Initial Publication Date: September 18, 2014

What Does Good Advising Look Like?

Jump Down To: Advising Diverse Students

Advising may not be the committed, intimate, reciprocal relationship that constitutes a mentorship, but it still requires trust and respect from all those involved. Advising should be an opportunity to engage with students to address topics such as overall engagement in the college, the student's goals for the year, negotiating potential roadblocks to the major, in addition to course scheduling.(How to cite this coming from a working group at

If academic advising is done by people outside of the academic program or department, then good relationships and exchanges of information between the department and the advisor(s) are important. Make sure that the advisors have current information about the program, opportunities for students, and pathways to different careers. And make sure that department faculty know how students are being advised.

If faculty members are advising students, create and/or foster a culture of advising. Identify the faculty who are best suited for advising and then provide them with the support, information, and resources to be successful.

Advising Diverse Students

Jump Down To: Students of Color | Women | First Generation | LGBTQ | Transfer Students

Providing supportive and effective advising for diverse students in our programs requires more than an awareness of how they are different. It requires the ability to engage with each of them in a culturally What are some ways to
Develop Cultural Competency?»
appropriate fashion to help them be successful. This level of cultural competency usually has to be developed and starts with understanding how one's own cultural history influences the way we interact with the world. We don't have to look like our students, or have the same cultural background, to advise them well. Just remember that differences are differences, not deficiencies.

Advisors are often called upon to provide more than academic advice. Whatever their challenges, students need advisors to be knowledgeable about service and programs available on campus that can help them succeed. Whether it is knowing who to talk to about a internship program for students of color or a campus organization for LGBTQ students, advisors should be able to point their charges toward information or support that they need.

Students of Color

"Students of color" is a handy shorthand for talking about students from traditionally underrepresented minorities but the phrase is becoming less effective as a way of really addressing issues of racial or ethnic diversity. Harding (2012) puts it this way:

"We can no longer look at broad categories such as African American, Latino(a)/Hispanic, or Asian American because there is as much difference among these groups as there is between these groups. For example, individuals that identify as Cuban are different than those that identify as Mexican as are students that identify as Chinese as opposed to those that identify as Hmong. Each campus must have a firm understanding of their individual student populations in order to structure programs that meet their cultural and academic needs."

It is more important now than ever that each individual student be assessed on his or her own strengths and weaknesses. It is still the case that there are fewer role models on campus for non-white students and these students can feel isolated if they they can't find a supportive community on campus. Advisors should be proactive about assessing what their charges need help with academically, culturally, and socially as well as in directing them to appropriate support systems. Providing students with coping strategies and sources of peer connections and support can help students feel like they belong and counteract the effects of stereotype threat and the impacts of solo status.

Stereotype Threat and Solo Status »
The SAGE 2YC program has developed a resource to help faculty recognize the negative effects of these two related issues and how to mitigate their impacts on students' success.


Gender inequity in student enrollments is no longer a problem at the undergraduate level with women outnumbering men in many colleges and universities. But women are still underrepresented at the faculty/professional level. McGill and Woudenberg (2012) suggest ways that academic advisors can encourage women to come into and stay in STEM disciplines.

  • Encourage women to consider a STEM major when participating in high school college fairs or conducting campus visits.
  • Send inclusive messages. Both male and female students should be exposed to successful women working in STEM fields.
  • Speak with other faculty about stereotype threat and keeping in mind students' ability to grow their abilities in STEM rather than their being hardwired for success or failure.
  • Advocate for the importance of female role models in the discipline.
  • Find ways to proactively support female STEM majors. Become a club advisor or facilitate a forum on gender issues or some other activity.
  • Counter bias when it occurs and raise awareness.
  • Learn about your own implicit biases.

First Generation College Students

These students lack familial experience in either preparing for college or understanding what it takes to succeed in college once they get there. In some cases family members can even be unsupportive of their decision to go to college. Advisors are often called upon to help fill this gap and provide a counterbalance to possible guilt about leaving home. This involves going beyond helping them set academic goals but more generally helping them figure out how to navigate the college experience.

Many campuses have programs specifically designed to help first generation college students develop the academic and life skills they need to succeed at college and advisors should have a comprehensive knowledge of them as well as other more general campus opportunities. Spend time to get to know their background in more detail so that you can know when one or more of these programs is appropriate for them. Individual attention and being interested in them can be a powerful influence on their persistence in their program. (Sickles, 2004)

LGBTQ Students

All college students are just beginning the process of developing their sense of self in the world, but students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) have a more complicated task. They have to develop a sense of themselves as an LGBTQ person and what that means in relationship to their other identities and also understand their place in the LGBTQ community.

Moorhead (2005) suggests a set of strategies for successfully advising LGBTQ students.

  • Be aware of your language. Know the meanings of labels and expressions relating to this community and how to use them appropriately.
  • Increase visibility. Use inclusive language in interactions with all students rather than thinking about the need for special language for LGBTQ students.
  • Promote understanding. Make an effort to learn about LGBTQ people, history, issues, and communities.
  • Ask questions. Rick sounding uninformed and ask about issues of orientation and identity rather than making incorrect assumptions.
  • Brainstorm solutions. Help students think their way to solutions for academic, personal, and career-related challenges.
  • Facilitate and support. Empower students to advocate for themselves rather than overprotecting and sheltering them.
  • Speak up. Challenge words, decisions, and actions that target LGBTQ students.
  • Equal treatment. LGBTQ students just want to be treated the same as other students.
  • Know your resources. Find out about all the resources available on your campus that your LGBTQ students may need.
  • Get involved on campus. Do what you can to be involved and supportive of LGBTQ students and groups at your institution.

Transfer Students

Students transferring from two-year colleges (2YC) to four-year institutions need high quality advising on both ends of the process to help them successfully navigate the transition.

Faculty and advisors at the 2YC can do a number of things to prepare students for transfer. Find out early who the students that plan to transfer on for a four-year degree so that you can help them plot a course. This kind of advising also includes being familiar with articulation agreements as well as degree requirements for local four-year schools. This can help students avoid taking classes that aren't going to transfer to their new program, wasting time and money in the process. Also, be proactive in connecting these students with people you know at the receiving institution so that they know of people to turn to if they need help or information.

It behooves faculty and advisors at the receiving institution to be proactive in their outreach to students transferring in. Establishing connections with faculty and staff at the 2YCs in your area where most transfer students are likely to originate can provide advance information about students heading your way. Maintaining these lines of communication and collaborating with 2YC colleagues is also a great way to help ensure that the students who transfer have exposure to skills and experiences they need to be successful in your program.

Supporting Geoscience Transfer Students »
The SAGE 2YC project has developed a resource for two- and four-year faculty with guidance and materials to help transfer students be successful before and after changing institutions. Supportive advising is one of the crucial pieces of the puzzle.


Harding, B. (2012). Students of Color. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):

Hatton, A., S. Homer, and L. Park (2009). Advising Transfer Students. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved July 2014):

McGill, C.M. and D.L. Woudenberg (2012). Gender matters in STEM majors! Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):

Moorhead, C. (2005). Advising lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students in higher education. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):

Reyes, M.-E. 2011. Unique challenges for women of color in STEM transferring from community colleges to universities. Harvard Educational Review, v. 81, 241-262.

Sickles, A.R. (2004). Advising first-generation students. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (retrieved April 2014):