3 Reasons You Should Break Up With Your Academic Advisor (and How to Do It)

by and
Executive Director, Leadership Development Center; Assistant Professor of Psychology; York College of Pennsylvania

Dec   2016

Thu

01

College students navigate many relationships, from friends to faculty to family. But what about your academic advisor relationship? How do you determine if it’s working—and what should you do if it’s not?

It takes at least a semester to cultivate a good advisor-advisee relationship, so be sure you give it a chance to succeed. However, if you spent most of the fall thinking about making a change, if you’re considering switching majors, or if you just left every academic advising session with a bad feeling in your gut, it may be time to look for a new advisor before it’s time to schedule classes in the spring.

Here are three things you should think about when making the decision to ask for a new college academic advisor:

1. Your advisor doesn’t support your career interests

“It’s not you; it’s me” might be a thin excuse in the real world, but it’s often the case in breaking up with an academic advisor. It’s not an issue of personalities clashing; it’s about you needing different things. If your major or career interests change, you might see if a different academic advisor would be a better fit. It’s not vital that your advisor has worked in the same field you want to work in, but they should help you become more knowledgeable regarding your desired career area, and they certainly should be encouraging of your career path.

2. Expectations aren’t clear or go unmet

As in any successful relationship, both parties need a clear understanding of each other’s expectations. This doesn’t mean your advisor should do whatever you ask or respond immediately to every request. However, you can reasonably expect that your advisor will be accessible and have a working knowledge of college policies, resources, and graduation requirements. If current expectations are hazy, schedule a time to meet to clear up any misunderstandings. 

3. You and your advisor just don’t get along

Let’s face it: sometimes there are just people you can’t work with. Personality clashes strain relationships. But before calling it quits, make a concerted effort to build a relationship with your advisor. This should go beyond that minimum of one meeting per semester.

After a careful assessment of your advisor-advisee relationship, you may conclude that you’re experiencing one (or more) of these challenges. What comes next?

  • Determine whether you can salvage the relationship. Every relationship has its missteps; it doesn’t mean we immediately call it quits. Talk openly with your academic advisor about your concerns and thoughtfully listen to their comments. In starting a dialogue, you may both come to a better understanding of each other. This may mean you are able to reboot the relationship, or you might mutually agree it’s not the right fit, and that’s okay.
  • If you can’t reboot, explore your options. It would be awkward to ask your current advisor who they think would be a better fit for you. Instead, work with your institution’s academic advising office to identify someone who fits your career interests. They can also provide tips on how to build rapport with your new advisor.
  • Make your move. Whether or not you’ve shared these relationship challenges with your old advisor, reach out and inform them that you’re changing advisors. Consider providing a brief explanation of why you’re taking your academic journey in a new direction and thank them for any assistance they did offer. A professionally worded and cordial e-mail works best—don’t burn bridges. A bad breakup could make for awkward situations in the future. After all, your old advisor could be a future instructor in one of your classes…
  • Cultivate a successful relationship with your new advisor. Reach out to your new advisor and introduce yourself. Consider scheduling a meeting to set appropriate expectations for your new relationship, thus avoiding past mistakes. And as we said in the beginning, be sure to give this new relationship time to grow. As you effectively work together, your advisor will be one of many individuals that help you on your path to academic and professional success.

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