There’s more than one way to do academic advising. We wear many hats. Sometimes we act as mentors/coaches who diligently guide students through their educational journey. Other times we function as expert consultants who provide information and offer advice. With all these different approaches, who determines which is best? Where do our ideas about “good” academic advising come from? Academic advising theory addresses these questions.  So what’s your theory?

Research suggests that there is a relatively high consistency between an advisor’s stated philosophy of advising and the behaviors he or she actually utilizes – Creamer & Scott

Prescriptive Advising

Prescriptive advisers do as their name suggests; they prescribe. Similar to a doctor-knows-best philosophy, they remedy student issues and concerns with their expert information and advice. Under a prescriptive model, students may passively receive information about degree-completion requirements, scheduling options, and registration rather than be empowered to exercise their own autonomy or encouraged to explore beyond surface-level concerns.

Developmental Advising

Developmental advisors help their students make their own decisions and solve their own problems.  They take a collaborative approach to facilitating student development, but believe students are ultimately responsible for their educational experience. Thus, advisers may assist students with navigating the educational system, but students are expected to do the driving.

Intrusive Advising

Intrusive advisors are proactive. They initiate student interactions to discuss strategies for academic success and enhance student motivation. Intrusive advising is a common approach for students who are considered at-risk (e.g. academic probation, first-generation) because of its proactive, assertive style.

Appreciative Advising

Appreciative advising has emerged as an integrative approach to academic advising based on a theory of organizational development known as appreciative inquiry (AI). In short, those who practice AI manage change by focusing on organizational strengths rather than problems. Similarly, advisors build upon student strengths in the co-creation of academic goals and action plans. There are six phases of appreciative advising: disarm, discover, dream, design, deliver, and don’t settle. Visit the the Appreciative Advising Institute for more information.

Customer Service

Customer service is a polemic term among higher education professionals. Advocates of the customer service approach argue that quality customer service centers on developing a positive perception of the provider, which is linked to the one’s relational skills and level of ability in providing the service. Opponents argue that customer service is a business term that refers to enhancing customer satisfaction, usually for the purpose of increased patronage and profits. Moreover, they assert that student satisfaction is not the primary goal of academic advising, but rather learning. Read the opposing articles…what do you think?

Ideally, institutions should adopt an academic advising theory to ensure that advisor behaviors align with institutional values. Otherwise, counselors will develop their own theory, which can lead to inconsistency or fragmentation in the delivery of academic advising. Integrating multiple academic advising theories allows for an eclectic approach, but there must be an overall direction to guide practice.


Creamer, D. & Scott, D. (2000). Assessing individual advisor effectiveness. In Gordon, V. N., & Habley, W. R.  (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook, (pp. 339-348). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.