Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Creating Effective Advising Notes

It is important that advisors keep accurate, effective notes pertaining to students. Effective notes allow advisors to easily recall the nature of their discussions and interactions with students, as well as actions taken on behalf of students. 

Effective, timely notes also help personnel throughout the university understand the history of communications with students as well as the nature of assistance provided to students. 

In a recent article published by Academic Impressions, I discuss chronological, summary, and process notes (Reamer, 2005). While each type of note has value, I encourage advisors to regularly make process notes that clearly document the nature of the interaction as well as the delivery of service to students. Let’s take a look at each type of note and how they can be improved. 

Chronological Notes: 

These types of notes are useful for quick documentation of an event. Examples:

  • Returned student’s call. Left message.
  • Student missed scheduled appointment.
  • Sent link to commencement information.
  • Mailed academic standing letter.
As you can see, we can’t determine much from these notations. Was there any other delivery of service? What is the academic standing? Is the student eligible for commencement? 

Summary Notes: 

These types of notes add context to chronological notes and summarize the nature of the interaction /communication. Examples: 

  • Returned student’s call. Left message regarding withdrawal deadline.
  • Student inquired about participating in commencement. Discussed deadlines and criteria for eligibility.
  • Informed student she is on academic warning. Provided information about academic standing and impact on financial aid.
While summary notes provide a little more information than chronological notes, there are still questions that remain. Did you leave the correct withdrawal deadline? Is the student eligible for commencement? Was there any advising pertaining to the student’s academic standing? 

Process Notes: 

These types of notes capture the nature of the interaction with the student, and most comprehensively document the delivery of service (advising). Process notes can most effectively protect advisors and the institution from the claim that “no one told me,” or “I didn’t know.” Examples: 

  • Returned student’s call regarding desire to withdraw from math class. Left message and informed student the withdrawal deadline is April 11. Invited in for advising session. Sent follow up email with links to financial aid and academic standing. Suggested student contact me prior to withdrawing to discuss options.
  • Student called to discuss her academic standing. Confirmed for student that she is on academic warning, and explained that she must obtain a 2.0 during the spring semester in order to get back in good standing. Discussed reasons for academic difficulty. Student stated that her mother had surgery during the semester, and had to fly home for several weeks. Student stated that she could not catch up, but that she did not contact professor. Suggested that she keep in close contact with faculty member and advisor if she experiences future challenges. Developed academic plan which includes repeating ENG 101 in the spring. Provided student information about financial aid’s satisfactory academic progress (SAP).

  • Student came in to discuss commencement. Reviewed record and informed student that, upon successful completion of current semester’s coursework, she will be eligible to participate. Informed student that she will receive an invitation to commencement in April that she will need to RSVP to. Asked her to contact me if she does not receive the invitation. Checked record and informed student that she has not applied for her degree; provided instructions on how to do so and encouraged her to apply ASAP. Instructed student to let me know when her last grade is posted so that I can expedite degree conferral.

As you make notes in students’ files, make sure to use objective language and accurately document the content of the advising session. 


Reamer, F. G. (2005). Documentation in social work: Evolving ethical and risk-management standards. Social Work, 50(4), 325-334.


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