By Joyce Kim
on January 25, 2020
When I tell people about the advising half of my work, I usually give a one-liner along the lines of, “I advise students about financial aid and college affordability, but it’s virtual so I’m mostly texting them.” This tends to receive many raised eyebrows, which only raise higher when I go on to explain that I have hundreds of students in my caseload. At uAspire, all of our advisors incorporate texting into their work, regardless of whether they are working with students primarily in-person or virtually. Though it’s a new concept to some people, it’s a valuable tool, particularly when paired with data that helps us interact with students at a more personal level despite the scale at which we text and advise.
I still remember our program launch last fall, during my first few months in the fellowship and at uAspire; despite the fact I was exiting a month-long training bootcamp, I didn’t know what to expect and felt overwhelmed as the texts started to pour in. I soon discovered that I would continue learning on the job. The truth is, customization is a necessary part of work in order to provide students with relevant information to their situation, and we are navigating a constantly evolving environment. Each advisor’s experience varies depending on the particular schools in their caseload (4yr, 2yr, private, public, in-state, out-of-state, etc.) and the special circumstances of individual students.
My first year advising, I followed the guidance of the more veteran advisors on my team because I didn’t have a full picture of what to expect at certain points of the year, tendencies of different university financial aid offices, or tips for navigating tricky situations. This year, I have been able to plan ahead and much more strategically; I think about which deadlines I should be aware of, offer feedback on what worked and didn’t work from our messages the previous year, and can anticipate busier and slower seasons for myself. I’ve also built stronger relationships with several students, especially if this is the second year we have worked together. An important part of my role as a virtual advisor is that it actually goes far beyond just texting. Though I primarily work with students over text, I also call and video call with them over Google Hangouts, and many visit our office in downtown office for in-person meetings. I’m also able to visit schools in the area where I have larger groups of students, such as Quincy College or Salem State University. It’s a fun mix of different ways of engaging that allows me to meet students where they are -- both literally and figuratively -- and helps both ends put a face to the name.
There is a spectrum of engagement among students, from students who never engage to those who will exchange hundreds of messages and schedule multiple in-person meetings. The flexibility within our program both allows and requires me to adapt to each situation. I am also able to see growth and learning as students begin to take greater autonomy over their financial aid process and advocate for themselves, because ultimately, my role is to provide them with the knowledge to make informed decisions. There is a lot wrapped up in virtual advising that keeps this work engaging and personal, and I’m excited to see how it will continue to evolve as we consider how to best support and connect with our students!
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