How to Advise Your Students After They're Accepted to Colleges

Many students take longer than four years to graduate. Here are some tips to help your students stay on track and, potentially, save time and money.

Once you’ve helped your students get into college and successfully graduate from high school, it would seem that your job is done. They’re off on their own, taking on new challenges and working toward the future that you helped them dream up. But here’s a troubling fact: according to research conducted by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, only 40% of students complete their undergraduate degrees in four years or less. In a recent article, Jon Marcus of The Hechinger Report attributed this sluggish completion rate—at least in part—to minimal or nonexistent academic advising on college campuses.

Here are a few other alarming statistics that Marcus points out:

  • American universities have an average of just one advisor for every 367 students.
  • Most students end up taking an additional 16.5 credits that they don’t need to graduate.
  • One in every three students switches majors at some point.
  • At community colleges, the ratio of academic advisors to students is one to 1,000, on average.
  • Only one-third of community college students finish their two-year programs within three years.

When students take longer than necessary to graduate, they waste their time and money by taking unnecessary courses, which they may have to pay for with unnecessary loans. Thus, they enter the job market later than they ought to and are saddled with extra debt that could have been avoided.

Given these disheartening figures, you might consider incorporating some of the tasks of a college advisor into your role as a high school or independent counselor. You may not be able to help your students select their courses or devise a specific degree plan, but putting together even a basic map of what it takes to graduate on time could pay huge dividends for them in the future, both academically and financially. Get started by going over a few essential points: 

  1. Make sure your students understand what is generally required in order to earn a four-year degree (typically around 120 hours of course work) and how many credits they should aim to take each semester in order to finish on time.
  2. Discuss their interests and help them hone in on a major. While many students do end up switching majors, doing so could tack on an additional year or more of course work and rack up thousands of dollars in extra tuition.
  3. Help them find and understand their school’s registration system, and stress the importance of registering as early as possible to ensure they have a seat in the courses they need to take.
  4. Time management skills are key, especially for students newly freed from the thumbs of watchful teachers and parents. Help them find ways to practice managing their time while in high school. You might even consider holding a group session to discuss the responsibilities they can expect to juggle on campus.
  5. Point them to your collegiate counterparts. Ensure your students are aware that, even at a large university, there will always be advisors with whom they can discuss their degree plans in person. If possible, help them figure out who their go-to person is for freshman advising.

Though it’s not within your purview to act as a college advisor, being proactive and broadening the scope of your duties as a college counselor will help your students get a jump start on a winning college game plan. Though it’s true that your job technically ends the day they toss their caps skyward, the advice you give them now will last long after they’ve walked the stage, helping them save precious time and money, and guiding them toward successful careers.

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About Stephanie Farah

Stephanie Farah

Stephanie is a former writer and senior editor for Carnegie Darlet and CollegeXpress. Stephanie holds a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's in Journalism from the University of North Texas. At various times she has been: an uncertain undergrad, a financial aid recipient, a transfer applicant, and a grad student with an assistantship and a full ride. Stephanie is an avid writer, traveler, cook, and dog owner. 


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