Advising: The Helpful Job That Can Backfire

By Haley Turner and Sara Marshall

Texas Tech students know that signing up for classes is not an easy process. After going to an advising meeting to remove any holds, waiting for registration to open, and hoping Raiderlink does not crash, students usually think they are in the clear to move towards graduation.

But if they have signed up for the wrong classes, this is not the case.

“I’ve actually screwed up on a couple of things before,” said Heath Tolleson, academic adviser of journalism in the College of Media & Communication.  “I can say that I overlooked some things and a student basically took a class that they didn’t need, and that was my fault. It was immediately brought to my attention and I owned up to it. And it was a learning process, for sure.”

Visit Texas Tech’s advising website for more information.

According to Catherine Nutter, senior director of University Advising, advisers can be responsible for over 400 students any given semesters, though some may have several more and some many fewer. The numbers all depend on the enrollment, but on a normal day advisers will still see several students a day, faces and majors blurring together.

“I mean it’s no excuse, but we’re human,” Tolleson said.

Nutter said she recommends to all students and advisers to give other people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to an advising error.

“Academic advisers are in the position they are in because they enjoy working with students and helping students,” Nutter said. “So, if there is a roadblock going up, most of the time it’s going to be inadvertent, and it’s unintentional.”

Emily Koch, senior accounting major and transfer student from DePauw University, encountered a schedule conflict her junior year. Upon meeting with her adviser, she was told she needed to take a prerequisite to take all of her upper-level classes.

Koch planned to take the necessary class at a local community college over the winter break, but her adviser recommended not to since he believed it wouldn’t transfer in time to take the upper-level classes in the spring. This would put her an entire year behind for graduation, so she decided to go ahead and take the class over the winter anyway.

“When it finally transferred, I was happy it was over with,” Koch said. “But I was annoyed and I resolved to not deal with him again after that.”

The whole situation left Koch extremely upset. Koch said she even felt like her hard work was worth nothing during the conflict.

“We pay for advisers in our tuition,” Koch said. “Students come in and have no idea what they’re doing. They need to be there and take responsibility and be our tool to keep us on track.”

Picture by Justin Gonzales.

Upon taking an entire semester of recommended classes while she was still undeclared, sophomore Brianna Perry was faced with a similar advising situation as Koch.

Perry said her undergraduate adviser gave her a list of classes based on what she wanted to major in and told her they were required. After her Texas Tech GPA was established, Perry was able to declare her major.

Unfortunately after speaking to her new adviser, she was told none of the classes would count towards her newly declared major, thus putting her back an entire semester in her degree. Fortunately, Perry managed to save some of the classes she took by declaring business management as a dual major.

“I was very annoyed about the situation,” Perry said. “It was a lot of money wasted. Time wasted. I could have been taking other classes that actually mattered to my degree. I’ve just moved on since this happened. There really isn’t anything you can do at that point.”

No longer truly trusting advisers, Perry takes thorough notes at each of her meetings and researches any recommendations her advisers have to ensure everything is in line with her majors and degree plan.

“It is a two way street. Like, students need to keep up with the advisers and they need to keep up with us,” Perry said.

Perry recommends to call other advisers and talk to friends in similar majors in anything in an advising meeting does not feel right.

“And make sure everything you talk about in the meeting is clear and concise before you leave, so you don’t walk out of the meeting questioning it,” she said.

Although, not every student is alike and not every adviser will have the same methods.

“There are 150 different undergraduate majors on campus, which means there are 150 different ways to advise,” Nutter said.

Coming from the field of mental health, Tolleson said he believes himself to be an unconventional adviser.

“We’re kind of a segway for students between scholastic entities,” Tolleson said. “I try to do an overall assessment of a student’s scholastic – and I don’t ask personal stuff, but I am willing to listen. If something is hindering a student’s scholastic part, then maybe something else needs to be addressed.”

Tolleson said he had been a bad student while attending Texas Tech and wishes someone could have been there for him the way he is now for others.

“If I would have had someone a little bit more hands on, that would have been like ‘hey don’t screw up; You’re better than this,’” Tolleson said. “Because in all honesty, for students, the words ‘I’m proud of you’ or ‘You’re doing great’ or ‘You can do this’ – they’re extremely powerful statements and I feel advising as a whole could do a little bit more of that.”

Nutter said that advisers could improve in some aspects of the profession, agreeing with Tolleson’s views.

Nutter said she thinks advisers need to spend more time showing students the tools and resources, such as Degree Audit, available to them so that they are able to be held more accountable for their graduation plans.

Nutter explained an adviser’s job as facilitating a student’s progress through a degree plan that the student has created themselves. Although advisers support the student and assist them in deciding a direction to take, there are many things they cannot do.

You can find the DegreeWorks tool through Raiderlink.

“First thing I’m going to say to that is no adviser registers a student on campus for any course,” Nutter said. “All students register themselves. The responsibility to register for a class lands with the student.”

Nutter suggests students meet with their adviser as much as they can to prevent miscommunication regarding their degree plan.

“Consistent communication with an adviser, either in person or electronically, works quite well,” Nutter said. “If you’re not getting an answer you need electronically, then I think it’s your responsibility to try another route. Most of the professional advisers on campus work very hard to ensure that they get back to a student the day they get the email, or within 24 hours.”

Nutter said the relationship between a student and an adviser is a dual responsibility, however, it is ultimately the student’s degree so it is ultimately their responsibility to make sure everything is in check.

Agreeing with Nutter, Tolleson said he believes that communication is absolutely vital, whether it is positive or negative.

“I would just say, at least for advisers…we do our best,” Tolleson said. “And I don’t want to speak for everyone, but we are human. Humans are unempathetic, unsympathetic. Humans are sometimes natural givers and have natural instincts to help.”

At the end of the day, Tolleson said the adviser and the student have to be on the same page for the student to be successful.

About Haley Turner

Haley is a journalism major and the Hub's community reporter. She loves all things Chick-fil-A, cold weather, and candles. Her dream is to live in Colorado and work for a local news publication or company.

%d bloggers like this: