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High school student speaks with academic advisor
Teaching Careers Updated November 14, 2017

Academic Advisor: Job Requirements and Salary Info

By Robbie Bruens October 4, 2012

High school student speaks with academic advisorBecoming an academic advisor means devoting your career to helping young people fulfill their potential. Few professions are more noble and necessary. Academic advising should appeal to anyone with a passion for helping people get the most out of their education.

High schools, community colleges and universities all over the country employ academic advisors to help their students make great life decisions about their education. And demand for qualified academic advisors is expected to rise as the number of people enrolling in higher education programs continues to increase each year.

Our guide will show what you need to know to become an academic advisor, including the required education, likely salary, professional outlook, and pros and cons of this career. Browse through the content or use the following links to jump to your desired destination:

At-a-glance
> Academic advisor job description
> Who makes good academic advisors?

Academic advising at the various levels
> High school academic advisors
> Community college academic advisors
> University-level academic advisors

Professional development
> Continuing education

Related careers
> Jobs beyond teaching

Best of the Web
> Sites and Twitter handles to follow

At a glance: academic advisors

High school Community college University
Education Bachelor’s; master’s preferred Bachelor’s; master’s preferred Master’s
Median salary $40,557 to $43,641 $40,000 $53,600
Job growth outlook +5% +6% +8%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistic, PayScale, Salary.com, HigherEdJobs.com 

To become an academic advisor, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree. It’s especially helpful to have a degree in a field highly relevant to the job, like education or counseling. Many employers want to hire people with an advanced degree in a field like education leadership.

The average annual salary for an academic advisor is from $40,000 to $55,000, although some earn more than $60,000. Advisors at major universities typically earn much higher salaries than their counterparts at community colleges and public high schools. Advisors also are eligible for benefits and all school holidays, and they often get an extended summer and holiday vacation.

Academic advisor job description

Academic advisors counsel students on what courses to take and the graduation requirements of their specific programs. They help students with career planning and coordinate orientations for new and transfer students. They also review placement and other standardized test scores, transcripts and course prerequisites to help determine whether a student is eligible to join certain programs or classes.

Academic advisors often are a main point of contact for students for a range of important subjects. The job frequently involves ensuring timely communications to students regarding:

  • Important dates and deadlines
  • Registration
  • Institutional policies and procedures
  • Course changes
  • Costs of tuition and instructional materials
  • Facilities maintenance
  • Schoolwide initiatives
  • Transfer requirements
  • State and federal mandates

Academic advisors usually maintain a schedule that allows students to drop in or make an appointment to discuss these important topics. In addition, academic advisors may refer students to specialized staff for such issues as psychological/emotional counseling, financial assistance and study-abroad programs.

Academic advisors often help with the logistics of evaluating and determining how credits will transfer between schools, performing and interpreting degree audits, and deciding academic probation challenges. They have to maintain accurate records of their work, including all interactions with students.

Academic advisors may serve as a liaison for the school, representing their employer to prospective students and fostering good relationships with other advisors, offices, colleges and departments. Advisors may attend conferences and other events to bring the school to the notice of parents and students. They may meet with prospective students to gauge their interests and abilities and to determine whether their institution would make a good match.

Who makes a good academic advisor?

Someone who is:

  • Highly intuitive and empathetic
  • Sociable and easy to talk to
  • Passionate about connecting with students
  • Patient and resourceful
  • Attentive to details
  • Service oriented
  • Able to laugh and have a sense of humor
  • Thoughtful about interacting with people from diverse backgrounds
  • Excellent at oral and written communication

Terrific interpersonal skills are the most crucial assets for academic advisors, since most of their duties require interacting with students, parents and other school employees. Successful advisors are highly organized, comfortable speaking to the public and equipped with basic teaching skills. A sense of humor is always a welcome attribute, as is the ability to be flexible.

Interested in becoming an academic advisor?

Academic advising at various levels

The road to becoming an academic advisor can depend on which type of working environment you decide to pursue: high school, community college or university.

