A significant amount of research has been done to show that the student’s experience outside of the classroom can often times be just as significant towards his or her development as the time spent within the classroom. The advisor role offers professionals opportunities to facilitate student development outside of the classroom. Often students will point to their experience in a student organization as the most meaningful experience in their college career. With that in mind, it is important to note that the role of the advisor is a very important one. Information or assistance of any kind is always available to faculty or staff members seeking more resources on advising.

NIU's proud history as an institution of higher education has always included co-curricular activities that provide opportunities for students to develop their leadership skills. Co-curricular activities provide students with opportunities to practice the theories they learn in classroom, but also to develop additional skills needed to enter the work force. The advisor is an integral part of every campus student organization. As a member of the faculty or staff of the university, the primary function of the advisor is to actively advise, counsel, and serve as a resource for the student organization.

We host to over 300 different student organizations. Annually 60-65 organizations are recognized by and receive funding from the Student Association. This guide is designed to provide the advisor with concrete information on how to be a successful advisor. While advising an organization does require some additional time demands, the rewards gained by advising more than compensate for this.

The Definition of an Advisor
How the Advisor can assist the organization
General Advising Tips
Roles and Responsibilities of an Advisor

Advisor Training Programs

The real definition of an advisor floats somewhere between being a counselor, supervisor, educator, and mentor, in which no single label applies entirely to the role. An advisor is one who gives ideas, shares insight, provides a different perspective, and counsels. In general, advisors have three main functions:

  • Help with the growth and development of students.
  • Add to the continuity of the groups as members graduate.
  • Assist in the area of program content and purpose.

The staff within the Organization and Student Involvement Suite (OASIS) offer a variety of student organizational services to advisors. For more information about advisor training programs or other information related to student organizations please contact Alex Pitner at Additionally, OASIS houses a variety of printed materials that cover a wide range of topics including: meetings, icebreakers/team builders, communication skills, leadership styles, ethics, recruiting members, fundraising, problem solving, multicultural awareness, presentations and programming, publicity, stress management, volunteerism, training, delegation and conflict resolution.

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How the Advisor Can Assist the Organization

Maintenance Functions

The advisor can help maintain the existence of the student organization by providing continuity with past history and traditions. Such activities may include consulting on University policy, serving as a role model, arbitrating group conflicts, and keeping files on past organizational functions.

Group Growth Function

The advisor can improve the operation and effectiveness of the group and help it progress toward its goals. Such activities might include: teaching the techniques of good leadership and fellowship, coaching the officers in the principles of good organizational and administrative practice, developing self-discipline and responsibility among members, teaching the elements of effective group operation, developing plans and procedures for action, keeping the group focused on its goals, and stimulating or even initiating activities and programs.

Program Content Function

The advisor can question the educational rationale for the organization's existence and lead its members into activities that will contribute to their intellectual and social development. Such activities might include introducing new program ideas, helping group members practice skills and concepts learned in the classroom, pointing out new perspectives and directions, and supplying expert knowledge and insights.

Networking Opportunities

The advisor can help provide opportunities for organization members to interact with different people in their field of interest, helping them to develop new contacts for possible future careers. Such opportunities to network might include identifying guest speakers, field trips or site visits, or attending conferences related to their area of interest.

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General Advising Tips

Every student organization will differ and may require a different approach by the advisor. The following information can serve as a beginning point:

  • In the beginning of the advising relationship, agree on clear expectations about the role of the advisor and the role of the student organization. Discuss philosophies and reach a consensus.
  • Read the constitution of the group, get to know the members, attend events, and generally make yourself seen so that they know who you are.
  • Assist in the establishment of responsibilities for each officer and member.
  • Develop a strong relationship with the president or chairperson and other officers. This is key because these students will be your main contact with the group.
  • Discuss concerns with an officer’s performance in a one-on-one setting. Whenever someone does something extremely well, be sure to let others know.
  • Maintain a sense of humor—it’s college, not rocket science. Unless, of course, you are the advisor to the Rocket Science Club.
  • Be honest and open with all communication. The students need to feel that you are just in your dealings with them.
  • Realize that you have the power of persuasion, but use this judiciously. The students sometimes need to learn how to deal with failure.
  • Help them to see alternatives and provide an outside perspective.
  • Remember: praise in public, criticize in private.
  • Find a balance between being the strict naysayer and the laissez-faire friend. The students must feel that you are supportive of them and yet that you will hold them accountable for their actions.

