Coping With Unadvisable Advisors

College is exhausting; between classes, homework, exams, internships, jobs, community service and some semblance of a social life, students have plenty on their plate. Luckily, schools acknowledge this information overload and take measures to prevent students from blue-screening, such as professors’ mandated office hours, tutoring programs, learning centers and advisors.

It’s the last of these that sometimes becomes problematic. Each student should be able, and is all but required, to rely upon their advisor—but what if you can’t? If you’ve had an experience with an advisor who is unavailable, isn’t on top of things or just clashes with you, you aren’t alone and you have options.

Caithn’s Story: A recent graduate of the University of Texas San Antonio, Caithn struggled with an advisor who took unavailable to a whole new level. To see her advisor in person, she had to schedule a meeting—two months in advance, leaving her out in the cold for urgent needs as even an e-mail reply usually took two weeks.

“I didn’t hear anything from her probably for two or three months after I applied for graduation ... so I started freaking out ... thinking, ‘she didn’t get my application, I’m not gonna graduate, what am I gonna do?’” Caithn says.

Imagine the relief she felt when she did indeed have a nametag awaiting her at graduation.

“Luckily, I didn’t have any major issues with any of my classes ... but for students that had difficulty getting into classes or that were way behind on their degree plan, I can imagine it was a nightmare for them,” she says. “If I were completely relying on [advisors], I would have been screwed.”

With advisors juggling hundreds of advisees on top of responsibilities as professors, getting in touch with them was a common problem. “It was like trying to meet with the president, it was the hardest thing to do,” she says.

Caithn stresses the importance of keeping track of your degree plan yourself, but admits that having an advisor who isn’t around when you need them can be a huge detriment to some students.

“I don’t know if there’s any way to get around advising issues, I think they’re just common, everywhere you go.”

Jacob’s story: “Jacob” (this student chose to remain anonymous) is a senior at the University of the Incarnate Word. He is a transfer student who has struggled with his advisor from the start, resulting in a delay in his graduation.

After losing over 50 credits in the transfer between schools, Jacob was already behind. He was set back even further upon finding many of the classes he had taken at UIW were unnecessary for his degree plan. Having transferred in with an associate’s degree already under his belt, Jacob was past his third year at UIW as he worked toward his bachelor’s.

Considering that to enroll in courses each semester, Jacob’s advisor was required to sign off on his choices, one has to wonder how this happened.

Jacob recounts, “This is what I was told: ‘Your education is not my responsibility, your education is your responsibility.’ Well okay then, you’re fired.” From that point on, Jacob took his educational trajectory into his own hands, but much of the damage was already done.

Jacob’s advisor left him in the dark about many things that could have accelerated his graduation, perhaps even saved him semesters in school and thousands of dollars, such as UIW’s online degree evaluation, available to all UIW students, and the substitution forms he could have filed to get back many of the credits he lost in transferring.

Now in his final semester, there’s nothing Jacob can do to regain that lost time and money.

“You need to be aware of your own degree plan ... ’cause you can’t depend on these advisors’ knowledge,” Jacob says, “watch yourself, because nobody else is going to watch out for you.” Drawing on his experiences at UIW, SAC and UTSA, Jacob says, “Across the board, I think these problems are everywhere.”

While Jacob’s advice is exactly what students should be doing, it begs the question of why we have advisors in the first place. As students, we are programmed to trust our professors and advisors to know their stuff and are required to rely on them—at least to an extent. Sadly, they don’t suffer the consequences of poor advising, the students do.

Quick Tips:

• Stay on top of your degree requirements. Consult your degree catalog to ensure you know what courses you need to graduate. Make sure it’s the correct edition, as they change based on when you entered the university.

• Consult your professors and senior classmates. They’ve been there and seen that and can offer advice as well as provide important information that you may not have.

• Talk to the offices that handle your degree evaluation. Papers can get lost and classes filed under the wrong requirement, keep tabs on where you really stand instead of where you think you do.

• If you need to, don’t be afraid to request a new advisor. You can do that! Try to pick someone in your department, but if that’s not possible, it’s OK to reach outside of your major.

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