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Tips for Advising Returning & Older Adult Students

Tips for Advisors:

  • Confirm student goals. Provide students with a questionnaire that helps them reveal the goals they hope to achieve. Let their answers establish a road map for helping these students effectively meet their goals. Effective advisors garner a sense of students’ overall histories and why now is the time a particular non-traditional student has chosen to enroll.
  • Help students discover their strengths. Ask questions that will help students realize how their real-world knowledge, skills, and talents will assist them in achieving their academic goals. Provide needed insight (e.g., time commitment for an online course) to help these students better manage their varied responsibilities.
  • Determine the support needed to help students achieve their goals. Many factors determine an appropriate course load and students’ abilities to engage in their educational experience. How familiar are students with the higher education environment and its expectations? Do students understand the academic preparation (e.g., type of degree, time to degree, licensure, or specialized skills) necessary to achieve their career goals? Do students need childcare to attend class? Know available support services, both on campus and within the community that can help students meet their goals.
  • Demystify college jargon. Each college has terms and acronyms that new students, especially non-traditional students, may find intimidating. Provide new students with a glossary of terms to help them acclimate to the institution.
  • Touch base frequently. Keeping up with advisees can be a challenging task, so find ways to make it more pleasurable for both advisor and student. Instead of meeting in the office, why not meet up for lunch at the campus cafeteria or meet for a cup of coffee?
  • Form a non-traditional student network. Introduce mothers to mothers, fathers to fathers, full-time working students to other working students. This can help non-traditional students feel more at home in the higher education setting.
  • Sponsor family events. Incorporate children and spouses into activities to help keep non-traditional students engaged. A family cookout at a park can make students feel like an advisor is interested in both their academic and personal lives. Note: some institutions require that a liability form be completed by each participant to lessen institutional liability.
  • Help students understand the cultural norms within the college.  Make sure these learners understand their roles in communication, social, and professional contacts with peers, faculty, and staff. Students used to being in charge may need a reminder that academic staff work with them, not for them.
  • Feel comfortable with student interactions. Advisors should feel confident about working with students who may possess career competencies and life experiences far more extensive than their own. These students may be comfortable in challenging what they hear; advisors should be professional as they share the reasons certain policies and procedures exist.

Articles for Advisors:


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Career Center
Indiana State University
231 North 6th Walkway
Terre Haute, IN. 47809
(812) 237-5000
(812) 237-4392 (fax)