Time Saving Tips for Student Advisors

college advisors

Student advisors oftentimes need to assist several students all in different stages of their educational journey. Here we provide some tips and tricks to help advisors manage and save time.

Balancing Time as a Student Advisor

Student advisors are a crucial part of a student's education team, but they are often responsible for tens or even hundreds of students at a time. It's easy for advising to become a major time sink, but our goal is to help you save time and maximize your efficiency as a student advisor. Whether you are a longtime student advisor looking for some new tips and tricks to streamline your process or a new student advisor just figuring out your system, this guide will help you manage your time efficiently.

Keeping Your 'Sources' Organized

Every student who walks into your office will have questions, and it's okay not to have all the answers. However, the best advisors are able to quickly and easily refer students to people and resources on campus who can best help. Often students will have the same or similar questions, so keeping track of the common questions and solutions, as well as campus resources and people who can help--your sources--is a great way to save time and efficiently advise students.

Sources for Students

When it comes to referring students, one of the best ways to avoid having to look up the same name and phone number twenty times a day is to develop and maintain a spreadsheet you can access quickly and easily when answering emails or in-person questions. Each line of the spreadsheet should reference a different resource and include a link to a webpage, names, and contact information.

Campus Resources Spreadsheet

Some important campus resources to include on your spreadsheet are:

  • The financial aid office
  • Links to commonly used forms (change of major form, financial aid application forms, petitions, etc.)
  • Links to scholarship aggregation sites/common scholarships relevant to students in your department
  • The writing center
  • Tutoring resources/centers
  • The disability office
  • The diversity/equity office
  • Peer support programs
  • Career center
  • The wellness/health center
  • Mental health crisis centers
  • LGBTQ+ resources/organizations/clubs

Common Questions Spreadsheet

In addition to a list of formal links and resources, it is also useful to keep two lists: one of common questions students ask (for example, how do I access the library database?) and another for common gaps in knowledge that students have (for example, first-generation students often are unaware of support structures in place for them, or students are unaware of online college courses they can take for transferable credit).

Both lists should also include your answers to these questions/gaps, and the names and contact information of people you can refer students to.

Sources for You

While having an organized list of resources to send students to is important, it is also important for you to have a list of sources you can turn to so that you aren't wasting time with repeat research when you need to field a difficult question to the appropriate expert. Building lists and templates for yourself saves time in the long run because you have set up strategies for effective problem-solving at the beginning.

Uncommon Issues

Part of being an effective advisor is knowing policies and program requirements, but there are other experts in these topics who can help you with particularly difficult student questions. Putting together a spreadsheet of the weird or uncommon student issues and the people who effectively helped provide the solution lets you avoid wasting time on repeat research and lets you solve a student's unusual conundrum more efficiently.

Draft Email Templates

Another good source for advisors to have is a file of draft emails that can be quickly and easily copy-pasted into an email and personalized. This saves time for emailing, but doesn't make your communication with students feel overly impersonal.

Other Advisors

The final and best source you as an advisor have are other student advisors in your department and your university more broadly. Connecting with other advisors--both formally through mentorship and informally through casual conversation and emails--is a highly effective way to gain institutional knowledge and strategies for connecting with and assisting students while also saving time.

Use Technology Effectively

Modern universities are bastions of technology, which can be a good thing, but it can also suck away hours of time if you aren't familiar and comfortable with using the technology at your institution. We have some tips and tricks to share with you to help regain some of the time that you may have lost to fighting with technology.

Connect with IT

Whether you are a new hire or a twenty-year veteran, a periodic check-in with your school's IT department about new programs and software and/or changes to existing technology can make sure that you know how to effectively navigate and use systems.

Many universities will also set up training sessions when a new technology or software comes into broad use, so always be sure to attend any technology workshops or meetings. IT check-ins and workshops should be in addition to doing your own research and familiarizing yourself with new technology when you are hired and/or when new tech is implemented.

Again, these tips may seem like a lot of work, but they will save you time in meetings with students and other faculty members if you aren't spending ten minutes figuring out how to unmute yourself on Zoom or Microsoft Teams!

Scheduling

Effective and consistent scheduling will help you stay on top of all your responsibilities, meetings, and emails as a student advisor. However, part of effective scheduling is understanding what works for you!

Electronic vs Old-School Calendar

If you never look at your electronic calendar, then go old-school and find a physical planner that works for you. Electronic calendars can be useful for integrating dates and times for university-sponsored events with one click, but usually, that isn't as easy with student emails. However, the act of physically writing down appointments in a book can help you remember more effectively and stay organized. If you are missing meetings or double booking, take some time to reevaluate your scheduling method and do what DOES work for you.

Schedule In Small Tasks

Another piece of advice is to schedule everything, especially if it is important. If you are behind on emails, schedule half an hour or an hour in your day just for emails. Other tasks that are more efficient when scheduled include research time and time to review your lecture materials before you walk into the classroom to talk to students about advising.

Schedule Your Own Self-Care

There is a reason that flight attendants remind passengers to put on their own oxygen masks in an emergency before helping others, and that same principle applies to being a student advisor. If you are burnt out, you cannot effectively do the emotional labor of forming relationships with and supporting students.

Finding time to implement effective self-care can feel like a waste of time in a busy world, but in the long term, it ensures that you are your best, most effective self, and that will ultimately save time in the long run.

You can always find time to:

  • Talk a short walk around campus
  • Use mindful breathing techniques right at your desk
  • Practice gratitude (especially when you have small or big successes with students)
  • Drink plenty of water each day and eat healthy snacks

Technology and Communication with Students

Communication technology has evolved quickly, between telephone, email, video conferencing, and even some chill advisors who text or instant message with students. However, part of being an efficient advisor is knowing what form of communication is most efficient and when. Knowing when and how to communicate with students (when an email is appropriate or when to suggest a phone/zoom/in-person meeting) can help prevent small issues from taking up unreasonable amounts of time and from larger issues not receiving enough time and attention.

Sometimes just taking the 15- or 20-minute in-person meeting or phone call can be more effective than exchanging 50 emails on a subject. Sometimes students are shy about setting up a phone or video meeting, so being proactive in suggesting these meetings--and explaining why you think the meeting format is the most effective--can also help save time.

By Kathryn Jorawsky
April 2021
college advisors advisor tips

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