Finding the Right Academic Advisor Can Be the Key to a Successful Degree
Meghan Brown posted on August 16, 2017 |
California State University is one example of a school that offers intensive advising opportunities for their students, providing an experience that leads to increased academic success and sets students on a clear path to graduation.

California State University is one example of a school that offers intensive advising opportunities for their students, providing an experience that leads to increased academic success and sets students on a clear path to graduation.

Whether it’s starting your new undergrad program, or beginning a Master’s degree, engineering students have a lot on their plate: studying, getting to and from class, lab time, projects and more. For professional engineers who are still working while attending classes, there’s also be work hours, meetings and other obligations.

So, when you’re told to add finding an academic advisor to check in with regularly to your existing schedule, it may feel like the last thing you have time for.

However, it can be well worth your time and effort it takes to find a good advisor who can offer guidance for choosing courses and help you make sure that you're on the best path to graduate according to your goals. Keeping on schedule and maintaining your grades also means you’re more likely to earn your degree in less time, saving money and launching your career sooner.

Most colleges and universities will have a variety of options for students to find themselves an advisor.  These can include academic advising through the main student services office, through individual departments, or even just asking a specific professor to be your advisor.

Programs available through individual departments – for example, through the engineering department you’re studying under – will likely offer the most knowledgeable advisors for your field of study, who will best understand the needs of engineering students and can customize their advising accordingly.

To get the most out of academic advising opportunities, students can build up a group of advisors, which can include engineering faculty members and peer mentors as well as formal academic advisors. Sometimes referred to as "intensive advising," this group can work together with students to support them over the course of their degree.

"[Intensive advising] involves intentional, one-on-one contact with students," explained ​Karen Moranski, associate vice president for academic programs at Sonoma State University. "Its goal is to create a positive relationship with an advisor that leads to increased academic success and persistence. It is also preventative, in that it anticipates issues that may keep students from graduating." 

Specifically, advisors and students work closely together to set goals, evaluate progress over time and ensure those goals are being met, intervening to offer support if they're not.

Ideally, the partnership of student and advisor begins as soon as a student arrives on campus, whether as a first-time freshman or at the beginning of a graduate engineering program.

Academic Advising and Student Success

Here are three specific ways that having an academic advisor (or an advising team) can make a significant difference in an engineering student’s success: 

  1. ​Students always know where they stand regarding their degree progress. As an engineering student, you have a lot on your plate, so it’s easy to lose track of where you are in completing degree requirements, fulfilling prerequisites and submitting applications for programs or special courses. Many departments offer online advising resources, which enable students to check on their progress toward their degree, plan course schedules in advance and enroll in classes. When those online resources are insufficient, having an academic advisor to meet with in person can help resolve conflicts with scheduling or with grades and ensure that you’re taking all the right steps to complete your degree.

  2. Students who are struggling will be noticed – and assisted – earlier. Online advising resources often use alert systems which are able to identify students who are having trouble academically, who haven't signed up for classes by the deadline or who show signs of an academic setback, such as low grades or poor class attendance. 

    With this information, academic advisors who are retention specialists — that is, staff whose specific job it is to help ensure students stay enrolled in their program and move toward successful completion of their degree — are able to identify and assist students who might be at risk of dropping out of their engineering program. Some campuses or advising teams may even require students to provide detailed plans for their coursework schedule as they near graduation. 

    However, a student doesn't need to be at risk of failing or dropping out for an advising team to get an alert. An advisor might simply contact a student approaching graduation to eliminate obstacles as early as possible.

  3. Students and their advisors can develop a personalized plan for academic success. Every student has a different experience at college or university, with unique needs in terms of their finances, course selections, tutoring and many other factors. This means having a team comprised of academic, peer and professional advisors, along with career services counselors and graduation and retention specialists, ensures that a student can get assistance with every aspect of their educational experience.  ​

Thinking about pursuing a master’s degree? Check out our tips in Fast-Track Your Engineering Career with a Master’s Degree.

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