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Ethical Academic Advising: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

December 2, 2013

Amy PelakAs an Academic Advisor at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, I often encounter situations that test my ethical framework. For example, what criteria determine if an exception to a policy is appropriate, how should I approach a colleague whom I suspect is misinforming students, and what is the best way to advise a student who is unlikely to be retained? Knowing that conversations with other advisors have often helped me to deal with these types of issues, I decided to submit a proposal on ethics in advising to the 2013 NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) Annual Conference and was invited to present Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Serving our Students and our Institutions.

Recommended Ethical Advising Actions: The suggestions below reflect best practices for ethical advising that can help limit ethical issues and ensure that advisors have appropriately managed any questionable situation.  These suggestions are rooted in the NACADA core values and the CAS standards for academic advising.

  • Document advising interactions: As enrollment grows, student caseloads also increase. Keeping brief but detailed notes can help advisors to stay on top of advising issues and to ensure that the appropriate information goes to the right student. Documentation can also play a key role for students who need to submit appeals to policies or, in extreme cases, if legal action is taken against the University.

 by Amy Pelak

  • Investigate & provide options to students: When a student poses a new question or concern, the advisor may not be aware of all the options the student has to consider. Rather than making an assumption or giving incomplete information, ask other advisors who may have dealt with a similar issue, seek advice from other campus resources, and do your best to help the student make a well-informed decision.


  • Follow up with students after a referral: Advisors can’t handle every issue that comes up, so it is essential that we provide referrals to the appropriate campus resources. However, as advisors, we should also follow up after the referral to make sure the student received the information he/she needed. This helps to develop our relationships with the student and makes us a trusted connection at the University.


  • Be an advocate & teach students how to self-advocate: Doing the above will also help students learn more about resources available and help them understand how to advocate for themselves.


  • Help to correct advisor errors: If you learn that another advisor is giving students outdated or inaccurate information, politely approach them with the correct information. Policies are subject to change, and it can be hard to keep track of all of them. Help each other out by correcting any erroneous messages you hear/receive.


  • Follow established and up-to-date policies: Attend meetings and review email announcements to make sure that you stay well informed on current policies and procedures. This will help to ensure that you are providing students with the correct information to keep them on track.


  • Contribute to the creation & revision of policies: If you find that you are consistently making exceptions to a certain policy, it might be time to revise the policy or create a new one. Speak with your manager about a revision or suggestion that could make the policy more student-friendly and less prone to exceptions.


  • Provide clear, accurate, and neutral information to students: Listen to students’ concerns, provide them with their options, and allow them to make their own decisions. This can be one of the most difficult tasks as an advisor, especially if we have a strong personal feeling about an issue or we anticipate the student making a decision other than what we would hope. However, it is important that our students learn to make choices, and that we stay within our boundaries in the advising process.


As advisors, part of our purpose is to help retain students and by consistently following the suggestions above, we can do our part to ensure that we are supporting our students while being good stewards of the University.