Academic advisors are people you should really get to know during your academic career. In addition to being amazing resources, they are generally really nice people to just converse with. (At least that has been my experience - Shout out to Matt Lake, Senior Academic Advisor for the Information Sciences and Technology Department). In fact, included in this post (in addition to my thoughts) are some of Matt Lake's insights and advice for students as an Academic Advisor.
What Can Academic Advisors Help You With?
- Course Selection
- Schedule Maintenance
- Adding/ Dropping Classes
- Withdrawing from Classes
- Conflicting Class Times
- Long-Term Planning
- Study Abroad
- Further Education
- Choosing Immersions/ Minors/ Majors
- On-campus Resources
- Academic Policies and Procedures
How Can You Get in Contact With Academic Advisors?
- Walk-in Hours
- Most academic advising departments have set periods of time during the week in which a student can just walk in and talk to the advisor on call.
- Schedule an Appointment
- You can set up an appointment with your specific academic advisor or even an advisor from another department (like your liberal arts advisor or the advisor for a major you might possibly want to switch into) by calling the specific advising office or by going into the office and scheduling an appointment in person.
- E-mail Correspondence
- Simple questions can usually be sufficiently answered via e-mail. Updates to all students are usually sent by e-mail as well.
Personal Experience with Academic Advisors
First Meeting/ Course Change
Your academic advisor actually schedules your classes for your first semester at RIT. Usually, one ends up taking a general education elective his/her first semester. I was initially scheduled to take Fine Arts: Musical Arts, but after reading the course description I decided the class did not fit my interests. During Academic Day of the Week of Welcome (Orientation), I went to my advisor's office hours and switched out of the class and into a different general education course. It was nice to not only meet my advisor and have control over my schedule, but that day I developed a rapport with him that helped me feel really comfortable going and seeking advice later in the year in regards to what classes fit my degree requirements.
IAP - Individual Advising Plan
Every first year student needs to meet with the academic advisor who specializes in advising for his/her major before he/she can select classes for the next semester. This meeting can be as long or as short as it needs to be and can help you as a student decide your academic goals. For me, this is when I first discussed the possibility of studying abroad and how it would affect my studies and scheduling.
I have actually gone to the advising office during walk-in hours to ask a minor scheduling question. The process of walking in is super easy. You just put your name down (so students can be met with in the correct order) and wait for a spell if there are other students there. I think I waited all of five minutes before I was able to talk to Matt and get my question answered.
It the time of writing this, I am studying abroad at RIT Croatia, the Dubrovnik campus, for the 2013/2014 spring semester. Though the campus has my major, Information Technology, the courses that are offered here for IT didn't exactly follow the designated plan for students in my year. In meeting with Matt, I was able to properly adjust my scheduling plan for the rest of my academic career and get the necessary paperwork signed.
Once I got to Croatia, it turned out that there were some scheduling kinks that needed to be worked out. For some reason, the main scheduling system that RIT uses did not have the proper class time for a class I was enrolled in at RIT Croatia. The system though none of my classes were in conflict but in reality, two of the classes I were to be taking met at the same time. As you can see, this posed a bit of a problem. Thankfully, there was another class I was free to take that I also needed for my degree; I met with Draženka Franić, the Academic Advisor for the Dubrovnik campus and had her switch me into the class that didn't conflict. All was well...
At least it was until a class I was taking got pushed back by a half an hour. This, however, again caused a conflict between two classes I was enrolled in. This change was also implemented on the first day to withdraw from classes, so I could not fix the situation on my own. Again, there was a very elegant solution to my problem. I just needed Draženka to switch me into the earlier section of a class, which she did. That is part of the reason I proclaim that academic advisors are superheroes.
(Sidenote: No one else studying abroad had problems with their schedule, so it isn't something to be expected.)
Advice From What I've Learned
Communication is key!
Advisors are here to advise you, so make the most of that - actually talk with your advisor about your plans for the future. Additionally, if you have questions or concerns, go talk with your advisor. I'll admit, I sometimes have trouble asking for help because I'm too proud or too stubborn, but asking for help is logical and not something to be looked down upon.
Additional Advice From An Awesome Academic Advisor (Matt Lake)
Form a Connection with Your Advisor Early
"Take the [IAP] meetings seriously, and keep in touch with [your advisor] on a semi-regular basis. Advisors play a vital role within their departments and can provide students with valuable insight on how professors operate, goings-on in the department, and upcoming opportunities. The better relationship a student has with an advisor, the more likely it is for an advisor to think of [him/her] when a professor or department chair asks for students regarding scholarship and research opportunities."
Talk About an Issue Early
"[The] biggest thing is timing. Too often, we see students when it's almost too late to help. Advisors know so much about the resources available to students across RIT. [If an advisor isn't] able to directly help, [he/she] oftentimes knows exactly who can. But there's only so much that can be done at the last minute. Working with an advisor to confront an issue early on tends to be much more effective than trying to work something out when up against a deadline."
Don't Feel Ashamed to Consult Your Academic Advisor
"I never want a student to feel ashamed for needing help from somebody else. There are students who define success by having to do everything without any help, and that doesn't seem to be a reasonable definition. It's incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to navigate all of the nuances and degree requirements without someone who specifically focuses on those tasks. Even if it's something of a personal nature, advisors are trained to maintain confidentiality whenever possible, and will advocate for students as much as is reasonable. As an advisor, I want to help make sure all of the little things are taken care of, so students can focus on the big things (classes, co-ops, etc.)."
"Not all colleges or departments have the same way of doing things, so while asking for advice from a friend or on Reddit can be convenient, it's not always the most accurate place to get information. The best place to get advice and assistance is from your primary advisor."
All in all, I highly recommend that you get to know your academic advisor. You might not think they are superheroes, but I still maintain that they have super powers.