Advising Students Out – January 27, 2012

Date: Friday January 27, 2012

Presenter: Theresa Waters, Academic Advisor, Civil and Construction Engineering


Advising out often come when students have either not fully understood or not accepted the academic or physical requirements of a career, or when their chosen career requires admission into a selective program for which they do not meet the requirements.

It is often up to the advisor to recognize the disconnect and help students understand and work through their situation.

Two different advising styles (practical and developmental) are considered with examples of interaction at each of the 5 stages in the “DECAF” model for delivery of ‘bad news’.  The DECAF model is adapted from “Breaking Bad News”, an April 2010 NACADA webcast by Rodriguez and Kolls.

This presentation considers advising out of a major from the perspective of delivering potentially devastating news to students that may result in genuine grief.    Students who are forced out or who must leave a poor-fit major may exhibit the stages of grief:  shock/anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  The article by Monica Lauer Farrell (see references below) gives excellent examples of the behaviors you may see as an advisor.

The advising model used has more to do with where the student is in their development than the advisor’s preference.

The steps are:

1.  Decide what/how/where/when you will communicate – (preparing for the appointment)

2.  Emotional Development of student – start where they are and try to move forward

3.  Connections – what are the real/perceived connections the student has?  How may these connections be impacted by a change of major?  What alternate paths to connections are availeble?  (Think on and off campus.)

4.  Active Listening – especially for students working through the stages of grief, being an active listener who is engaged, paying attention to non-verbals cues and continuously self-monitoring is important.   Reflecting back and supportive confrontation of incongruous statements can help the student identify ‘the real problem’.  Listening and reflecting is more valuable than ‘advice’ at this point.

5.  Follow-up – will vary greatly depending on the student’s emotional development.

Advisors can decide at each step whether a more practical or developmental approach will be most effective for the student.  In general, developmental advising will move toward student self-advocacy and guiding students through reflective questions or experiences while practical advising will focus on to-do lists and action steps will be more advisor driven.   Not all students are ready for a developmental approach when faced with such a life-changing decision.

Materials available:

Helping students let go (PowerPoint, transcription in Notes section)

Advising out of a major handout


Farell, Monica.  “When Students Get Bad News: How Understanding the Grieving Process Can Help Advisers Handle Difficult Situations.” The Mentor.  August 6, 2001, by Penn State’s Division of Undergraduate Studies.

Kent, Nicole.  “Reality Check: Advising Students Out of a Major” NACADA Pre-conference 2009.

Reynolds, Maura.  “Now What?”  NACADA Clearinghouse:

Rodriguez, Jose and Kolls, Susan. “Breaking Bad News: Delivery Techniques that Help Students Make Good Alternative Choices.”  NACADA Webinar Series. 8 April 2010.