Advising Honors Students within the Appreciative Advising Framework

Melissa Braunstein
University of South Carolina

Volume: 11
Article first published online: March 4, 2009
DOI: 10.26209/MJ1161494

Keywords: advising, academic advising, adviser, advisor, appreciative advising, honors students, high-achieving students, scholars

Editor's note: This is the ninth in a series of articles written by students who were enrolled in Jennifer Bloom's graduate class in student affairs administration at the University of South Carolina for the fall 2008 semester. As part of her course syllabus, Dr. Bloom required each student in her class to submit an article to The Mentor or other publications for consideration.

As a subpopulation, honors students are often ignored by academic advisers, because they are not perceived to be at risk (Robinson, 1997). While these students are often academic high achievers, they present their own set of unique challenges. First, what defines an honors student? Honors students are typically identified by their standardized test scores and high school grades (Robinson, 1997). In addition, they are often characterized by high levels of motivation, creativity, and higher-order thinking (Robinson, 1997). They also see unusual concepts and connections, are industrious and determined, and apply these abilities to problem-solving situations (Ender & Wilkie, 2000).

Honors students face numerous challenges during their college careers. One of the most common challenges that honors students encounter is career indecision or confusion because of multiple talents and interests (Ender & Wilkie, 2000; Robinson, 1997; Kerr & Colangelo, 1988). “Undecided honors students require the additional challenge of sorting through their assorted interests and academic majors to choose a program of study that will lead to a purposeful life direction upon graduation from college” (Ender & Wilkie, 2000, p. 124). Because of this, 53.4 percent of academically talented students indicate a desire for assistance in determining occupational and educational goals (Kerr & Colangelo, 1988). To address this issue, academic advisers can use many available strategies to encourage students to explore their educational and career interests and then focus on their life and professional goals. This article will show how advisers can use the six stages of Appreciative Advising to help students develop their career goals and reach their full potential.

The Appreciative Advising Model

Appreciative Advising is the use of positive, open-ended questions to draw out students' strengths, skills, goals, and passions. It emphasizes the importance of building a trusting relationship between the adviser and student and also incorporates the use of goal setting, planning, and encouraging students to reach their full potential (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008). It is based on David Cooperrider's Appreciative Inquiry model, which emphasizes the importance of focusing on individual strengths instead of fixing weaknesses (Bloom et al.). This model of academic advising is useful with honors students, because it addresses their needs and encourages them to reach their full potential. The six stages that define the Appreciative Advising process are Disarm, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver, and Don't Settle.

The Six Phases of Appreciative Advising

The Disarm phase is the first phase of Appreciative Advising. It highlights the importance of first impressions. It is important for advisers to create a “safe, welcoming environment for students” (Bloom et al., 2008, p. 35). Advisers can create a welcoming environment by eliminating any distractions and focusing solely on the student (Bloom et al.). This is an important phase for honors students. They may feel embarrassed, because they perceive that everyone else knows exactly what their career goals are and may feel they are the only students within the program who do not know what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

The purpose of the Discover phase is to draw out what students enjoy doing and identify their strengths, skills, passions, and accomplishments through the use of positive, open-ended questions (Bloom et al., 2008). During this stage, advisers should actively listen and show interest and curiosity in students' responses. Some possible questions to ask honors students include:

The Discover phase, along with the Disarm phase, will help advisers build trusting and secure relationships with their students (Bloom et al., 2008).

The Dream phase is an important step in the Appreciative Advising process. It allows advisers to work with students to develop visions for their future and formulate their career goals (Bloom et al., 2008). This may be a particularly difficult step with honors students. They may have multiple careers they can envision pursuing and even more careers for which they have the talent to succeed. To begin working through this challenge, it is important to ask questions such as:

The purpose of this Dream phase is to encourage students to have high aspirations and to discern whether the student's responses are congruent with his/her non-verbal expressions. Honors students sometimes feel under pressure from family and friends to pursue highly prestigious positions, such as medicine and law, which may or may not complement their interests. Advisers need to encourage students to identify their hopes and dreams for the future—not the dreams that others have for them.

Once honors students have shared their hopes and dreams for their futures, it is time to move on to the Design phase. The Design phase focuses on assisting students to create plans and concrete, incremental, and achievable goals that allow them to attain their dreams (Bloom et al., 2008). It is important to let students know that they can achieve their academic and career goals both inside and outside of the classroom. Advisers should stress the importance of pursuing extracurricular activities and experiential education opportunities. These activities serve as sources of enrichment, which is a key element of honors curricula. Enrichment is defined by Robinson (1997) as an “extension of the curriculum to cover subject matter not otherwise included” (p. 233). Sample Design phase questions include:

It is during this phase that students may have to step out of the office and spend time exploring majors and careers. Honors students should be encouraged to explore a variety of major and career opportunities. As stated by Digby (2007), academic advisers should “encourage [honors students] to take courses that really interest them” (¶9). A cornerstone of a liberal arts education is getting a broad view of a range of different fundamental disciplines to enhance skills relevant to any area of study. When honors students reflect on classes they have taken, they may be able to relate them to degree programs they can envision pursuing. To help guide students to a satisfying career, advisers can ask the students what classes they enjoy, why they like these particular classes, and which classes best match their particular strengths.

