Advising

The University of Montana is a “mandatory advising institution,” meaning that students are required to meet with an academic advisor prior to course registration for each semester. Our mechanism for ensuring students meet regularly with advisors is to mandate that all undergraduate students acquire an advising number or PIN from the advisor before registering for each fall and spring semester. Advising numbers are not required for summer session course registration. What sometimes happens is that students conflate processes and conclude that the purpose of advising is to get the advising number. To combat this, it is essential to start with a consideration of what we hope will happen as a result of advising.

Academic advisors are among the many campus professionals who provide students with information about requirements, opportunities and procedures. Effective advising, though, goes well beyond the informational (this is how to add or drop a class) to help a student integrate all elements of the academic experience (these are the pro’s and con’s for you to consider before adding or dropping this class). Advising is substantively more complicated than picking out classes.


There is no “advising period.” Advising happens year round, whether or not students are preparing for registration. Part of an advisor’s job is to help students understand the difference between acquiring an advising number and being advised.


Each advising unit has a unique set of outcomes linked to the nature of the program. The following list includes example outcomes that can be modified, as appropriate, for your unit.

  • Students will develop realistic academic plans suited to their interests, abilities and educational and career objectives.
  • Students will identify a major by the 45th earned credit.
  • Students will demonstrate understanding of the scope and requirements of their program(s) of study, including the general education requirements.
  • Students will demonstrate understanding of common professional opportunities for the chosen major.
  • Students will integrate general education and major-specific requirements in a meaningful way.
  • Students are aware of and utilize campus resources appropriately.

No two advising sessions are ever the same. There are guidelines and best practices, however, that apply to most interactions between an advisor and advisee. These include:

  • First, do no harm. Ask questions, double check information, and always document your interactions.
  • Confidentiality. All discussions (face-to-face, by phone or via email) between you and an advisee cannot be discussed with a third party unless you have the advisee’s authorization.
  • Ask students how their semester is going and what you can help them with. Getting or giving the advising number shouldn’t be the goal of advising. Sometimes students are looking for the opportunity to discuss an issue but don’t know how to start the conversation.
  • Don’t short-change the prepared student. Some students come in having spent much time and effort developing a multi-semester graduation plan. Take advantage of the opportunity to go beyond approving a class schedule and discuss the student’s major choice, career or professional objectives, co-curricular opportunities and university resources.
  • Emails with the student should be through their university email account. Students can forward their email to a preferred account, but we can only verify identity via the official UM email account.
  • Advisors help students find the information they need to make good decisions for themselves; advisors do not make decisions for the advisee.
  • Look for possible red flags that indicate a student is struggling. A consistent pattern of avoidance of a requirement, a sharp decline in grades, or repeatedly failing foundational courses in the chosen major are all appropriate topics for an advisor to bring up in an advising session.

The CAS Standards for Academic Advising provide universal guidelines for advisors to reference. See Appendix A for the most recently published CAS Standards for Advising.

Every academic advisor has a unique style and collection of techniques for working with students. Your approach with a given student may change over time, depending on the student’s needs. Different advising approaches are described in this section.

Developmental advising focuses on the "whole student." Crookston (1972) was the first to use the term developmental advising and proposed that this advising approach incorporates a relationship in which there is an agreement between advisor and advisee that responsibilities are shared. He defined developmental advising as a systematic process through which students identify and achieve their academic, personal, and career goals with the support of advisors and institutional resources. Ender, Winston, and Miller (1982) define developmental advising as a process that is concerned with human growth, is goal related, and requires the establishment of a caring relationship. According to Winston, Jr. et. al. (1984), "advisors serve as role models and mentors in this relationship. Developmental advising incorporates all resources on campus, particularly in integrating academic and student affairs" (p. 442). The authors also posit that "academic advising based on developmental theory legitimately recognizes this [student] wholeness and serves to encourage effectively wholesome development of each student's life in and out of the classroom" (pp. 90-91). In a nutshell, developmental advising entails getting to know students as individuals so that we can base our guidance on their individual situations, capabilities, and goals. A primary objective of developmental advising is for the advisor to facilitate student growth, skill mastery, and, ultimately, independent decision-making. Developmental advising depends on interactive dialogue, with the advisor’s questions stimulating self-reflection and discovery on the part of the student. Although developmental advising is typically associated with the freshman undeclared major, it can be equally effective with a senior declared major.

