Is anyone a college academic counselor? What's it like?

posted 1 year ago in Career
Post # 2
3029 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: September 2008

I worked as an administrative assistant in student services, and my office had three academic advisors and three college counselors serving 800 low-income students. Before that, I worked as an instructional assistant for 300 disabled students. 

If you want to be a counselor, you need a counseling or social work degree. Schools won’t take any substitutes. But academic advisors only need a bachelors degree in a related field. The difference between an academic advisor snd a counselor is that the former is only qualified to help with choosing classes, referring students to programs on campus, and preparing students for admissions to the next degree. If a student has personal or psychological issues that are interfering with their education, they need to see a counselor. 

Academic advising comes with great responsibility. You need to stay up-to-date with changing college policies and admissions requirements to other institutions. There is no margin for error. If you give outdated or incorrect information, you can literally ruin someone’s life. 

For example, our school had a new career development requirement for graduation and an advisor didn’t know about it because he didn’t keep up-to-date on this. All of his student’s degrees were held due to the career development credit. One student in particular didn’t figure out what had happened until all of her acceptances to graduate school were rescinded. She was told that she could reapply next year, but her student loans only had a six-month deferment so she decided to work off her student debt and to my knowledge never did end up going to graduate school. 

I still think about that student sometimes. 

I enjoyed working as classified staff to support these professionals so I could have the high student contact without that weightly of a responsibility. 

Post # 3
822 posts
Busy bee

I worked at a university for several years, a majority of it in admissions. Admissions counselors where I worked were mostly responsible for student recruitment and processing admissions applications. They were incredibly busy and rarely in the office during recruitment season. 

While there are the worthwhile aspects like assisting students in their beginning steps of the university experience, there is the stress of meeting enrollment numbers.

If you’re looking for more of an advisement position, I’d suggest keeping an eye out in departments like Academic Advisement, Registrar, that sort of thing. Where I was at, admissions didn’t really do anything with student academic advisement after they were actually enrolled into their freshman semester. That fell on Academic Advisement and the faculty member that was assigned as their advisor in their major. 

Post # 4
215 posts
Helper bee

I’m a college academic advisor! I’ll write some stuff here but feel free to message me if you have more questions. I love my job. I love helping students and feeling like I am making a difference. I work at a very large public university so there is a lot of bureaucracy and there really is a need to help students navigate it. One of the most important job factors to look into is going to be the student-to-advisor ratio. It should be around 250-400. If it’s a lot less than that, prepare for your job to be much more administrative in nature and less student-focused. If it’s a lot more than that, prepare to be constantly overworked and stressed out. I’m not saying either of those should be deal-breakers – many, many (most?) advising jobs do not have the ideal student/advisor ratio – but you can decide which you prefer and what you’re willing to accept.

Advising can be a lot more about rules and policies than you expect. Many people get into the field because they are interested in the counseling aspect, and are disappointed when they spend most of their time making program plans and reviewing petitions. To be a good academic advisor, in my opinion, you have to really love and be good at BOTH aspects. You have to be able to build rapport with students, listen to them, help them through complicated situations, etc. but you also have to be able to memorize a ton of rules and and be very detail-oriented. Like is_a_belle said, if you calculate 1 unit wrong, it could mean a student not graduating, or not getting their financial aid, or getting deported if they were on a student visa. (Although is_a_bell’s example is extreme and I cannot imagine any advisor I know being that negligent.)

Also, most colleges do not require an advanced degree but it is relatively uncommon to hire someone without either a master’s degree in a related field OR significant experience. If you don’t have either, it’s likely that you will need to start somewhere that gives you relevant experience, like as an admin in an advising office or as a program coordinator that works with students. This could mean taking a step back in your career temporarily. 

Post # 5
167 posts
Blushing bee
  • Wedding: August 2017

I am! But for what it’s worth, I find that the “advisor” title really varies across different institutions (duties, salary, etc) and countries. They often aren’t entry level positions, not that I’m saying you would be “entry level” with a Masters, but there is definitely a learning curve at least in my role with respect to university policies and procedures, etc. Also, most of these positions tend to hire internally in my experience, so getting your foot in the door is key.

I also second the PPs comment about advising being a huge responsibility – you have to be quite detail oriented and keep on top of everything at all times.

I work at a major university in Canada, so again, this could vary depending on where you are (even college vs university).Good luck with your search! 