High school academic advisors

High school academic advisors guide teen students to graduation and acceptance in an institution of higher learning and/or an employment program. They make sure students understand graduation requirements, help them develop resumes and share information on college majors and vocational programs.
Continue reading to learn more about academic advisers in high school

What high school academic advisors do

High school advisors generally work in a private office space and hold confidential meetings with students and parents.

The day-to-day duties include:

  • Meeting with students to design and achieve personalized academic goals
  • Meeting with parents and teachers to review goals and assess progress
  • Directing students toward enrichment opportunities (such as internships, college courses, summer camps and international exchange programs) based on their interests
  • Helping guide students through the college application process
  • Disseminating regular reminders about important dates and deadlines
  • Contacting parents of students with failing grades or other significant challenges to create action plans

Advisors should be prepared for students who drop by without an appointment. During both the beginning and end of the school year, high school academic advisors will be particularly busy, and often extend their office hours and work on weekends.

Educational and certification requirements

High school academic advisors are required to have a bachelor’s degree. Depending on where you work, further credentials or certification may be necessary. Many public school systems expect prospective advisors to have completed advanced-degree coursework.

The American School Counselor Association has a useful overview of job requirements organized by state. Depending on the school district, academic advisors may not be considered school counselors. In these cases, different requirements may apply.

Salary projections

The average annual salary for a high school academic advisor ranges from $40,000 to $54,000. Here are three estimates of what you might earn as an academic advisor:

  • PayScale.com: $40,557 (median)
  • Salary.com: $43,641 (median)
  • Glassdoor.com: $53,947 (average)

Pros and cons of being a high school academic advisor

As you consider becoming an academic advisor, take into account both the good and the bad that come with the job.

Pros

  • Work with young people who are often dynamic and enthusiastic
  • Help students find direction and focus, which can have an immediate and lifelong impact on their lives
  • Enjoy substantial time off for holidays and summer break

Cons

  • Students have many of the same questions every year
  • There can be lots of paperwork, and the organizational needs and sheer volume of students can be overwhelming
  • Salary may lag other jobs in the education field

Community college academic advisors

At the community college level, academic advising includes helping students find and enroll in the right classes, transfer to a university to complete their bachelor’s degree, or seek jobs and career opportunities. Community college academic advisors work with students of many age groups, from teenagers all the way to the middle aged and the retired.

Continue reading to learn more about community college academic advisors

Community college academic advisor job description

Community college advisors generally work at a central advising or counseling center, reporting to the dean or vice president of student affairs.

Day-to-day duties include:

  • Meeting with students during scheduled appointments and maintaining open office hours for drop-ins
  • Helping students determine their class schedules and time-management strategies
  • Informing students of degree requirements and the developmental coursework that will give them the skills needed to accomplish their goals
  • Staying abreast of the other things going on in their advisees’ lives because they may have a big impact on the student’s success in college
  • Referring students to supportive and helpful resources on and off campus
  • Helping students maximize the amount of credits that can be transferred to a four-year institution

Educational and certification requirements

Community college academic advisors are expected to earn a bachelor’s degree. Many come from student-development backgrounds, though some begin their careers as faculty. Most community colleges look for academic advisors with advanced degrees in a field related to their jobs. If the job includes a substantial counseling component, the advisor may be expected to have a background or certifications in a mental health-related specialty.

Salary projections

The average annual salary for a community college academic advisor is $40,000 to $55,000. HigherEdJobs.com estimates community college academic advisors earn an annual salary around $40,000, whereas Glassdoor.com estimates an annual salary in the $50,000 to $55,000 range.

Pros and cons of being a community college academic advisor

As you decide what kind of academic advisor you want to be, think about the advantages and disadvantages of working at the community college level.

