How to Advise

What is advising and why does it matter?

Academic advisers directly contribute to the educational mission of the University through intentional conversations that help students reflect on their academic decisions and to connect the varied pieces of all their Penn State experiences. Academic advising plays a central role in enhancing student success across Penn State. Your efforts make a difference.
 - David R. Smith, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Advising and Executive Director, Division of Undergraduate Studies

Core Values and Competencies

Mastering the skills, knowledge and attributes to be an effective academic adviser requires an understanding of the three main components of advising: conceptual, informational, and relational. The resources below are grouped into these three advising components. 

Conceptual – Ideas and theories that advisers must understand to advise effectively

Essential Information

Academic Advising is guided by a set of core values.  
All who perform academic advising, regardless of their role, title, or position, are expected to commit to the students they advise, their institutions, their advising practice, and the broader educational community. These core values include caring, inclusivity, integrity, and respect for students.
Academic Advising is an educational endeavor.  
The good adviser, like the good teacher, is one who, "helps students become more self-aware of the distinctive interests, talents, values, and priorities; who enables students to see 'connection' between their present academic experience and their future life plans; who helps students discover their potential, purpose, and passion; who broadens students' perspectives with respect to their life choices, and sharpens their cognitive skills for making these choices, such as effective problem-solving, critical thinking, and effective decision-making” (Cuseo, 2012, p.15).

Read more on the adviser as educator.
Academic Advising practice is based in theory and scholarship.  
“Academic advising interactions can and do profoundly alter individual lives, and as such, it’s important for us to reflect on what we think we know [about students] and to recognize how we came to that understanding. For example, when a student seeks advisor input on selecting a general education course, what guides the advisor’s response? Setting aside some pragmatic concerns of what courses are available, or what requirements the student has already completed, the advisor’s response is influenced by beliefs about the role of general education in meeting higher education’s outcomes as well as by what the advisor knows about students like the one who posed the question. In this very typical interaction, the advisor uses both theory (what is known about patterns of student behavior) and philosophy (the intended outcomes of education) to inform practice” (Himes & Schulenberg, 2013). Moreover, different approaches to advising—or different applications of theory—have different outcomes for students. Some advising approaches are summarized in the tools section below. 


Approaches to Advising - a collection of resources about ways to approach advising to meet different student needs. 

Ethical Advising Best Practices – a summary of the most important behaviors required of an academic adviser. 

Foundational Readings

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2006). NACADA concept of academic advising.

Folsom, P., Yoder, F., & Joslin, J. E. (2015). The new advisor guidebook : mastering the art of academic advising. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Drake, J. K. (2013). Academic advising approaches : strategies that teach students to make the most of college. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lowenstein, M. (2005). If Advising is Teaching, What do Advisors Teach?. NACADA Journal: Fall, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 65-73.

Informational – Penn State's curricula, policies, procedures, and resources

Essential Information

Advisers need to know how to find information about the curriculum, degree programs, and other academic requirements.  
The Undergraduate Bulletin, What If reports, and Academic Requirements reports are used in tandem to help students plan a course of study. Care must be taken to ensure advisers and students are viewing requirements for the correct program year. Students need to follow the General Education program from the year of their admission to the university, but the degree requirements for the year they declared a program of study. This may require using the Bulletin’s Archives as well as the currently published edition for a single student. Specific information about degree requirements is in the Bulletin under Academic Information.
Advisers need to know how to find policies, procedures, rules, and regulations.  
There are three key sources of information for academic policies and procedures: the Academic Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual, the Undergraduate Bulletin, and the University Registrar website. The Policies and Procedures section of this website links directly to one of these resources for the most commonly-encountered policies and procedures.
Advisers need to work within legal and ethical guidelines of privacy regulations and confidentiality.  
Advisers often have a legitimate educational need to access portions of a student’s academic record, and must follow university policy and federal requirements. In particular, advisers should follow their unit process for acquiring student consent to disclose academic records to others (including parents), and should only access student records when there is a legitimate academic need to do so. Advising notes are expected for all advising interactions of substance and care should be taken to make sure they are accurate and appropriate.
Advisers need to be prepared to refer students to campus and community resources.  
The University provides an array of resources to help students be successful. Advisers often play a key role in encouraging students to use those resources. A good adviser normalizes a student’s challenges, builds student self-efficacy, and facilitates the student to engage in help-seeking behaviors. Advisers should make themselves aware of the academic and non-academic resources available to students at their campus. Some of the most common referrals are listed in the Tools section below.