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Advisor Roles and Responsibilities

Each organization must have an advisor who understands and agrees to the following responsibilities before the organization may be considered for recognition:

  • Meet regularly with executives of the organization to discuss goals, event planning, and other needs of the organization.
  • Act as fiscal advisor of the organization if receiving SA allocated funds and ensure expenditures are authorized in the SA’s budget allocation to the organization.
  • Ensure that the organization files appropriate recognition and registration paperwork annually, and that officer forms are updated whenever any changes occur.
  • Attend organization meetings when appropriate.
  • Work with executives of the organization to ensure that the organization is inclusive in its recruitment of members and selection of officers.
  • Act as a resource for members of the organization while directing them to appropriate university departments for assistance.
  • Ensure that actions of the organizations and its members are in accordance with the established policies and procedures of NIU and its respective departments.

Responsibilities to the Student Organization

  • The advisor should assist the group in developing realistic goals for the academic year. This will contribute to the educational and personal development of the students involved. The advisor must take an active role, rendering advice and counsel as circumstances dictate.
  • The advisor should be aware of all plans and activities of the group and inform the group that institutional policies may affect these plans. The advisor should see that the group and its officers know where policies are listed, what the policies are, why they exist, and the channels to be followed for changes, revisions, or exceptions to policies.
  • The advisor should discourage dominance of the group by any one individual and should encourage quieter students to take initiative. Eager leaders can steal the limelight more often than is necessary. This can lead to resentment by some or pressure others into silencing themselves. The advisor can help provide a balance by pointing out such concerns in a one-on-one setting with the students or the organization leadership.
  • The advisor may need to refer students to counseling. Invariably, during interaction with the group’s members, the advisor will encounter students with personal problems. The counseling role might require individual consultation on a personal level or referral to the student counseling service. Get more information about the Counseling and Consultation Services.
  • The advisor should provide continuity within the group and should be familiar with the group's history and constitution. Membership turnover in student organizations is high and often the only link with the immediate past is the advisor. The advisor can steer group members clear of mistakes and help them avoid the proverbial "reinventing of the wheel". Serving as the group's memory and continuity link, the advisor can help new officers build on history and develop long term plans for the future of the organization.
  • The advisor should offer ideas for projects and events. The advisor will perform their greatest service by providing opportunities for the students to exercise initiative and judgment and to enjoy a proper measure of autonomy in self-directed social, educational, recreational, cultural, and spiritual activities. He or she should not dominate the program planning process. However, advisors should ensure that the group understands a program’s complexity and has discussed and registered the event with the appropriate NIU staff. The advisor should remember that it is the task of the active members to operate the organization. Removing this responsibility from the members would deprive them of an important educational experience.
  • The advisor should assist the group in assessment. This includes evaluating individual programs as well as doing a complete evaluation at the end of the academic year. The advisor must be willing to give constructive criticism when necessary and offer words of praise for work well done.

Responsibilities to Individual Group Members

  • The advisor should help the students find a balance between their academics and their co-curricular activities. Student leaders often have the tendency to "burn the candle at both ends" and will overextend themselves if not held in check. The advisor has a unique opportunity to remind students of their academic obligations and personal needs.
  • The advisor should encourage each individual to participate in and plan group events. Some students fade into the background if not effectively encouraged. Being a member of a student group can provide students with valuable interpersonal and/or leadership skills, but these will not develop if the student is not involved.
  • The advisor should encourage students to accept responsibility for specific roles within the group. The advisor should help them realize the importance of these roles. From officer positions to committee members, each student should feel invested in and accountable for their specific role.

Responsibilities to the University

  • The advisor should work with the group, but not direct its activities. Although the advisor's role is not regulatory or disciplinary, the advisor has a responsibility to both the institution and the organization to keep their best interests in mind. At times, the advisor may need to remind the organization of institutional policies so that violations do not occur. The advisor may also work with the organization's officers to establish and maintain internal group standards and regulations for conduct.
  • Occasionally, an advisor can help an organization during an emergency. Although this type of intervention is rarely necessary, the advisor's good judgment can be the saving grace in the event of mishaps, internal conflict, or personal crisis. Assisting the group’s president as a spokesperson or serving as the main contact for the University can help in these cases.

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