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Building Trust With Your Students

college advisors

As an academic advisor, it's vital that your students trust you to help them through their college journey. How do you build that trust? Let us help you with some strategies to build good relationships with your students.

Academic advisors assist students with their college experiences, helping them register for courses and prepare for graduation. They also help students who are struggling academically to get the kinds of assistance that they need. Being an academic advisor means being in a position to help college students with challenging academic choices. It can be a difficult job, but it can be highly rewarding, too.

One of the challenges of being an academic advisor is building trust with your students--and having trust is essential to being a great academic advisor. Here are some top tips to build trust with students and create lasting change in their academic lives.

Be Available

It's important to be a reliable student advisor so that your students feel you are a constant in their academic lives and that they can contact you if and when they need to. You should have clear and regular office hours during which your students can contact you about academic issues. Be sure to communicate this availability to your students and stick to it.

If students contact you, be thorough and relatively quick about responding whenever possible. This means keeping on top of emails and other communication and having a professional policy of responding within 24 or 48 hours. It can also mean prioritizing more urgent correspondences so that students who need help right away are more likely to get it.

During times when you may be overwhelmed and less able to respond, it can be helpful to have an automatic email notification to let students know that you will get to their inquiries as soon as possible.

Be Welcoming

It is also important to remain approachable and friendly, especially when working with students who are new to a college environment and who may feel overwhelmed and nervous. Creating a welcoming and stable atmosphere can give students the safety and comfort they need to trust you and to discuss potentially challenging academic issues with you.

This can be done by creating an office space where there is a comfortable space for students to sit. You can also reduce extraneous noises and distractions in your workspace whenever possible and, if applicable, provide a private space for students to talk about challenging issues in their academic lives.

Be Adaptable

Be prepared to adapt your approach to the needs of individual students rather than keeping to a rigid response structure. Some students may only be comfortable communicating by email or over other digital mediums. Others may have strong emotional responses to their personal situations. Advisors need to be able to work with those students based on their personal needs, providing the same level of assistance even in virtual spaces.

Be Honest

Be upfront with your students about what you can and cannot do to help them as an advisor. As you know, academic advisors have limited power to help with certain kinds of academic challenges. In some cases, students will need to speak with professors or other professionals.

An academic advisor should not act as a therapist, for instance, and students will trust advisors more when they know where they stand. Ensure the lines of communication with your students are clear and that you know what your legal and personal boundaries are. Explain to students what they can and cannot expect of you.

Be Knowledgeable

Colleges can be confusing to navigate, and students may find many aspects of their academic experiences frustrating to parse. You should be knowledgeable about:

  • Student graduation requirements
  • College resources
  • How transfer credits work at your college
  • Degree options beyond a bachelor's
  • Professional resources for graduating students
  • Student fees and course scheduling requirements
  • Financial aid resources

You should also work on being knowledgeable about common issues facing students at the college level, including mental health and disability issues. There's nothing that inspires more trust than having the answer.

Be Goal-Oriented

It can be helpful to keep track of individual students' academic pathways as they progress through the college system and keep their goals in mind. Students who wish to graduate early, for instance, may need help getting the right courses done on time. Students who need to spend time caring for family members or who work long hours in addition to their school work may need information about part-time studies and online courses. Students who have switched their majors will need to re-evaluate prerequisites and adapt their course load to their new field of study.

Knowing your student's goals can make repeat appointments smoother and will help make students feel that they can trust you to remember who they are and what their individual needs and goals are. Do your best to remain optimistic even when students doubt they can reach their goals. This can help them trust you and help them regain their confidence during challenging times.

Listen Carefully

Paying attention to what your students tell you about their personal and academic situations is one of the main jobs of academic advisors. Reading between the lines when necessary can also help make your assistance and advice effective and tailored to your student's needs. If possible, don't make assumptions about students; treat each one as an individual worthy of consideration. Keeping an open mind will help you guide students through issues that you have little experience with.

For instance, not all students will want to graduate as quickly as possible and some may not have graduation as an ultimate goal at all. Some may be dealing with challenging illnesses that impact their course of study. Do your best to meet students where they are and approach their issues with sensitivity and tact. Having someone that they feel they can speak to and who understands them can be invaluable for students, especially during difficult academic times.

Get Involved

Building trust also entails seeing your students' success as a personal and professional goal. Getting involved may include following up with them on their progress and letting them know of your concerns. All good advisors get invested in making a student's college experiences work for them. This can mean reaching out to students, keeping promises, and remembering students' histories when you have meetings with them. Students who feel that you care about them as individuals are more likely to trust you and benefit from your help.

Take Care of Yourself

Advising can be an emotionally draining job. You will be much less able to help students if you are not practicing good self-care. As an advisor, it is your responsibility to take breaks, get enough sleep, eat well, and establish a functional work-life balance. Having good strategies for doing this can also provide you with information for students who are struggling with self-care.

You are also more likely to gain students' trust if you have enough energy and wherewithal to put their needs first during your work hours. Nobody can pour from an empty cup: practice what you preach and monitor your own workload carefully so that you don't burn out. In this way, you will be able to help students better in the long run and improve your ability to be a center of stability in their academic lives.

By Kathryn Jorawsky
April 2021
college advisors advisor tips

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