Pros

  • Work with people who are diverse in all ways, including age, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic background
  • Help first-generation college students learn how to a succeed in unfamiliar system
  • Enjoy working in a learning-driven environment

Cons

  • The challenges of the job can be practical, tedious and repetitive
  • Most students don’t have time for abstract and philosophical discussions
  • Change can be slow at established institutions like community colleges

University academic advisors

People who become university academic advisors have a variety of options of where to work, from small private schools to large public universities. In addition to helping students choose the right courses and ultimately pick the right major, university academic advisors offer counseling on nearly every aspect of a student’s social and professional life.
Continue reading to learn more about community college academic advisors

University academic advisor job description

University-level academic advisors work in a range of settings depending on their employer. Some may work for an Academic Affairs office, while others may be assigned to a particular department (e.g., Math or History). And other university-level academic advisors work in the field, promoting the school and recruiting new students at various locations.

The day-to-day duties can include:

  • Helping students determine their class schedules and pick their majors
  • Supporting students in their research and thesis writing
  • Directing students toward programs relevant to their interests such as internships, study-abroad programs and graduate schools
  • Referring students to supportive and helpful resources both on and off campus

Educational and certification requirements

University-level academic advisors are expected to have both a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree in a field like education leadership.

Salary projections

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates university-level academic advisors earn roughly $53,660 per year. The BLS also projects an above-average growth rate for this job type.

Pros and cons of being a university academic advisor

Here are some things to keep in mind about becoming a university-level academic advisor.

Pros

  • Often flexible working hours
  • Opportunities to travel for work
  • Encouraged to innovate and create
  • Most generous compensation and benefits package of all academic advising positions
  • Intellectually stimulating work environment

Cons

  • Frequently have to deal with a large institutional bureaucracy
  • Freshmen often ask the same questions every year
  • Can be a struggle to bring the focus back to students when many professors concentrate mainly on their research

Professional development for academic advisors

Many academic advisors continue to take courses throughout their careers to improve their skills and keep their knowledge up-to-date. NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising offers professional development, including annual conferences, awards, scholarships, grants, online courses, e-tutorials and an emerging-leaders program.

Benefits of continuing education

Educational requirements for academic advisors vary widely. A few institutions require only a bachelor’s degree, while many universities insist that job candidates hold a master’s degree. Many job openings do not stipulate a particular degree discipline, but do require the candidate to have prior advising experience.

A few academic areas prepare people particularly well to become academic advisors. People with degrees in disciplines like psychology, counseling, social work, marketing, student development, higher education leadership and career development tend to find many academic advisor positions are open to them.

Most highly desirable positions also require three to four years of advising experience. Students are encouraged to seek work in the admissions or advising office of their college while completing their education. Doing so can provide valuable on-the-job experience that can help them obtain their first post-graduation job as an academic advisor.

Academic advisors with a master’s degree have a greater chance for promotions and an increase in salary. Indeed, many more employment opportunities await academic advisors who have master’s degrees.

Jobs available to academic advisors beyond advising

With additional education or certification, academic advisors may become teachers, librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals or an educational administrator at a college or university.

Teacher: Academic advisors can easily become teachers if they obtain the proper credentials and have a strong educational background in the subject they plan to teach. A bachelor’s degree is required, although a master’s is preferred.

Librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment. Some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.

Instructional coordinator: Academic advisors are well-positioned to become instructional coordinators. Instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree related to education or curriculum and instruction, and they may be required to have a teaching or education administrator license.

School principal: A master’s degree in education leadership is excellent preparation to become a school principal. Academic advisors wishing to become a school principal should seriously consider obtaining such a degree. Most states also require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators.

Education administrator: Depending upon the position, either a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required. For a higher-level position such as dean or president, a master’s degree in educational leadership may be a requirement.

Best of the Web: our favorite academic advisor blogs, websites and Twitter handles

The Web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent academic advisors. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.

Favorite academic advisor websites and blogs

Favorite academic advisor Twitter handles

Learn More: Click to view related resources.
  • "School and Career Counselors," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, School and Career Counselors

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