Melinda Roy

This is the fourth post in the Cultivating Advising Success series. Start at the first post, Cultivating Advising Success: Should You Restructure Your Advising?

After assessing the environment of your planned garden, you must assess your own skills. I have killed many hardy succulents from overwatering, yet I have a five-year-old thriving Croton—a plant with a reputation for being difficult to grow indoors in the Pacific Northwest, as it requires consistently moist soil and sunlight. My consistent watering is a trait suited for a specific type of plant. If I were to organize a cooperatively-maintained greenhouse of diverse plants, I’d need help from someone with a complimentary skillset to care for the plants I mis-tend.

To know what kind of gardener you need to be, you also need to know what kind of plants you’ve got. I suggest there are six advisee types:

Unconnected: advisees who never connect to advising as they don’t know it exists, what it offers, or how advising services can help them. They may assume advising only offers program and course choice supports, and miss out existing opportunities that would support their learning journey as a whole.

Confident-Independent: advisees who never connect to advising as they are confident in their ability to interpret the calendar, have a clear vision on their education goals and pathways. They may have prior experience with post-secondary institutions, or see their education primarily through the lens of the classroom. They know of additional supports a holistic advising office provides but do not see or have a need for them. They may also only seek out advising when they encounter a specific roadblock or problem that requires them to contact advising, and therefore may primarily need a problem-based or prescriptive advising approach.

Consultative-Independent: advisees who use advising to confirm their interpretations of the calendar, and seek validation for their career goals and learning plan. They may know of the various surrounding services the institution offers, and may contact the advising office for a referral. They may also only seek out advising when they have a specific problem or question they want addressed. They expect a problem-based advising approach, and a developmental approach may enhance their learning overall.

Interdependent: advisees who understand their educational journey as more than the in-classroom experience, and can identify their needs outside of traditional academic advising. They likely engage with advisors, peer students, friends, and family, about their program choice, career goals, and self-awareness and support needs. While they may not know of all the services an advising office or institution provides, they engage with marketed opportunities and are responsive to proactive contact efforts by advising and support service offices. Just as they rely on their personal community for support, they expect the advising office to have established connections and provide referrals to operational and academic service offices.

Insecure-dependent: advisees who expect prescriptive advising, yet lack awareness of their own skills, program opportunities, and career goals. While they seek the certainty and direction prescriptive advising can provide, as individuals they benefit from a more holistic approach to advising. They can grow into interdependent or consultative-independent advisees over time through a developmental approach to advising. This group may also include students who are unfamiliar with the learning, social, and service cultures at their institutions and local community. They are responsive to outreach campaigns that target their specific entry-type, academic history, or cultural and social identity.

Disconnected: advisees who have had a negative experience with advising in the past and choose not to engage with advising, no matter the initiatives or opportunities to engage offered to them. These advisees may disconnect from advising for a variety of reasons under any theoretical approach. They are a valuable source for assessing the challenges and success of an advising approach but are not likely to engage with surveys or focus groups. They are difficult to distinguish from Unconnected and Confident-Independent advisee types, and must be convinced the institution will respect and make change in response to their feedback in a timely manner.

Advising practices in SEM institutions tend to lean towards a developmental theoretical approach within a home-grown hybrid structure built to serve their diverse student body. Developing an advising team requires a similar approach to building a cooperatively-maintained greenhouse: identify distinct needs for specific student groups then develop a team of advisors with complimentary roles and skills to serve those needs.

Advising personnel and duties vary across institution types, advising models and theories. While most advisors will likely provide a variety of service types to a student, identifying specific advising roles or types can help understand the human resource implications and resource developments necessary to implement a particular model or fill a gap in a current approach.

Generalists: knowledgeable about institutional processes, systems, and policies but may not be trained to support students with complex decision-making or through program transitions. They tend to take a more prescriptive approach, with less focus on holistically developing the student as a learner outside of the classroom. As Generalists are likely unconnected with an academic unit, they may not be aware of special opportunities available to students in specific programs. Generalists can grow to be professional advisors, through training and professional development opportunities.

Faculty advisors: knowledgeable about program processes, electives, co-op and work experience opportunities, and professional networking, but less so about institutional policy and processes. Faculty advisors are likely instructors, but may also be department chairs, teaching or faculty librarians, or deans, who advise alongside their other duties. They tend to focus their advising on program persistence and academic achievement.

Career Counsellors and Career Advisors: Career counsellors likely have Master’s level training in therapeutic counselling, while Career Advisors may have a varied educational and experiential background such as coaching credentials or a number of years of experience as a general advisor at the institution, but not be trained to take a therapeutic approach. Both aim to advise students to choose programs, specializations, and work experiences that best match their career aspirations, skills, and personal values.

Professional Advisors: trained and knowledgeable about student development theory and advising best practices, which may include some knowledge on personal and mental health therapeutic approaches and coaching. They have a multi-faceted understanding of advising, including skill assessment, goal setting, career aspirations, program and course selection, and navigating institution processes, policies, and providing referrals to community and campus services. Professional advisors are advocates for both students and programs, raising awareness of student issues to a faculty unit, and pointing out impacts of operational or policy changes on a program’s curriculum and offerings (and vice-versa).

Peer Advisors & Cohort Liaisons: student peer advisors may be employed through the student union to help first-year students navigate institutional processes and make program decisions, as upper level students relay their personal experiences. They provide perspectives and opinions on instructor teaching styles, course difficulty, and may sit on academic councils as student advocates. Cohort liaisons may volunteer or receive credit for acting as the primary contact between their student peer in their cohort year and program choice, and the academic subunit and faculty. They bring cohort concerns about curriculum or programming, desires for extra-curricular learning and seminars to education council or faculty planning meetings.

Connect with us on LinkedIn to see when the next post in the series is posted, or sign up for our Newsletter to be notified when the series is published in full. The Cultivating Advising Success series will cover the following topics:


BCCAT. (2016). Academic Advising in British Columbia. Vancouver

Gordon, V., Habley, W., Grites, T., et al. (2008). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. (2nd edition). Jossey-Bass.

Kadar, R. S. (2001). A Counseling Liaison Model of Academic Advising. Journal of College Counseling, 174-178.

Pizzolato, Jane E. (2008). Advisor, teacher, partner: using the learning partnerships model to reshape academic advising, Wiley Interscience, 18-25.