Furthermore, there are a number of extracurricular activities that advisers should bring to the attention of all students, but should particularly convey to honors students. One such activity in which to encourage student involvement is undergraduate research. Participating in research has many benefits for students, including opening their eyes to new educational and career paths, establishing mentoring relationships with faculty members, and enhancing their resumes in preparation for graduate school. This is also particularly important for honors students, because 34 percent of honors students, versus 16 percent of nonhonors students, intend to go to graduate school (Ender & Wilkie, 2000).

Other valuable activities that honors student should participate in are experiential education opportunities. Campus career centers can be great resources in terms of helping students identify these types of opportunities. Advisers should refer students to the career center for job shadowing and informational interviewing possibilities so they can explore potential careers related to their majors. Advisers can also encourage students to participate in internships and co-ops to get a more in-depth experience.

Honors students should also become involved in other extracurricular experiences such as departmental clubs, service learning, student government, and study abroad. These experiential opportunities are important means of increasing depth of knowledge and learning and helping to develop the whole person (American College Personnel Association, 1996). Experiential education increases skills such as citizenship, work, and preprofessional skills (Ender & Wilkie, 2000).

During the Deliver phase, students follow through on the plans that they made during the Design phase. During this phase, it is important that advisers support and encourage students (Bloom et al., 2008). In addition to managing the rigorous course work associated with honors programs, honors students typically demonstrate greater involvement in extracurricular activities (Ender & Wilkie, 2000) and pursue a broader range of activities (Kerr & Colangelo, 1988). Even though these are very important opportunities, honors students must be careful not to become overly involved and should instead find a balance between academics and extracurricular activities. Ender and Wilkie state that honors students must “be selective” and “explore opportunities prior to making a commitment to join” (p. 124). While honors students can typically handle multiple extracurricular activities, they can still become overloaded and overstressed. At the end of the advising session, advisers should reiterate their confidence in the student's ability to accomplish the plan that was co-created during the Design phase.

The last phase of Appreciative Advising is Don't Settle. The key to this phase is to both support and challenge students to continually raise their internal bar of expectations. Honors students are among the brightest and best students on campus. The issue with some honors students is that they set their own internal bar too high. Honors students tend to be perfectionists and the “stress and anxiety associated with high expectations should be monitored” (Ender & Wilkie, 2000, p. 123). Therefore, academic advisers have a responsibility to “teach students how to cope with these expectations, encouraging them to reach out for assistance if the stress levels become overbearing” (Ender & Wilkie, p. 123). These are the students who become doctors, engineers, and university professors, but they still need to be challenged and encouraged to reach their goals.


Robinson (1997) states that the goal of advising an honors student is to help “[sort] out a clear picture of ultimate strengths and preferences” (p. 218). By using Appreciative Advising, advisers can help honors students find fulfilling and enjoyable careers. Developing a trusting relationship through the use of positive open-ended questions, developing a concrete plan to help them accomplish their dreams for their futures, encouraging them to get involved in activities beyond the classroom, and believing and supporting them throughout their educational careers can all serve to help advisers assist honors students in reaching their full potentials.


American College Personnel Association. (1996). The student learning imperative: Implication for student affairs. Journal of College Student Development, 37(2), 118–122.

Bloom, J. L., Hutson, B. L., & He, Y. (2008). The appreciative advising revolution. Champaign, IL: Stipes.

Digby, J. (2007). Advising honors students. Academic Advising Today, 30(3). Retrieved October 4, 2008, from

Ender, S. C., & Wilkie, C. J. (2000). Advising students with special needs. In V. N. Gordon & W. R. Habley (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 118–143). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kerr, B. A., & Colangelo, N. (1988). The college plans of academically talented students. Journal of Counseling and Development, 67(1), 42–48.

Robinson, N. M. (1997). The role of universities and colleges in educating gifted undergraduates. Peabody Journal of Education, 72(3–4), 217–236.

About the Author(s)

Melissa A. Braunstein is a graduate assistant in the Career Center at the University of South Carolina. She is also a graduate student in the university's Higher Education and Student Affairs program. She can be reached at