Academic Information Quick Reference Guide

General Education Reference Guide

The Art of Schedule Planning

Credit and Credit Load

Common Referrals Made by Academic Advisers

Foundational Resources

AAPPM - The Academic Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual (AAPPM) provides guidance on the implementation of Senate and University policies and procedures concerning undergraduate education at Penn State. 

Undergraduate Bulletin - The Undergraduate Bulletin is Penn State's comprehensive source for undergraduate academic information and program requirements.

University Registrar - The registrar's office publishes procedures for records-related processes, including course drops, withdrawal and leave of absence.

Relational – Skills that enable academic advisers to build relationships with students

Essential Information

Advisers respect students as individuals.  
Each student is an important member of our community who is worthy of respect, empathy, and time. Advisers get to know students as individuals, and convey respect through use of effective and compassionate communication skills.
Advisers listen carefully and often.  
Classroom teaching places the instructor in a position of control. As an adviser working one-on-one with a student, the student is the one who drives the agenda, and it’s the adviser’s role to listen carefully, identify areas for further elaboration, analysis, or planning. Advisers can challenge students to confront difficult topics when they have established mutual trust.
Advisers help colleagues and students by documenting their recommendations.  
Maintaining record of interactions with students is essential for facilitating continuity in a student’s educational development, and documentation of recommendations and interpretation of policy is a basic expectation of professional and ethical practice for academic advisers. Advising notes protect both the student and the university by allowing mistakes to be corrected, and students to be held accountable to instructions provided by university personnel. Advising notes must be stored in Starfish, and follow guidelines of respecting student’s confidentiality in a way that aids subsequent educational interactions.


Advising Appointment Checklist

Advising Notes Guidelines

Advising Readiness Checklist

Foundational Readings

Magolda, M. B. B., & King, P. M. (2008). Toward reflective conversations: An advising approach that promotes self-authorship. Peer Review, 10(1), 8-11.

Rendon, L.I. (1994). Validating culturally diverse students: Toward a new model of learning and student development. Innovative Higher Education, 19(1), 33-51.

Introduction to Academic Advising for Faculty - Canvas Course

This foundational, self-paced, online course in Canvas was designed with the faculty adviser in mind but contains information and learning activities appropriate for all academic advisers. It can be used as training for new advisers or as a refresher for the more experienced adviser.

Module 1: Building a Solid Academic Advising Foundation

Module 2: The Relational Component and Academic Advising Approaches

Module 3: Understanding and Working with the 21st Century College Student

Module 4: Legal and Ethical Issues in Advising

Module 5: Creating Your Personal Academic Advising Philosophy

Visit the Penn State World Campus Faculty Development website to register for the free course.

For University Leaders and Advising Directors

Good advising happens with intentional planning and implementation. The resources below will guide advising leaders toward effective structure and delivery. 

Essential Information

A guide to exemplary academic advising practices

Penn State University Advising Council

UAC Assessment Guidelines


Assessment Resources

UAC Assessment Guidelines

Foundational Readings

Bridgen, S. (2017). Using Systems Theory to Understand the Identity of Academic Advising: A Case Study​​​​​​. NACADA Journal: 2017, Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 9-20.

Grites, T. J., Miller, M. A., & Voler, J. G. (2016). Beyond Foundations : Developing As a Master Academic Advisor. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.