Advising Diverse Students

First Generation Students

First generation students, with their unique needs and expectations, make up a growing population of students on today's campuses. Often these students have little family support or guidance, and, in some cases, their attendance is resented by those closest to them. For the support needed to succeed in college, many first generation college students turn to their academic advisors, not just for academic advice, but for the guidance considered necessary to navigate day-to-day campus life. Questions from a first generation student can take a lot of an advisor's time during the student's initial college terms. However, as the months progress, the first-generation student will depend on the advisor less. The relationship the advisor has built with these students will allow the student to feel more at home on the campus and be better equipped to deal with the stresses of being the first in their family to obtain a degree in higher education.

First Year Students

One of the most important things we are trying to teach students as they make the adjustment from high school to college is active and independent thinking. Students often turn to advisors in their first year for answers, much as they may have turned to their parents for direction or discipline. Rather than act as parent to advisees, the role of the advisor is to ask critical questions that can help the student gain the skills she needs to make appropriate academic choices and then to take responsibility for those choices.

It is helpful to acknowledge some of the adjustments most first-year students’ experience. Offering them the opportunity to share their concerns is the first step toward helping them recognize the transition they must make. The following are typical concerns voiced by first-year students, and are helpful to keep in mind when advising:

  • Did UNC Asheville make a mistake when they let me in?
  • I'm not doing well in a course and I'm embarrassed to see the instructor outside of class.
  • My parents are paying my tuition; how should I respond to the pressure I feel to pursue the courses they have selected for me?
  • Should I know now what my major will be and what I want to do when I graduate?
  • I'm overwhelmed by the range of choices, and feel incapable of making any decision. I've never been on my own or studied without my parents telling me to study. How can I structure all of this "free," unscheduled time?
  • My homesickness is beyond anything I had anticipated. How can I cope with this?
  • I'm worried about adapting to residential hall living. Where can I go if things go wrong?
  • I was a high school superstar, and now I am only another struggling first-year student. I'm sure to fail for the first time in my life.

Read more about advising First Year students.

Transfer Students

UNC Asheville typically enrolls between 200-300 new transfer students a semester. UNC Asheville has established transfer articulation agreements with numerous North Carolina community colleges. Advising transfer students can present many challenges. The students may be either ahead or behind in course sequences compared to the UNC Asheville students in their class. While transfer students bring some higher education experience with them, they are new to UNC Asheville. They are, in a sense, an anomaly in that they are first-year students with some experience in higher education. They should be advised about strategies of how to schedule their work. In addition, they need to be planning their projects at the same time they are adjusting to a new college. These students will most likely have to plan the "big picture" of their academic program and may require more of your assistance. While many transfer students believe they already know what to expect, they actually may experience “transfer shock”. This shock can put their adjustment, performance and retention at risk. Advisors must recognize this shock and develop ways to help the transfer students in their transition. 

  • Take time to assess past academic experiences
  • Look beyond their coursework
  • May have been a “unplanned transfer”

International Students

All new students can experience feelings of loneliness and homesickness during the first days at UNC Asheville. But for international students the emotional discomfort that comes as a result of separation is exacerbated by the cultural adjustment. International students have special and increased transition needs.  Language, food, social behavior, nonverbal communication, and academic expectations are but a few of the challenges which international students face as they make their adjustment to UNC Asheville.

The challenge in advising international students is to understand that they have common concerns both socially and academically, but at the same time, each international student has his or her own specific questions and concerns. UNC Asheville’s international student advisor advises international students on a wide range of topics that include immigration matters, social and cultural differences, financial matters and personal concerns. The international student advisor (Robert Straub) is also available to assist you as an academic advisor if you have questions or concerns pertaining to an international advisee.

LGBT Students

As an advisor, you play a pivotal role in helping promote a campus environment that appreciates the plurality and diverse experiences that our students contribute to UNC Asheville. Nevertheless, personal ideals, assumptions and stereotypes shape our perception of reality. Whenever our perception is based upon personal bias and/or inaccurate information, the consequences can be detrimental. As such, it's important for us to be aware of personal and cultural perceptions that might limit us from appropriately responding to the needs of students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Not all LGBT students have revealed their identities with their families, friends, peers, classmates, roommate(s), and instructors. With this in mind, if a student shares this information with you, do not make the assumption that this information is public knowledge. Trust and confidentiality are extremely important in any advising relationship, and are critical support mechanisms that we can provide our LGBT students. Some other important supports that you can provide include:

  • Utilize inclusive language, such as 'significant other' or 'partner' instead of 'boyfriend'/'girlfriend.'  This helps demonstrate your awareness and attempt to not make assumptions about the nature of relationships.
  • Promote equal treatment. LGBT students need and want to be treated like a UNC Asheville student. Well-intentioned attempts to provide special treatment that is not available to other students may inadvertently promote feelings of isolation.
  • Promote campus resources, such as UNC Asheville Alliance, the Intercultural Center, and the Counseling Center. 

To increase your knowledge about how to support LGBT students, UNC Asheville provides the Safe Zone Program. In addition to promoting sensitivity and understanding for students, this program promotes educational resources for the development of safe, supportive spaces throughout our campus community. Please consult with the Safe Zone Program Coordinator in the Intercultural Center if you have questions or would like to receive additional information about how to support, advise and refer students.

