University of Vermont

Deciding to be an Advisor

The faculty or staff member involved in advising a student group often wants to know exactly what role they should take. While there is no one answer which will suffice for every situation, there are some basic concepts that may be of help.

Advisors should be an integral part of every student organization. Often they have been affiliated with the organization longer than any of the current officers and can offer greater experience in dealing with many issues. An advisor is just that, they advise the organization on the goals set by the organization. Students should listen to and consider the advisor's input and then make their decisions. Advisors should not make the decisions for the organization. Neither should the advisor be someone students seek out only when they need a signature. Officers need to encourage advisors to become active participants within the organization. An active advisor will work closely with the students in order to improve the organization and the individual skills of the students.  Furthermore, an active advisor will offer suggestions and a different perspective without demanding that the organization follow everything they say.

Some clubs are assigned a specific advisor because it is part of that particular employee's job description to advise that club. They can often bring different perspectives, or have expertise in areas related to your organization.

There are times that an organization may want to consider adding an advisor or replacing a current one. Remember that the members of a student organization select their own advisor (except as mentioned above). It is up to the students to find an advisor who is going to be supportive and helpful. Each organization's constitution should have the means for selecting and replacing advisors. When students are dissatisfied with an advisor they should discuss it with them and reassess whether the advisor should continue in that role. The PDF of the Advisor Role Worksheet is a tool that is helpful for this. This advisor checklist, when done openly and honestly, can help to determine if an individual is a good fit for a particular organization. This tool can also be used by the advisor and group to identify the expectations each has for the other.

An advisor, when utilized effectively, can be one of the most valuable members of the organization. When not utilized or utilized ineffectively, the organization suffers greatly. It is to the organization's advantage to find a good advisor and to take advantage of their skills in achieving the goals of the organization.

Sometimes an advisor is asked to step down or is replaced. This happens for a variety of reasons, changing needs of the organization, personality differences, etc. It does not mean that the advisor is doing a bad job. It just might not be a good fit. Other times as an advisor you may request to no longer advise a club. The advisor's job responsibilities may change, their goals may change or they may have personality differences with the students. Whatever the reason, an individual should not be pressured to remain a club's advisor if they no longer feels they should be in that role. The Assistant Director for Leadership & Civic Engagement in Student Life is available to help clubs and/or advisors who are going through this process.

Frequently Asked Questions

Advising an organization can be a large undertaking. To assist individuals in their decision making process we have developed a series of questions and answers. The following are things one should consider if they are contemplating advising a club or organization.

What are the needs of the group?

The nature of the advisor's interaction with a student group will be determined largely by the type of needs the group has. It is important to remember that it is the student members' responsibility to determine what their needs are; the advisor may make valuable comments and suggestions, but primary responsibility for group leadership rests within the student membership.

Does the advisor's personality mesh with the expectations of the group?

It is important that there be a clear understanding between advisors and advisees regarding the expectations, needs, interests, etc. A student group may expect their advisor to play a very specific role for them. On the other hand, the group may wish the advisor to take more of an observing, non-participatory role. If these aspects of advisement are not addressed beforehand, conflicts may arise.

A very simple process, which can be used to prevent any potential difficulties, is to have a prospective advisor meet with a group on several occasions before accepting the position. The students can get to know the faculty or staff member and they can make observations about the appropriate style of advisement that should be used. After several meetings, the potential advisor and the student organization's general membership or executive board can meet to discuss the observations and the expectations of the group for the advisor.

An additional resource is the downloadable Advisor Role Worksheet downloadable from this site. Reviewing this with club members can help eliminate trouble areas.

Is the advisor an appropriate resource person for the group?

It is important that the advisor and the students in an organization recognize that the advisor can be a valuable resource for the group, both in content areas (such as speakers about a certain topic) and in process areas (such as effective communication skills or how to get things done on campus). However, advisors should not ignore the basic consideration that a student group is just that- a student group. An advisor who sees their advisory role as an extension of their professional role loses effectiveness as an advisor. By the same token, an advisor who sees their role as just another member also loses effectiveness as an advisor.

What is the difference between advising and supervising?

The experience of acting as an advisor to a student organization can be frustrating at times, especially if the faculty or staff member is a "take charge" person. It is important to differentiate appropriate advisory attitudes and behaviors from supervisory attitudes and behaviors.

While it may be expected that a supervisor be responsible for the actions of the group, telling the group what should be done and playing the major decision-making role, it is more appropriate and productive for an advisor to be aware of the actions of their group, sharing with the group various options of what might be done and encouraging group members to take decision-making roles. Helping the group work through different options and seeing potential long-term implications of their actions can be important. Sometimes the hardest thing for an advisor to do is allow the group to "fail." As an advisor, you are then charged with helping the group reflect and make meaning of that experience so that they can learn from it and move forward.

A supervisor acts as the leader of an organization and takes responsibility to evaluate not only the success of group projects, but also the effectiveness of individual group members. An advisor, on the other hand, acts as a primary resource person and role model for the group and takes responsibility to assist the group in self-evaluation.