These are real notes received by a college adviser, and there is nothing unusual about them. Every college adviser gets them at the end of the academic year. Of course, they are gratifying. But they are also frustrating. Because, just as the third one reveals, most college students don’t know the value of advising. They don’t really know what it is. Often they do not stumble upon it until a crisis has occurred. Some never reap the benefits of the advising relationship at all.
Why is college advising valuable? Because it provides a safe space for students to tell their story over and over again, to test out ideas for their future, to imagine themselves in somewhat or even radically different roles on the global and local stage. The building block of the advising relationship is the advising conversation. It is through these conversations that students can experience individual decisive moments, moments of realization and transformation. The adviser provides not only an interlocutor but also a sounding board.
Of course, advisers can talk about requirements – though there isn’t a college adviser on the planet who knows all of the requirements for every major, minor, concentration, and program offered on a given campus. But beyond the rules, guidelines, and regulations, advising is the college’s way of offering a safe space in which students are able to imagine themselves as something different in the future, but in accord with their true selves. Another way to put it is that advising creates a space that allows, enables and even encourages students to search themselves by talking about imagined and often previously unimaginable futures.
Advising focuses first and foremost on allowing a student to explore themselves and their personal dreams, desires, and potentials. This verbal exploration of potential futures is a way of discovering one's essence, of defining the things that move us, and keeping in the forefront of our minds what is most important in our lives.
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.