How to Choose the Right Graduate Advisor

Jessica Shaffer
Jessica Shaffer
5th Grade Teacher; MA in Administration and Leadership, Georgian Court University, NJ

Graduate school presents students with a significant number of stressors. Besides the papers, assessments, discussion boards, research, and portfolio projects, you have to be a functioning family member and member of society as well. Your job will have the same expectations and you will have all the same obligations, but with schoolwork, and at that, difficult school work, on top of it. Knowing how to find an advisor for graduate school can be one way to make your life less stressful.

Before I start into this topic, it should first be known that choosing your graduate advisor is not always an option. I went to graduate school and was a part of a first-year hybrid program. There were about one hundred forty people in this program broken into various cohorts. The university did not give us the option to choose our graduate advisor, but assigned one to us based on our locations in the state. The university had a mix of professors from the university, as well as adjunct professors assigned to the students. All the advisors were qualified, and the adjunct professors were all administrators in education in various districts, but the experiences for the students were varied. When you are given the ability to choose your grad school advisor, this is a choice that should not be taken lightly, as it can make or break your experience.

Find an Expert in Your Interests

A graduate school advisor that is an expert in your interests is vital to your success. The advisor will understand the challenges in their field of expertise and be able to give you tools to organize your time, organize where your efforts need to focus, and most of all, give you tips to feel less stress. So much of one’s success in graduate school is being able to prioritize wisely and have good time management skills, and a graduate advisor should not just tell, but show you how to accomplish this. A situation may present itself that you feel urgent and important, but your graduate advisor may be able to show you why this situation is not urgent and doesn’t need to have an immediate solution.

Ensure They have Time

Many of us are guilty of taking on more than we can handle. Graduate advisors are not immune to this. Make sure the person you ask to be your graduate advisor has the time to dedicate to you. As you progress through your program and internship, you will have many questions and often. You want to have an advisor that has the ability to get back to you promptly, and you do not want to feel you are “bothering” your advisor when you need to reach out. Feeling uncomfortable or annoying to your graduate advisor can certainly have adverse effects on your experience and could potentially turn you off to a career in that field. Your graduate advisor is really your “window” into that particular career path, so this experience will really impact your viewpoint.

What’s Their Reputation?

Having a graduate advisor with a good reputation is important. You want a well-respected member of his/her field. You want someone who gives you a great feeling about the journey you are embarking on. Having someone that is trustworthy, confident, and knowledgeable, as well as understanding and motivational, is important to your success. Through this experience with your advisor, you will get to network with many different people in the field, and you can gain so much knowledge from not just your advisor, but from his/her circle. You may make connections that you could potentially help you obtain a job in the future. The possibilities are really endless.

Do They Understand your Career Path?

As mentioned above, finding an advisor for grad school that understands your career path is important. You may have long and short-term goals, so it is important to be clear with your advisor about what your goals are. For example, I completed my graduate degree in Educational Administration and Leadership. I do not have a short-term goal of becoming an administrator in a school, but I also did not want to attend graduate school when I got older. I wanted to have it completed, so I have an option of a vertical career move when I feel ready to make a change.

There are many people that attend graduate school and apply for jobs right out of the gate, and if this is your main objective, it needs to be made clear to your advisor. Your advisor may have connections within the field and be able to get you interviews and help you network.

Ask Lots of Questions

It is important to get to know your advisor before you mutually decide on this working relationship. You want to ask your advisor many different questions such as about their credentials, completion rates, and management styles. You want to make sure this is your “best fit”. A graduate advisor has the ability to make or break your experience, so again, when given the option to choose your own, make sure it is an educated and informed one.

This is not to scare you if you are not afforded the opportunity to choose your own advisor. Graduate advisors will always be qualified to lead you, but you may have a personality clash when you do not get to choose. Looking at the real-life perspective on this, it is just that. You do not always get to choose your boss in real life or the people you work with, so this will help prepare you for the real world.

As John Maxwell said, “Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” Your graduate advisor has the ability to empower you and give you the confidence, knowledge, and skills necessary to succeed!

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