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How to Become an Academic Adviser

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Colleges, universities and other schools offer a range of classes and opportunities -- so many that the options can be overwhelming for a student trying to navigate the system. Whether it's in a four-year college, a technical school or a community college, academic advisers are the people who guide students along their path toward graduation. If you want to pursue this as a full-time career, you'll typically need a college degree and sometimes a master's degree, as well as experience working with students.

What They Do

Academic advisers often maintain long-term relationships with students, helping them throughout their career at a particular institution. That could include offering orientation sessions for new students, as well as helping students choose classes and plan their schedules. If a student is having personal or academic problems, the adviser may help point the student toward certain resources within the community or institution. As graduation nears, advisers may also help soon-to-be graduates with applications for a master's degree program or may guide students toward a particular career. While this is often a full-time career, it can also be combined with other duties at an educational institution. In some cases, colleges appoint "peer" or "associate" advisers -- typically upperclassmen who work with incoming freshmen. These are also paid positions, but they're often only for a short period, such as an academic year. College professors may also serve as departmental advisers part-time.

The Education You'll Need

The educational background you'll need for this position may depend on the institution in which you're working. Some colleges and universities prefer advisers to have a master's degree in higher education, education, counseling or a similar field. Sometimes, particularly in a technical or community college, a bachelor's degree or a degree similar to the one students are pursuing may be sufficient. In the case of peer advising, you may only need to have completed your first few years of an undergraduate degree.

Skills and Experience

Academic advisers should be "people people" who communicate well with others. They'll also need to be organized, good listeners and possess an open, compassionate attitude. To gain experience in the field, you might pursue an internship in the academic advising office at your own institution or pursue work-study opportunities in the student affairs office. Employers might look for candidates who have performed in a leadership capacity in a campus setting or those who have shadowed another adviser, suggests Adrienne Bishop McMahan, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Affairs in the University of Kentucky's College of Arts and Sciences.

Specialized Advising

Educational institutions also tend to assign students a "departmental adviser" who helps students navigate choices within a specific department or area of study. This often happens once a student has chosen a specific major. Because they often work in a department as professors, lecturers or researchers, these types of advisers typically have intimate knowledge of the courses within the department, the key players and the career options in the field once students graduate. This, then, is a different type of advising. Departmental advisers are typically juggling many tasks and don't work as advisers full-time. To become this type of adviser, you might earn your master's or PhD in a certain field and then work within the university or college as an educator or researcher. With experience, your institution may ask you to advise others in exchange for additional pay.