The Best Questions to Ask Your Academic Advisor

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The Best Questions to Ask Your Academic Advisor
portrait of Anthony Chiaravelotti
by Anthony Chiaravelotti
Published on March 12, 2021

Anthony Chiaravelotti is an academic advisor at New York University's College of Arts and Sciences.



Colleges and universities are constantly evolving to meet new educational needs and support an increasingly diverse student body. As higher education grows, students need help navigating its complex institutions — that's where academic advisors come in.

College advisors act as guides, helping you choose a major, hit your academic goals, and avoid expensive missteps — like courses that don't count toward your degree — that could lengthen your time in school.

Advisors can also help you find opportunities otherwise buried on school websites, next to impossible to find without the help of someone in the know. In exchange for the high price of tuition, many colleges have augmented the college experience with things like residential learning communities, honors programs, self-designed study, multidisciplinary fields of study, research opportunities, and internships.

As a new student, transfer student, or senior nearing graduation, you'll need to work closely with your advisor to ensure you maximize these opportunities while avoiding common college pitfalls.

Questions to Ask Your Advisor If You're a …

First-Year Student College Senior Transfer Student

Top Questions to Ask Your Advisor

Meet early in your college career with your advisor to establish a good rapport. Advisors have a better shot at matching students with new opportunities when they know something about them and their interests. Discussing your strengths and weaknesses and your likes and dislikes will help them draw you a personalized roadmap through the curriculum.

Depending on your college and major, you may have many choices regarding which courses you can take and when. Advisors will strategize with you according to your academic goals and spot any potential risks to graduating on time with your best possible GPA.

Below, I've provided some useful questions to ask your advisor based on my own experiences with students.

Questions First-Year College Students Should Ask

What will my class schedule look like? Are my plans realistic?

College programs are all unique and frequently in flux. Consulting with an advisor early on in your college career is crucial to determining your best path to graduation.

A good first topic for discussion is your prospective major. Majors, minors, and concentrations all maintain their own course requirements and timelines, which will influence your class schedule from your very first term.

If you're doing a pre-health concentration, for example, you must take certain courses as prerequisites for later courses. Most fields order their classes sequentially, thereby requiring careful planning to ensure students can progress through their major on time.

How much room do I have to explore?

First, establish how much time you need to devote to your major courses. Students often consider adding a minor or two, or pursuing a double major, which means you'll have more required classes and fewer remaining credits to accumulate through electives.

Ask your advisor whether your required classes are offered every term and, if you're interested in studying abroad, whether these requirements can be fulfilled away from your home institution.

Once these obligations have been satisfied, students can explore elective courses that speak to their other interests. Some classes can even be used to fulfill multiple requirements (for a general education course and a minor, for example), but this usually needs an advisor's approval.

What opportunities should I take advantage of?

The past 10 years have seen a rise in colleges and universities offering smaller classes for first-year students. These classes are often taught seminar-style, with roundtable discussions led by faculty experts.

As an advisor, I encourage students to take these courses for networking purposes, as they allow students to connect with professors. These connections are helpful when the time comes to ask for letters of recommendation for internships or graduate school.

What are the "stumble courses" for my major?

Stumble courses are courses that have earned a reputation for being difficult. Even high-performing students can stumble on important required courses. If this occurs late senior year, the result could be summer school and delayed graduation.

Ask your advisor about potential stumble courses in order to better prepare yourself. They can help you choose a semester when you can fully dedicate yourself to completing the class, while leaving yourself room in case you need to repeat that course at a later date.

How can I salvage my course grade or my GPA?

If you struggle academically, an advisor can be your ally. They can review your options at any point in the semester and may direct you to processes that can help you salvage your performance. Some courses can be graded on a pass/fail basis, for example, which doesn't affect GPA. In other cases, it's advisable for students to withdraw.

These actions are deadline-driven, so go see your advisor at the first sign of trouble. While these scenarios are not ideal, your advisor can show you how to remedy situations in which you have no hope of raising a low grade.

Can I graduate early?

Students who take heavy course loads or who bring several AP/IB credits from high school may be able to graduate in less than four years. There are benefits and drawbacks to graduating early. The best way to make it happen is to meet with your advisor early on to strategize.

Questions College Seniors Should Ask

Can you review my degree requirements and go over what I need to do to graduate on time?

Seniors should meet with their advisors early in their senior year to determine whether they've met all requirements for their degree, including minimum number of total credits and, for transfer students, minimum mandatory number of credits earned at that institution.

There may also be times when you repeated courses, withdrew, or left incomplete grades unresolved. These could all impact your credit totals as you enter your final year. Ask your advisor whether the courses you are taking, or will take during senior year, are sufficient to graduate.

Are there accelerated programs leading to a master's degree that I qualify for?

Academically driven undergraduates should consider accelerated programs, which allow you to begin a master's degree in your senior year as you complete your bachelor's. Advisors should have information about admission requirements, if any, as well as tips for how to schedule these courses alongside the classes you need to finish your bachelor's degree.

Are there courses I should take senior year to enhance my profile to prospective employers?

Many colleges extend opportunities for undergrads to conduct research, apply for grants, get their work published, and present at conferences. These opportunities can enhance your education while providing you with additional resume experience.

Advisors can help you take advantage of resume-building opportunities that help you stand out. They can also guide you toward pursuing and obtaining internships. Internships come in many forms (for-credit, noncredit, and paid), which are often determined by the employer.

Questions Transfer Students Should Ask

How will my transfer credits be counted in my new school?

Every college maintains a different policy for transfer credit. Meeting with a college advisor at your new institution will help you understand which credits will transfer over, what requirements those credits will fill, and what paperwork you'll need to complete to make it happen.

At my college, advisors hold academic orientation sessions with transfer students in which we explain graduation requirements and how transfer credit works. At that point, students follow up with advisors to make a personalized plan.

Will I be able to complete my major on time?

The answer is, it depends. Your advisor can tell you exactly how many credits you need to complete your major and graduate. Together, you can look at a worksheet and determine whether all your remaining courses fit into your timeline. If not, adjustments can be made by overloading (taking more than the standard maximum number of credits in a term) or by taking summer courses.

Sometimes there can be a mismatch in sequences, in which one school's course covers more than the other. To ensure you're placed in the right classes, you may have to get credit for what you know by speaking with faculty, submitting written requests, and taking placement exams.

What will it be like at my new school?

An easy first conversation to have with your advisor is just chatting about what you can expect your new school to be like. Is it highly competitive? Are the classes large? Do professors or teaching assistants lead labs? Advisors speak with hundreds of students every semester and can give you feedback on the school's culture and the ways students find success.

The Importance of Meeting With Your Advisor

Academic advisors are there to guide you and help you meet your academic goals. These professionals know what their college has to offer and can support students in tough times. Don't be shy about meeting to discuss your interests, goals, course planning, or even poor performance.

The most important message I have for students as an advisor is this: Come on in. Let's begin the conversation about how you can get the most out of your college education.


Feature Image: izusek / E+ / Getty Images

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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