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How to Become an Academic Advisor

Industry Advice Education

Being an academic advisor at the college or university level involves much more than just course scheduling. It is meaningful work that requires long-term relationship building and effort.

An effective academic advisor guides growth and development along a student’s journey through the world of higher education. In many ways, an academic advisor becomes a mentor by supporting students, establishing goals, and helping them to see those goals to fruition.

Below, we explore some of the more common reasons that individuals choose to become academic advisors and outline key information that you can use to set yourself up for success if this sounds like the career for you.


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Why Become an Academic Advisor?

Academic advising can be a highly rewarding and fulfilling career for those who are passionate about helping others achieve their greatest potential—and it’s one of the most sought after careers in higher education.

Why is it such a popular career choice? Aside from simply having a passion for helping others grow and develop, there are many pragmatic reasons individuals choose to pursue this career:

Number and Variety of Job Opportunities

Whether at a community college, state university, or private college, every institute of higher education employs at least one academic advisor. Thus, aspiring academic advisors can choose to work in the setting they prefer—from small, private colleges to large, public universities.

Attractive Salary and Benefits

Academic advisors earn an average salary of about $48,000 per year. While this may not seem like an incredibly high salary, the figure does not take into account many of the ancillary benefits enjoyed by advisors (and other university employees).

Many colleges and universities offer their employees tuition reimbursement, which can help them advance in their career or pursue their passions. Others have been known to extend this benefit to the children of employees, which can translate into tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in value. All of these advantages typically come with an academic advising position, on top of more traditional benefits like health insurance and retirement benefits.

It’s also worth noting that there are many steps you can take to increase your base salary as an academic advisor. Gaining more experience in the field, earning an advanced degree (such as a Master of Education in Higher Education Administration), gaining additional skills, and relocating to different geographical regions are all viable ways of boosting your salary.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Additionally, there are many ways in which a professional can advance their academic advising career. For example, those who have extensive experience in the field can eventually rise through the ranks to the role of director of academic advising.

Directors of academic advising oversee the advising department within a college or university. It is the director’s responsibility to ensure that the department is providing students with the tools they need to achieve their fullest potential. With this increase in responsibility, professionals can also expect to see a positive impact on compensation. Academic advising directors earn an average annual salary of $75,247 as of 2019, although the range typically falls between $60,000 to $90,000 per year depending on a variety of factors.

Roles and Responsibilities

Academic advisors are vital resources for students as they pursue their education. As such, the daily responsibilities of academic advisors are multifaceted.

Dr. Joan Giblin, an assistant teaching professor at Northeastern’s Graduate School of Education says, “The roles and responsibilities of academic advisors differ based on the population of students they serve. Most advisors work with students to help them understand the various pathways forward to a degree, assist, and support students as they make choices which impact their future, discuss career plans, and support students experiencing academic difficulty.”

In general, it is an academic advisor’s duty to guide students towards meeting their personal, academic, and professional goals. The daily tasks involved in the pursuit of this overarching objective include:

  • Monitoring academic progress to encourage the successful and timely completion of degree requirements
  • Creating and assisting in the execution of academic plans
  • Assisting with course registration to ensure that students are on track to completing their requirements
  • Building relationships with students in order to understand their personal and academic needs
  • Staying up to date with institutional policies and procedures and enforcing rules when necessary

Required Skills for Academic Advisors

While virtually all colleges and universities have a need for academic advisors, there are certain experiences and skills that institutions look for in candidates as indicators that they are well suited for the role. And, although individual job descriptions vary among colleges and universities, the majority of the qualifications needed remain the same.

Dr. Giblin says, “Academic advisors must possess the ability to listen, teach, mentor, plan, and organize. They must be able to attend to detail and break down large, complex policies and regulations into easily understandable pieces.”

One of the main functions of the role is to keep students on track to achieving their goals, and each of these skills is essential in doing so. A good academic advisor must be aware of deadlines, monitor progress, and facilitate completion of degree requirements for each and every student that they work with. Dr. Giblin points out: “You need to be able to support students while holding them accountable.”

Exceptional communication and the ability to build meaningful relationships are other key strengths for academic advisors. These professionals must be able to communicate with their advisees in a way that displays empathy and intuition to build trust between one another. Academic advisors often become mentors for their students; thus, it is crucial to be able to create a comfortable environment so that students are willing to reach out and ask for help when they need it.

Required Education for Academic Advisors

Academic advisors need specific knowledge and hands-on experience to be successful in this career. Some colleges and universities will accept a bachelor’s degree when hiring for this position; however, many institutions will require that candidates hold a master’s degree. Additionally, there is more opportunity for employment and future promotions for those who hold master’s degrees.

Northeastern University’s Master of Education (MEd) in Higher Education Administration provides individuals with the theoretical foundations and real-world experiences needed to excel in leadership roles across higher education, including academic advising. Senior leaders have contributed to and shaped Northeastern’s MEd program to ensure that it provides the skills and hands-on experiences needed to jumpstart your career in education.

Learn More | Alumni Advice: How to Know if a Master’s in Education is Right for You

Giblin says Northeastern’s program is unlike others of its kind: “In our program, students work on real-world issues. They learn to quickly identify and analyze problems and develop concrete, realistic solutions to those problems. They hone skills around data-driven decision making, systems thinking, and analysis. Throughout the program, the emphasis is building real world, feasible solutions to real problems.  This lets students hit the ground running in their first roles.”

Experts in the field also recommend getting as much experience working with students as possible if you feel that academic advising is the right path for you. This is vital in demonstrating your passion for helping students to your future employers while also showing that you are capable of enforcing policies and procedures when needed.

Becoming an Academic Advisor

With so many opportunities in the world of higher education, academic advising is one that allows you to work closely with students in a meaningful and fulfilling manner.

In order to prepare yourself for this career, you should first understand the role of an academic advisor, build your educational foundation, and acquire the skills and experience you’ll need to succeed. If you think becoming an academic advisor is right for you, earning a Master of Education in Higher Education Administration can be the first step toward advancing your career.


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