For more information about supporting and advising LGBT students, visit

Multicultural Students

Our university is committed to fostering a campus culture that welcomes and appreciates diversity amongst its community. However, we should recognize that diversity and multiculturalism is not defined solely within the parameters of race and ethnicity. Other factors, such as age, religious affiliation, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and gender also lend to students' identity and perception of the world around them. As such, we need to be aware of our own assumptions, as well as prescribed stereotypes, that may lead to an overgeneralization of students who have different experiences from our own.

Instead of focusing on the behavioral characteristics that highlight the difference amongst specific populations, the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) recommends focusing on the intent associated with such behaviors. For instance, sustained eye contact may be perceived as a sign of respect and acknowledgement in some cultures, whereas in others, it is viewed as disrespectful or threatening.

Sensitivity towards cultural orientations regarding time, space, reasoning, communication, interpersonal relationships and role expectations can help ensure that you response in a supportive, appropriate manner to a student who may have significantly different life experiences from you.

Student Athletes

NCAA Quick Facts for Advising Student Athletes

In addition to making sure your advisees are progressing towards degree completion, there are special requirements that must also be addressed when advising a student athlete. Below are a few friendly reminders to help you make sure you are fully aware of all the requirements set forth by the NCAA.

  • All student-athletes should enroll in no less than 15 hours, unless they are in their final semester prior to graduation.
  • In order to be eligible, the NCAA requires that all student-athletes be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credit hours. If a student-athlete falls below 12 hours, they are immediately ineligible for practice and/or competition.
  • Student-Athletes must pass at least 6 hours each semester and 18 hours each academic year in order to remain eligible. Hours taken during the summer may not be used to meet the required 18.
  • All student-athletes must designate (declare) a major prior to the start of their fifth semester. We encourage all student-athletes who will be entering their fifth semester (third year) to declare their major prior to the summer break.
  • All student-athletes should provide their advisors with a copy of their competition schedule for the upcoming semester.
  • Most coaches utilize the afternoon and evening hours for practice and competition, therefore student-athletes should try and schedule classes during the morning and early afternoon hours.

Prior to 3rd Semester: (2nd Year)

Total Hours Earned=24
NCAA Minimum GPA=1.8

Prior to 5th Semester: (3rd Year)

Total Hours Earned=48 toward designated degree
NCAA Minimum GPA=1.9

Prior to 7th Semester: (4th Year)

Total Hours Earned=72 toward designated degree
NCAA Minimum GPA=2.0

Prior to 9th Semester: (5th Year)

Total Hours Earned=96 toward designated degree
NCAA Minimum GPA=2.0

Non-traditional Students

When one thinks of a traditional college, a typical residential student body comes to mind. The traditional campus is a place where a majority of students are 18 to 22 years old, full-time undergraduates, and live on campus. However, the student population at UNC Asheville is anything but traditional; e.g., the average age of our student body is in the mid-twenties and most students commute rather than live on campus. Many returning students are coping with balancing academics and responsibilities such as single parenting, mortgage payments, and other family obligations. Additionally, an older student may lack confidence in their ability as a student and need more encouragement. Being aware of the demographics of our student population is important and essential for effective advising.

Students with Disabilities

 As an Academic advisor, you will interact with many students who have disabilities. These may include attention deficit disorder, chronic medical conditions, hearing impairments, learning disabilities, mobility impairments, physical impairments, psychiatric disabilities, substance abuse disorder, or vision impairments. Increasingly, students arriving at UNC Asheville identify with a number of these disabilities. Some students will identify early on in your advisory relationship while others may never share this information with you.

If they share this information with you, it may be helpful if you encourage them to talk openly about their experiences involving their disability if they feel comfortable. Initiate conversations about their strengths, challenges, interests, and goals. A good place to start is to ask the student, “What are you good at? What gets in your way?” Keep a positive perspective on the disability. Try not to assume that they need assistance around their disability; ask them what they think they may need from you, from the academic setting, from the University.

UNC Asheville offers services on an individual basis to students with disabilities. You can encourage them to meet with the appropriate support person to explore more fully how the University could support them in their goals. You can refer students to the Office of Academic Accessibility as appropriate.

The Director of the Office of Academic Accessibility will work with the student to register under the Americans with Disabilities Act and thus be eligible to receive support and reasonable accommodations. It is the student’s responsibility to seek out support and academic accommodations but encouragement from you may move them towards connecting with our support services.

The University's guiding philosophy regarding the provision of accommodations is that they serve as a bridge which enables a student to fully engage in the college experience. These accommodations should be empowering, and the overriding goal is to create an opportunity for greater independence, responsibility, and self-sufficiency. Many times, the academic advisor and the Director of the Office of Academic Accessibility act as a team in assisting the student.

  • Balance Course Work so that challenges won’t be overwhelming (i.e. if reading is a major problem, advise the student away from more than one or two heavy reading courses.)
  • Identify Learning Strengths and help students match them to faculty with teaching styles consistent with those strengths.
  • Be Alert to Self-Selection away from specific course work like foreign languages or math because of past failures. This may be indicative of problems down the road in meeting the degree requirements. Encourage the student to connect with the Disability Services Coordinator to help plan distribution requirements or explore academic accommodation options.
  • Check the Organization of her notebooks and explore issues around time management. Time and how the student uses it may be an important factor in her success here. She may need more directive assistance in setting up goals and establishing a program of time management.
  • Stay in Contact with them. Even brief check-ins can help solidify your relationship with the student and catch problems before they turn into crisis.