An academic advisor is a type of counselor who works with students, usually at the college level. They are the ones responsible for helping students choose a major and a minor and ensuring that they meet all the requirements to graduate with a degree in that field. Colleges often hire professors to take on these jobs and require that professors continue teaching classes while meeting with students during office hours every semester.
What Does an Advisor Do?
A common question that students have when looking into academic advising is what an academic advisor actually does on the job. This type of counselor must remain up-to-date with the requirements of the programs offered by the school and keep detailed records about each student they counsel. Students will make appointments to speak with their counselors prior to enrolling in classes for the next semester. Advisors must know what classes students still need to take, which classes count towards their majors and minors, and whether the students maintain grades high enough to remain within the program. They may also help students apply for graduate school and enroll in semester-abroad programs.
Where Do Advisors Work?
Academic counselors or advisors generally work in colleges. Those working in community colleges may help students apply for a more traditional college or help them learn more about the job opportunities available to them. They can also work in vocational schools and help students better understand the requirements for graduating and with applying for their first jobs. Some high schools also hire academic advisors to assist students planning on attending college.
What are the Requirements of the Job?
Colleges that use professors as academic advisors require that those professors have a terminal degree in their fields. Many fields require a Ph.D., but some use a master’s as a terminal degree. If you work in a community college, vocational school or high school, you may need a teaching license. Most positions require a counseling license, which is available from the state. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers a credential test that helps you get your license. You may also need to pass your state’s criminal background check.
How Much Can Academic Advisors Make?
Academic advising shares much in common with school counseling, which is why the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) combines academic advising with other types of career and school counseling. According to the BLS, an academic advisor or school counselor makes a median salary of $56,310 a year. Private colleges often pay more. Professors who work as advisors may earn a higher salary and be on the tenure track. Once a teacher gets tenure, that teacher can spend more time writing, conducting research and doing other types of work other than teaching or advising.
Career Advancement Opportunities
With a master’s degree, an academic advisor can move up to a senior-level position within a university department if that department doesn’t already have a tenure-track professor performing the same job. With a Ph.D. or Ed.D., an advisor can pursue a tenured teaching position at a university while performing advising duties for students throughout the school year. Earning a doctoral degree can make it easier for an advisor to find work in a high school administration. In this role, an advisor could rise to a senior-level position within the administration while working with students.
Best Types of Degrees for the Job
A growing number of universities offer a large selection of online and traditional graduate degree programs in education. Advisors don’t need a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in academic advising, but this degree choice is ideal for most people. Because academic advisors work with college students in specific disciplines, it can be helpful for student advisors to focus their education degree on a particular discipline, such as STEM subjects, business, or social sciences. When it comes to creating and sending out resumes, a job seeker with a specialized degree will have an advantage over one with a more general degree in this field.
Spending four to eight years on a Ph.D. is a major commitment, and most students in Ph.D. programs are sufficiently interested in their chosen discipline to stay focused throughout the duration of the program. Students who are interested in a specialized field, such as math or computer science, have to choose whether to enroll in an academic advising program or a program related to their subject of interest. The advantage of earning a terminal degree in a field outside of advising is that, after graduation, the job seeker will have opportunities to fill several roles in a university, such as professor, advisor, and lecturer. The disadvantage is that the job search could take longer as fewer universities will offer a higher salary commanded by such a highly qualified candidate.
Best U.S. States for Academic Advisors
While the job outlook for counselors and advisors is good, not all states are in need of the same number of workers in this field. In general, the least populous states, such as Montana and North Dakota, are in need of the fewest number of school counselors and advisors. The most populous state in the U.S., California, is also the top state to seek professionals for this occupation.
According to the BLS, California is projected to add more than 32,000 academic advisor jobs in the next few years, and the median salary for advisors in California is around $78,250 per year, higher than any other state. With this higher salary comes additional licensing and education requirements, so advisors seeking employment in California will need to meet the strict licensing standards of the state government.
The full list of the best states for school counselors and advisors, according to the BLS, includes:
- New York
- North Carolina
The top-paying states for advisors include Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New York, and New Jersey. Counselors and advisors in these states earn a median salary of $63,000 to $78,000 per year. After California, the states with the highest median salaries for advisors are New Jersey and Maryland, at $73,160 and $70,380, respectively.
Academic Advising Vs. School Counseling
School counselors typically work in primary and secondary school settings and offer psychological support as well as academic advice for the students who seek their counsel. In the university setting, an academic advisor rarely offers counseling for students and instead focuses solely on helping them plan their degrees and ensuring that they have the skills needed for success in their chosen disciplines. The job of a psychological counselor at a university is usually separate from that of an academic advisor, but sometimes these two jobs are combined. For example, advisors for a university psychology department have special training and experience in counseling and psychology. They can offer more professional insight than advisors in unrelated disciplines.
Advisors who work with high school students should also have counseling skills so that young people without college experience have an easier time planning their futures. Postsecondary academic advising isn’t available at every high school, but at the secondary schools that do offer this service, advisors are held to a very high standard. They may be needed in low-income and high-income areas, and professionals who take this career path must meet the licensing requirements of their state to work with high school students.
Private Vs. Public Education
The choice of attending a public or private school is important as there are several kinds of universities to consider. Private traditional liberal arts colleges may offer graduate degrees or four-year undergraduate programs only. They also tend to be more expensive than public colleges because they don’t offer a discount for in-state residents. The advantage of attending one of these schools is that they offer small class sizes and a personalized learning experience. Many of them are very prestigious and can often lead to Ivy League graduate school opportunities.
Another type of private school is the for-profit online university. These colleges tend to appeal to students seeking maximum convenience and a high-quality customer service experience. They are somewhat more expensive than nonprofit colleges, including nonprofit private online universities. The advantage of these schools is that they make a concerted effort to provide the easiest and most streamlined student experience possible, but they usually aren’t the most economical choice.
Public and nonprofit colleges offer the most affordable education for academic advising professions. A growing number of traditional pubic universities offer terminal degrees in education fully online. Some online programs may have residency requirements, depending on the degree focus and the licensing regulations of the state. Many online universities have satellite campuses located in states throughout the country, so students can meet any residency requirements without traveling out of state.
A traditional degree program at a public university is the ideal choice for students who want face-to-face contact with professors throughout the academic year. Educational advising programs are designed to put students through a rigorous training experience, and students pursuing careers in high school advising may also need to take licensing courses required by their state.
Students often need help remaining on track and meeting all the requirements necessary for graduating. That is why many colleges use professors as counselors and hire advisors to work with students. An academic advisor may meet with dozens of students every semester and help them pick classes for the upcoming semester, but they can also work in vocational schools and high schools.