Fostering Self-Sufficient Advisees through Preregistration Activities

Advising is a rewarding, albeit challenging, task. Juggling multiple windows on the computer screen, along with detailed spreadsheets, course offerings, and college catalogs can give way to frustration. Many faculty members in higher education take on advising duties that they may not feel fully prepared for, or even have time for, despite their desire to be involved in this fundamental aspect of student development. What can add to this frustration is when a faculty adviser takes on the students’ responsibilities in this process by selecting students’ courses and balancing their schedules. Such an approach can actually have a negative impact on students, since it takes away their autonomy over their learning process, overall academic experience, or personal growth.1

So how can faculty members successfully and efficiently advise students? I have found the best approach combines aspects of the engagement model of advising (Yarbrough) and the developmental process (see Crookston; Smith; Smith and Allen; and Grites). While “the engagement approach to academic advising assumes that the primary academic adviser is the frontline mentor in assisting the student-advisees in identifying and clarifying their personal academic goals and objectives” (Yarbrough 63), developmental advising “includes the education and the development of the whole student” (Grites 12). As I understand it, the engagement model emphasizes advisers’ responsibility to provide opportunities for their advisees to interact with necessary and useful resources, while the developmental approach highlights the accountability of the advisees, underscoring their efforts to be involved in the advising process. Taken together, aspects of these two frameworks are the foundation of developmental advising, which “leaves academic decision making in the hands of the students” while also equipping them “with important academic information” (Smith 40).2

Successful developmental advising lies in providing students with the tools they need to select their courses with confidence and wisdom and to become independent in their college advancement. Providing students with preregistration activities can help them engage in the advising process. The student worksheet provided at the end of this article guides students through four essential aspects of the advising process: finding courses, the registration process, the registration schedule, and course selection.3

Before the First Advising Session

Before the first session, I send students the worksheet below.


Download the worksheet

This worksheet guides advisees in a way that allows them to become more conscientious of the course-selection process and helps them to better prepare for individual advising sessions. As part of the advising process, all students must complete the worksheet before they meet with me; if an advisee arrives to a session without the completed worksheet, I briefly reiterate my expectations for individual meetings and specify the parameters outlined in the worksheet, and ask the student to make another appointment once the worksheet has been appropriately completed or revised. If you are interested in adopting this worksheet as part of the advising process at your university, here is how it works:

  • Students read step-by-step instructions that guide them through the simultaneous use of the course catalog, online registration tools, and their degree audit.
  • Students identify the remaining general education and major and minor requirements, and subsequently how to fulfill those requirements, which we discuss during their individual advising sessions. For example, if students who are interested in becoming Spanish majors understand that the course called Introduction a la Literatura Española (Introduction to Spanish Literature) simultaneously fulfills a humanities general education requirement and counts toward the requirements for the major, those same students are also aware that a course in Hispanic linguistics fulfills a social science requirement. In this scenario, knowing how to use the course catalog and understanding the college curriculum helps the students evaluate their course options wisely. Allowing students time to figure this out before their first meeting with you can help them become more aware of academic systems and the options they have.
  • The worksheet includes a copy of the course registration schedule, initially sent by the registrar’s office, followed by tips for preregistration and an activity that students must complete prior to their advising session.
  • Students must specify in which courses they plan to enroll, along with second and third choices.
  • In addition to choosing their classes, students must provide specific course numbers and indicate which requirements each selected course fulfills, in agreement with the course catalog.
  • Students must confirm that the courses they have selected are being offered during the semester for which they are about to enroll, and that they have read the course descriptions.
  • Finally, students who are planning to pursue a major or minor outside my field of expertise (i.e., Spanish) must confirm that they have consulted with the appropriate faculty members regarding course selection for the upcoming term.

After an Advising Session

Upon completion of individual advising sessions, it’s helpful to scan each worksheet and send copies to respective students. Every scanned sheet should include notes and changes discussed during the meeting, such as alterations to the student’s schedule or plans to study abroad or apply for an internship.

Scanned copies of the completed advising sheets should be filed in appropriately named folders—“Spring 2019 Advising Sessions,” for example.

Advising sessions can be an opportune time to connect with students and facilitate a better understanding of the college curriculum. By implementing a developmental approach to advising that encourages students to engage in course selection, the adviser helps students assume ownership of their individual academic experiences; in turn, the adviser becomes the facilitator and mentor who guides the students. Engaging students in the advising process and helping them develop a solid understanding of the curriculum to which they can align their individual needs and objectives creates strong and efficient advisees who are prepared to take charge of their college careers.


1. In Developmental Academic Advising, Roger B. Winston, Jr., and his coauthors suggest that student growth, as it relates to their theory of developmental advising, involves “three areas: academic, career and personal” (qtd. in Smith 40).

2. Smith bases his analysis on the previous work of Crookston.

3. The sections “How Do I Look for Courses” and “Tips!” include suggestions that are modified from the original list of registration recommendations provided by the college. Follow this link for the original list of recommendations designed by Randolph-Macon College’s registrar, Alana R. Davis.

Works Cited

Crookston, Burns B. “A Developmental View of Academic Advising as Teaching.” NACADA Journal, vol. 29, no. 1, Spring 2009, pp. 78–82. Originally published in Journal of College Student Personnel, vol. 13, Jan. 1972, pp. 12–17.

Davis, Alana R. “Top Ten Suggestions for Creating Your Course Schedule.” Randolph-Macon College,

Grites, Thomas J. “Developmental Academic Advising: A 40-Year Context.” NACADA Journal, vol. 33, no. 1, 2013, pp. 5–15.

Smith, Cathleen, and Janine Allen. “Essential Functions of Academic Advising: What Students Want and Get.” NACADA Journal, vol. 26, no. 1, 2006, pp. 56–66.

Smith, Joshua S. “First-Year Student Perceptions of Academic Advisement: A Qualitative Study and Reality Check.” NACADA Journal, vol. 22, no. 2, 2002, pp. 39–49.

Yarbrough, David. “The Engagement Model for Effective Academic Advising with Undergraduate College Students and Student Organizations.” Journal of Humanisitic Counseling, Education and Development, vol. 41, Spring 2002, pp. 61–68.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Laurie A. Massery is an associate professor of Spanish at Randolph-Macon College. She received her PhD from the University of Florida, where she specialized in second language acquisition and Hispanic linguistics. Her areas of research include morphosyntactic variability among learners and the importance of listening in foreign language pedagogy.

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