Roles of an Advisor

Each advisor perceives his/her relation to a registered student organization differently. Some advisors play active roles by attending meetings, working with student officers, and assisting in program planning and development. Others maintain a more distant relationship to the organization. No matter your style, keeping some regular contact with the organization is needed. An advisor accepts responsibility for remaining informed about the organization’s activities and advising officers on the appropriateness and general merits of policies. Students, not advisors, are responsible for the actions or policies of organizations. Advisors should be accessible, show interest, and provide whatever counsel an organization or its members might seek.

Given the myriad of purposes, activities, and objectives of various organizations, the advisor’s role will vary in some degree between organizations. As organizations vary in expectations and needs, it is important that you, as an advisor, develop an understanding to the nature of your involvement with the organization. The advisor and organization should agree on a set of expectations from the onset and should write this list down as a contract.

An advisor wears many hats while working with an organization. The different roles include: Mentor, Team Builder, Conflict Mediator, Reflective Agent, Educator, Motivator, and Policy Interpreter.


Many students will come to see their advisor as a mentor. The success of these relationships can last many years and be rewarding for both the student and the advisor. If the student is seeking an education and a career in your field, he/she may ask for your advice in professional development. To be effective, you will need knowledge of his/her academic program and profession, genuine interest in the personal and professional development, and willingness to connect the student to a network of professionals. You may be approached to review résumés, to connect students with community resources, or to be a sounding board for ideas of what they want to accomplish in the field.

At times students will seek out someone to assist with their personal development. In this capacity, a mentor must have a basic understanding of student needs and perspectives, a desire to challenge students intellectually and emotionally while supporting them to meet the challenge, and the ability to listen to students’ verbal and nonverbal communication. Students may want to talk about family or relationship issues, conflicts they have with other students, or have conversations about their ideas and thoughts on different subjects.

Team Builder

When new officers are elected or new members join the organization, you may need to help the students develop from individuals with separate goals and expectations into a team. Team building enhances the students’ relationships between one another and the advisor. Positive relationships help the organization succeed and work through conflicts and difficult times.

To accomplish the goal of creating an effective team, it is necessary to conduct a workshop to engage students. If you and the students have time, plan a full-scale retreat encompassing team building and goal-setting activities. As the advisor, you may develop a plan with the student officers and brainstorm ways to implement it. Training students in effective team building techniques will keep students invested in the organization and give them the opportunity to learn how to build a team.

Conflict Mediator

Inevitably, students are going to join the organization with different agendas, goals and ideas about how things should function and the direction they should take. When working with students who have come into conflict, meet with them and have them discuss their issues with each other. In many cases, remind them they both want the best for the organization. Ask them how they can work together, point out the organization’s mission, and ask how their conduct is helping the organization achieve its mission.

Sometimes one student may be causing problems with other students. In many cases, this student may not realize that his/her actions are causing a problem. Speak with the student individually. Chances are no one has met with the student previously and discussed how his/her attitudes or actions can be changed to make everyone feel better. In many cases, the student will appreciate honest feedback.

Reflective Agent

One of the most essential components to learning in “out of classroom” activities is providing time for students to reflect on how and what they are doing. As an advisor, you want your officers to talk to you about their performance, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Give them the opportunity to discuss their thoughts on their performance and then be honest with them. Tell them when you agree with their self-perceptions and also let them know when you disagree. Any criticism you provide students should be constructive, and you want to provide concrete examples of actions the student took that contradict their self-perceptions. When students discuss their weaknesses, ask them how they can improve those areas and how you can help them. Students usually have the answer to what they need; they just do not like to ask for help. Remember to have students reflect on their successes and failures.


As an advisor, your role of educator will come through the role modeling of behavior, guiding the student in reflection of their actions, and answering questions. One of the most difficult actions as an advisor is to do nothing, but sometimes this can be the most important action of all. Allow the students to make decisions even if the decisions do not agree with your ideas. Sometimes, students will succeed and, other times, they may fail. The key is to play the role of reflective agent and give students a safe place to reflect on their experiences.


As an advisor, you need to motivate students to excel and to carry out their plans and achieve their goals. Some students are easily discouraged and at the first sign of difficulty they may want to quit. You need to be their cheerleader and keep them excited about the potential success they will experience. You can motivate students through recognition of their efforts, appeal to their desire to create change, and connect their experiences here at the university to the experiences they will have in the community.

Policy Interpreter

Registered student organizations operate under policies, procedures, and rules. Students may not be aware of these policies, and they will do things in an inappropriate manner. The more you know about these policies, the better advice you can give to the students on their plans.

As an advisor you will assume numerous roles, including some not mentioned here. A key idea to remember is you are an advisor and not a leader. You will provide guidance, insight, and perspective to students as they work on projects, but you should not do the work. Students will learn if they are engaged. Be careful of being challenged into doing the work for a student project. The students make the decisions, are accountable for those decisions, and experience the successes and failures of the organization.

Adopted from ACPA Advisor Manual, 5/2011