Post # 6
414 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: Canada

I’ve worked in post-secondary (college and university in Ontario) for several years, both as an admissions officer and an academic advisor.  I’ve loved both jobs!  Working with students can be repetitive, but I find it to be rewarding.  Admissions is a lot of administrative work and less student interaction, so advising sounds like the better fit for you.  Advising varies between institutions though – I was the advisor for technology programs which were predominantly male, and I found that the majority of students came to me for a quick resolution to a problem rather than a chat about their future.  I know advisors in other areas (ie social sciences) had more students that were looking for guidance/advice rather than a quick transaction. 

What I love about working in post-secondary is the rhythm to the year – there’s always a fresh start in a new semester, new students to meet, and old students to see graduate and move on.  Also, there’s SO MANY different roles in post-secondary, so there’s tons of opportunity to move into new positions, both laterally and vertically.

What I don’t love is interacting with senior administration because depending on who you’re working with, the red tape can slow down the process of helping resolve student issues.  You really have to advocate for your students.

Post # 10
648 posts
Busy bee

I’m not but I wish I was. My undergrad is in social work and I have professional licensure, but I’d need a masters to do it. And with a huge pile of student loan debt already a masters isn’t feasible for me, I maxed out my senior year and needed additional loans. If you have the time and the means, I say go for it!!!! 

Post # 11
3545 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: April 29th, 2016

glutton :  I have some academic advising experience and like it, but I’ve worked as a career counselor for the past couple of years. I think our work goes hand-in-hand, and I’ve even worked in settings where academic and career counseling were based out of the same office. We get a lot of referrals from academic advisors when they have a hard time identifying suitable options for students who aren’t sure what they want to pursue. We help the student to take a look at their personality, interests, skills, and values, and then find careers that are congruent to those things. After choosing the most appealing option, we look at the academic programs available that would put them on track to pursue that career, and it’s back to the academic advisor to work out their schedule, switch majors, etc.. That’s all work I’d be glad to do, but I don’t have administrative access to course selections in my role. 

My master’s degree is in Higher Education Administration & Student Affairs, which is also commonly seen in the field along with counseling degrees. I really enjoy knowing that my work is helping students and alumni to identify career paths that will allow them to use their strengths and skillset in meaninful ways. Especially because I work at an institution with great racial/ethnic diversity and many of our students come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, which I can relate to, so I feel that my work is helping to give more of us a better chance at upward social mobility. I also like that I have the opportunity to teach a career planning class this fall. I don’t know that I’d want teaching to be my primary role, but getting a taste of it along with my 1:1 meetings with students and presentations/workshops is really exciting to me. I’d be glad to further discuss anything so feel free to PM me. 

Post # 14
215 posts
Helper bee

glutton :  One of the main reasons why having an Master’s degree is helpful, is because most Master’s degrees incorporate an internship or some kind of intensive hands-on experience. Just taking a class or two that doesn’t have this component won’t necessarily be that beneficial to you – it shows a strong interest and a commitment to the field, but doesn’t demonstrate that you can do the job.

Speaking as someone who has been on a lot of hiring committees for academic advising positions, it is really really hard to make your case based on transferable skills as long as there are candidates with more relevant experience. Even if you can capably demonstrate that you can do the job, it’s going to be hard to show that you would be BETTER than someone who is already doing the job.

So, my tips are:

  • Network. Join the local chapter of NACADA if you can, or ACPA or NASPA if there’s no NACADA chapter near you. Go to events and conferences and talk to as many people as you can.
  • Read up on articles in the NACADA clearinghouse:
  • Read every job posting you can find that seems related to students. Look for positions that might not be labeled “academic advisor” but that have advising as part of the job description. These can be jobs like program coordinator, student services officer, etc. Or look for administrative jobs in an advising office as a gateway – trust me, the front desk person answering the phone in an advising office will get to do plenty of advising.
  • Also consider a wide range of universities. I would recommend avoiding for-profits as that experience won’t translate easily to a traditional university, but see if there are small specialized colleges in your area like art schools.
  • Tailor your resume very specifically for advising jobs, highlighting exactly how your skills and experiences are similiar to the role you are applying to. If you can find a position that is in any way related to your previous work experience, like an advisor for a Urban Planning degree program, your chances of being considered will go up considerably.
  • Write an amazing cover letter. When they see your resume with no relevant experience, they are going to wonder if you’re just applying for any job you can find. You need to address why you are changing careers, what about advising you are interested in, that you actually understand what an advising job is, what past experiences you have that show you can do advising work, etc.

Good luck! It’s tough but I’ve definitely seen people do this!

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