Theories of Advising

Op3.26-4 Theories of Advising

There are many theories of advising. A review of many of them can be found at

The advising philosophy most often endorsed by NACADA and this institution is referred to as developmental advising. A complete description of developmental advising can be found at:

As academic advisement has professionally progressed, theories regarding advisement have also progressed. There is a movement within NACADA to explore and shift to the theory of advising as teaching. Articles about advising as teaching can be found at and

Developmental and Prescriptive Advising: Two Styles

Academic advising is most often done from one of two different perspectives. A combination approach is also possible.

  • Prescriptive advising: This model of advising holds that the academic advisor tells the student what to do, and the student does it. Prescriptive advising is linear communication from the advisor to the advisee and places most of the responsibility not on the student, but the advisor. The advisor is required to have the answers.
  • Developmental advising: The developmental advising model holds that the academic advisor and the advisee are partners in educational discovery in which responsibility is shared between the participants. As in all endeavors that are primarily human relations, there are numerous discussions that attempt to define developmental advising in the literature. Here is one definition developed by David S. Crockett (1995):
    Advising is a developmental process that assists students in the clarification of their life/career goals and in the development of educational plans for the realization of these goals. It is a decision-making process which assists students in realizing their maximum educational potential through communication and information exchanges with an advisor; it is ongoing, multi-faceted, and the responsibility of both student and advisor. The advisor serves as a facilitator of communication, a coordinator of learning experiences through course and career planning and program progress review, and an agent of referral to other campus services as necessary.

Prescriptive advising tends to be the "do it for them" model. Developmental advising is the "help them do it for themselves" model.

Burton and Wellington (1998) epitomize developmental advising when they say, “A developmental model of advising permits the advisor to help the advisee focus, through self-reflection, on interests and goals.” This allows the advisor and the advisee to work together in a collaborative effort to achieve commonly understood goals.

Discussion questions:

  1. Are there situations where prescriptive advising is necessary?
  2. What are some practical ways to encourage students to participate in developmental advising?
  3. How do you deal with students who expect you, as the advisor, to have all the answers?
  4. What well-intentioned advisor behaviors may actually encourage students to be dependent instead of independent?

Developmental Advising Is/Is Not

Perhaps an easy way to understand the concept of developmental advising is to compare prescriptive and developmental advising techniques using this chart developed by Crookston.

(Crookston, 1972, p. 13)

Prescriptive Advising Developmental Advising
Advisor tells student what he/she needs to know about programs and courses. Advisor helps student learn about courses and programs for self.
Advisor knows college policies and tells student what to do. Advisor tells student where to learn about policies and helps in understanding how they apply to him/her
Advisor informs about deadlines and follows up behind student. Advisor informs about deadlines, then lets student follow up.
Advisor tells student which classes to take. Advisor presents class options; student makes own selections.
Advisor keeps informed about academic progress through files and records. Advisor keeps informed about academic progress through records and talking to student about academic experiences.
Advisor tells student what to do in order to get advised. Advisor and student reach agreement about nature of advising relationship.
Advisor uses grades and test results to determine courses most appropriate for student. Advisor and student use grades, test results and self-determined interests and abilities to determine most appropriate courses.
Advisor specifies alternatives and indicates best choice when student faces difficult decisions. Advisor assists student in identifying alternatives and weighing consequences when facing difficult decisions.
Advisor suggests what student should major in. Advisor suggests steps students can take to help decide on major.
Advisor identifies realistic academic goals based on grades and test results. Advisor assists student in identifying realistic academic goals based on grades, test results and self-understanding.
Advisor is concerned mainly about academic life of student. Advisor is concerned about personal, social and academic life of student.
Advisor provides information mainly about courses and class schedules. Advisor provides information about workshops and seminars in areas such as career planning and study skills, in addition to courses and class schedules.

Advising as Teaching

Advising as teaching is yet another approach to advisement. Advising as teaching shares many virtues with developmental advising and yet takes developmental advisement one step farther. While developmental advising has the broad goal of personal growth, teaching as advising specifically focuses on enhancing student learning (Lowenstein, 2005).

Effective teachers and effective advisors exhibit many of the same characteristics, knowledge and skills. The table below taken from the works of C.C. Ryan (1992) and Drew Appleby (2001) compares the two.

Effective Teachers Effective Advisors
Master their subject matter Possess accurate information about policies, resources and programs
Plan, organize and prepare materials for the classroom Prepare well for advising sessions
Engage students actively in the learning process Engage advisees in the advising process through challenges involving alternative choices and encouragement to question and explore
Provide regular feedback, reinforcement and encouragement Provide timely feedback, reinforce learning that has taken place and applaud student successes
Help students learn independently Encourage advisees to be self-directed learners
Teach students how to evaluate information Help advisees evaluate their progress toward personal, educational and career goals
Serve as a resource to students Provide materials to advisees and make referrals when appropriate
Provide problem-solving tasks to students Provide tasks to be completed before the next advising meeting that will require the advisee to use information-gathering, decision-making and problem-solving skills
Deliver information clearly and understandably Communicate in a clear and unambiguous manner with advisees
Exhibit good questioning skills Ask questions and initiate discussions
Exhibit positive regard, concern and respect for students Provide a caring, personal relationship by exhibiting a positive attitude toward students, their goals and their ability to learn
Promote a climate of learning that supports diversity Respect diverse points of view by demonstrating sensitively to differences in culture and gender
Stimulate higher level thinking Help student learn concepts, test validity, and confront attitudes and beliefs

While instructors are responsible for individual courses, an advisor’s domain is the overall curriculum from general education and degree requirements to major/minor coursework (Lowenstein, 2005). In the paradigm of advising as teaching the advisor is responsible for an important part of student learning. In effect, the advisor teaches

  • how to find/create the logic of one’s education;
  • how to view the seemingly disconnected pieces of curriculum as parts of a whole that makes sense to the learner, so that she or he learns more from them;
  • how to base educational choices on a developing sense of the overall edifice being self-built; and
  • how to continually enhance learning experiences by relating them to knowledge that has been previously learned. (Lowenstein, 2005, p. 72)

Just as teaching has learning outcomes, so should advisement. Lifelong skills such as decision-making, critical thinking, responsibility and appreciation for education in addition to learning academic regulations should be learning outcomes of advisement. "Advising is the intersection of the teaching/learning experience" (Miller & Alberts, 1994, p. 44).