Make the Most of Graduate School Advising

US News

This week we begin a series addressing questions that admitted graduate school students often ask with answers about how the academic advising process works.

Some students may be more familiar with this part of the graduate school experience than others. But whether you are enrolled in an arts and sciences program, law, medical or business school, you will most likely work with an academic adviser.

[Find out what to do as an admitted graduate student.]

Typically, academic advisers are committed to helping you identify your academic interests, discuss course selection and fulfill your requirements for graduation. At the master's degree level, academic advisers are usually professional staff in the offices of the dean of students or the registrar. At the doctoral degree level, academic advisers are almost always full-time faculty. In nearly all cases, advisers are assigned to students by the institution.

Your admission letter should include information about next steps in the enrollment process, i.e., financial aid notification, campus visit programs, orientation, registration and academic advising. There will also most likely be a website for newly admitted students.

If you do not see anything in your admission letter or on the Web, reach out to the admissions office to ask about the advising process and how best to reach and communicate with your adviser.

In my experience, academic advising at its best is a collaborative effort between the student and adviser. You will get the most out of this experience if you actively participate in the advising process. Following are tips for how to get the most out of this process starting as an admitted graduate student.

1. Introduce yourself: As soon as you learn who your adviser is, send an introductory email. Include your resume and your application essays. Offer to speak with this person on the phone before orientation.

2. Learn how the advising process works: Ask the admissions office how the school handles advising. Does your adviser usually reach out to you? Are you supposed to contact your adviser? Does he or she have regularly scheduled hours for appointments? Can you schedule an appointment on an as-needed basis?

[Learn which grad school admission offer to accept.]

3. Keep in touch with your adviser once enrolled: If not asked by your adviser to do so, schedule an appointment early in the fall semester as you explore your interests and see how your fall courses are going. Meet at least once per term after that.

The more your adviser knows about your interests and concerns, the more he or she can support you. This will increase opportunities for you to take full advantage of what is offered by the program or institution, identify issues needing attention and assist with planning for after graduation.

4. Discuss various academic options beyond the classroom: Your adviser will help you to think strategically about your long-range academic plans, encouraging you to keep your options open so that you'll be able to take advantage of opportunities like study abroad programs, research grants or internships.

5. Make sure you have an agenda for your appointments: Go in to your meeting with an idea of what you wish to discuss. This is your graduate program, and while your adviser will be ready to provide input and assistance, it is up to you to facilitate each meeting.

[Discover how the sequester may affect grad students.]

6. Take good notes: As soon as possible after each appointment, write a summary of what was discussed, any next steps you need to take and any items you may wish to discuss at your next meeting.

7. Show your appreciation: From time to time, thank your adviser. Send a holiday card or provide an update on something about which they provided input. Let your adviser know how much you appreciate his or her time.

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