Common discussion threads of a developmental advising session might include the following:

  • Tell me about your academic interests (what did you like best/least in high school?)
  • What are your goals for the semester/year?
  • Have you thought about extra- or co-curricular activities that might complement your academic pursuits?
  • Have you thought about what you’d like to do after graduating from college?

Prescriptive advising is most commonly used in majors or academic programs which follow a linear, clearly defined academic plan with limited flexibility. However, prescriptive advising goes well beyond proving a student with a list of courses and generating a schedule that begins at Point A (the top) and ends at Point B (the bottom). It should consider the unique experience of the student in generating a plan that the student can reasonably complete in a time-effective manner. The student’s interest or motivation in the program should also be discussed.

Common discussion threads in prescriptive advising might include the following:

  • Do you have any AP, IB or prior college work that might impact your course selection?
  • Are you involved in any programs or receive scholarships/ funding that might impact your credit load?
  • How many credits do you plan to take this semester?

Proactive (also referred to as Intrusive) advising identifies a student at risk or in difficulty, and targets specific resources to the student in a meaningful way. Instead of waiting for the student to contact the advisor, the advisor reaches out and tells the student the date and time of the appointment. Our Operation Freshman Recovery program for students placed on academic probation after their first semester of study is an example of proactive advising; we proactively meet with these students to address the issues that impacted their academic performance and connect them with appropriate campus resources. Pre-requisite enforcement is another example: students cannot register for a course without successful completion of one or more foundational courses. If the student fails or withdraws from a pre-req, they are dropped from the higher level course before the start of the next term. Students are notified that they need to make the change (prescriptive), but if they fail to act, the task is done for them (proactive).

Typical elements of proactive advising include the following:

  • Determine risk factors
  • Anticipate potential areas of difficulty
  • Establish preventative measures or supports through connection with campus resources

Career Advising - As stated by Gordon (2006):

Career advising may be thought of as a less psychologically intensive approach than career counseling. The emphasis is on information and helping students understand the relationships between their educational choices and general career fields rather than how to cope with intense career-related personal concerns. Career advising helps students understand how their personal interests, abilities, and values might predict success in the academic and career fields they are considering and how to form their academic and career goals accordingly. (pp. 11-12)

Career counselors, on the other hand, "provide the more traditional career counseling functions, such as helping students with career self-assessment, job search and job placement activities, or counseling students who are experiencing more stressful situations such as coping with academic and career
transitions and indecisiveness" (Gordon, 2006, p. 14). It is always a good idea to refer students to Career Services for guidance on career-related exploration
and decision making. Ideally, academic advising and career counseling complement each other so that students are equipped to make the most informed decisions possible about their long-term academic and career goals.

Appreciative Advising seeks to incorporate Appreciative Inquiry into academic advising practices. According to Bloom (2002), "Appreciative Inquiry is an organizational development tool that focuses on bringing out the best in people and organizations, instead of viewing them as problems that need to be solved." Bloom posits that the link between Appreciative Inquiry and academic advising seems clear: 

As advisors, we are constantly trying to help our students reach their full potential, and one of the primary tools that we have for empowering students is asking questions. Appreciative Inquiry challenges us to make sure that we ask positive questions aimed at helping students discover their strengths, abilities, and skills.

Documentation provides a written record of the conversation between the advisor and the advisee. Whether your unit maintains paper or electronic files, documentation is there to protect the student and the advisor in case questions arise later in the student’s academic career. A good guiding principle is to consider what the next advisor really needs to know about the advising session. It is strongly recommended that advisors use UM's enterprise-level solution - currently the UADVISE form in Banner -
to document advising notes.

