career can help you find greater success in this field. Use these steps to become an academic advisor:

1. Determine where you want to work

Before you pursue the education needed to become an academic advisor, determine whether you want to be a college academic advisor or a high school academic advisor. While college and high school academic advisors have the same requirements, knowing which type of advisor you want to become can help you gear your studies and job experience toward the particular path you want to follow. For example, you may decide to gain relevant experience working at a high school as opposed to a college if you want to become a high school academic advisor.

2. Earn a bachelor's degree

If you want to become an academic advisor, you need at least a bachelor's degree. Earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as education or counseling.

3. Gain relevant experience

While many job openings don't specify a specific discipline when it comes to a bachelor's degree, they often require students to have advising experience to better excel in their role as an academic advisor. While you're in college, consider working at your university's advising or admissions office. This allows you to gain on-the-job experience while completing your education, therefore, helping you get your first job after you graduate.

If you decide to pursue your master's degree, many graduate programs offer on-the-job training through an internship and relevant field experience at local schools. Having this experience allows you to work alongside students and provide them with the same support you'd provide as a full-fledged academic advisor.

4. Get licensed

In some cases, you may need a teaching license to become an academic advisor. Many positions also require a counseling license from your state. If you do need to get licensed, The National Board for Certified Counselors offers a credential test to help you with the process. You may also need to pass a criminal and background check from your state.

5. Earn a master's degree

If you want to improve our chances of getting a promotion or a raise, consider pursuing your master's degree. Though not all colleges require you to have a master's degree, some do. Consider whether this advanced degree is worthwhile for your career. Having this advanced degree may help you stand out against other job candidates, can help you improve your skills and help you keep your knowledge in this field up-to-date.

Related: How to Become a Guidance Counselor

Average salary for an academic advisor

Academic advisors earn a national average salary of $41,101 per year. Keep in mind that this figure varies based on where you live, your experience level and the type of institution you work for. In terms of experience, for example, senior academic advisors make a national average salary of $41,336 per year. College advisors make a national average salary of $39,696 per year by comparison.

Skills required to be an academic advisor

To become an academic advisor, not only do you need to have a degree, but you also need to have the right skills to help you perform your job well. The more relevant skills you have, the more you'll meet the qualifications for the job you're applying for and the greater chance you'll have at getting hired. Here are the skills you should have as an academic advisor:

  • Empathy: As an academic advisor, it's important to understand where your students are coming from. Understanding their feelings and opinions can help you provide them with better advice regarding their future and their plans to get there.

  • Problem-solving skills: When helping students plan their academic or professional future, it helps if academic advisors know how to navigate unexpected situations. For example, if a student needs a required course that isn't available one semester, academic advisors can use their problem-solving skills to devise a plan that can help them meet that requirement before graduation.

  • Resourcefulness: When academic advisors offer students guidance, it helps if they have not only the right resources to point them too, but also an understanding of how to use them. Being resourceful helps you find quick and clever ways to help students achieve their academic and career goals.

  • Organization: As an academic advisor, you meet with several students throughout the school year. Therefore, it's important to keep your files and records organized to better remember each student and their unique situation. Keeping your desk organized can also help you work more efficiently and help you find paperwork or other work-related items with greater ease.

  • Attention to detail: Whether you're helping a student apply for college or for a job, you need to pay attention to the various deadlines and requirements. Having good attention to detail ensures you help them meet their goals with greater success.

  • Computer skills: Since many job and college applications live on the internet, it's important to have up-to-date computer skills. Your computer skills also help you stay in touch with students, colleges and your colleagues via email.

  • Communication skills: As an academic advisor, you need both oral and written communication skills. Since you interact with students and your colleagues on a daily basis, knowing how to effectively communicate in writing and through your verbal words ensures both parties understand what the other one says.

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What is the difference between an academic advisor and a counselor?

Whereas a counselor specializes in counseling, academic advisors assist students with their academic or future career planning. School counselors tend to work in primary or secondary schools, offering both academic and psychological support. In contrast, academic advisors focus on helping students plan their academic future and ensuring they have the skills and requirements needed to succeed in their chosen discipline. Therefore, academic advisors rarely focus on the counseling aspect of their job. They may, however, refer students to a counselor depending on the student's particular needs.

In addition, while you have your own set of responsibilities when it comes to your relationship with your counselor and academic advisor, you have a higher degree of responsibilities with the latter. For example, while counselors offer authoritative direction, academic advisors expect you to not only seek their guidance, but also make your own decisions while dedicating yourself to your studies and your academic goals.

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