  • Standard content
    • Program specific differences (are there professional guidelines or compliance issues that should be considered)
    • Include policies and procedures explained, referrals made, recommendations discussed
  • Referrals
    • Sensitivity issues (less is typically more; if it is an especially touchy scenario, explain documentation to the student, draft it together and get student’s approval)
    • Use generic terms such as “Chronic medical issue impacted attendance,” “discussed appropriate campus resources” whenever possible
    • If no sensitivity issues are present, be specific (“Walked student to Career Services to schedule appointment”)

All advisor notes and documentation are part of a student’s academic records. They are accordingly covered by FERPA Privacy Laws and cannot be disclosed to a third party without the student’s clearly articulated authorization. Students also have the right to review any and all parts of their advising records. Additional information on FERPA is provided in the next section.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), in conjunction with Montana law, prevent advisors from releasing any part of a student’s academic registration unless there is a legitimate educational interest or the student has consented to release of information. The Registrar’s Office maintains a comprehensive webpage detailing the requirements and implementation of FERPA. Some FERPA issues for advisors include:

  • Advisors MAY NOT release any part of a student’s record (what courses they are registered for, whether they attended or missed an appointment, if they are on probation or suspension) to a third party (typically a parent or other family member) unless there is a release on file with the Registrar’s Office (check SPACMNT if you have access to Banner).
  • Advisors MAY discuss academic policies or resources with that same third party, provided it does not disclose a student’s status.
  • The FERPA release form is available on the Registrar’s website. An advisor can serve as the student’s witness (indicate on the form that the student’s identity and signature have been verified and return the form to the Registration Counter in Griz Central. See Appendix B for a copy of the FERPA release form, also called Consent to Disclose Educational Records.
  • FERPA does not prevent the third party from providing the advisor with information about the student.
  • The advisor rarely has information that the student can’t access. The student is almost always going to be the better source of information about his or her standing in classes during the semester. Helping the parent or family member understand what the student can access sometimes reduces the frequency of requests for FERPA-protected information.

Assessing student learning has become an expectation for virtually all aspects of colleges and universities, including academic advising. As stated by Cuseo (as cited in Gordon et al., 2008), who cites Scriven (1967):

Effective assessment serves multiple purposes, measures multiple outcomes, draws from multiple data sources, and uses multiple methods of measurement. An effective assessment program can serve two key evaluative purposes, which have been historically referred to as: (a) summative evaluation - assessment that "sums up" and proves performance impact or value, and (b) formative evaluation - assessment that "shapes up" and improves performance quality. (p. 370)

Assessment is tied to the learning objectives of your department or unit. In a nutshell, assessment should answer the question, “How do we know our advising practices are effective?” It is important to regularly review various elements of your advising, such as:

  • Accuracy - When a new advisor joins your team, how are they trained, supported, and evaluated? This will have a substantial impact on that advisor’s ability to provide consistent and accurate advising to the student.
  • Availability - Students need advising throughout the year, not just during the peak registration periods. Do your students know how to reach advisors in your unit and when it is appropriate to do so?
  • Approachability - Advisors are uniquely situated to maintain ongoing relationships with students throughout their educational careers. With this in mind, it is critical that students are able to approach advisors for guidance at every step of their collegiate journey. Are students comfortable approaching you and other advisors in your unit? Are there barriers in your unit? Sustaining a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for students is one of the most important responsibilities of advisors.
  • Metrics - How can you measure whether or not you are achieving your department's objectives and whether student learning outcomes are being met? A focus on measurable outcomes allows us to evaluate the efficacy of our efforts and continuously improve our service based on data-driven decision making.
    • Does your unit have advising survey instruments that are regularly distributed to students? 
    • Does your unit conduct student focus groups? 
    • Are you accessing and reviewing relevant data from available sources (Banner, InfoGriz, etc.) and strategically tailoring advising approaches based on what you learn from the information? For example, failure in "sentinel" major courses, failure to maintain good academic standing, and/or regular course drops or repeats should drive proactive advising outreach. 
    • You can also informally solicit feedback from students (advisees as well as student workers) on what they find useful or frustrating. Ask students who are struggling in addition to high achievers.

Cuseo (as cited in Gordon et al., 2008) conveys that "transforming assessment results into demonstrable improvement represents the key final step that closes the loop in the assessment process, bringing it back to its original purpose - to improve advising effectiveness" (p. 381).