Aug 24, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

By now, there's a good chance you know that having an adviser to help guide you through your program, degree, or certificate is a big step on the road to success. Let's take a closer look at everything you need to know about virtual advisers.

But do you need to see one in-person? If you are an online student, can you have a virtual adviser? How about a student at a brick-and-mortar school. What's the key to having a virtual adviser?

From early availability, to course decisions and filing actual paperwork, virtual advisers are real people who help you navigate the sometimes murky waters of online learning -- at least for now.

Who's to say we won't someday turn to robot advisers?

Here are some things to know about virtual advisers:

1. They are available before you enroll

That's right. Virtual advisers are, essentially, waiting for you. And once you enroll? They stick around. 

Many of them offer pre-admission guidance on add/drop protocols, courses and transferring credit in addition to explaining policies and procedures, determining prerequisites, and helping you determine the best fit for your needs. 

How do you contact a virtual adviser at a school where you are not enrolled? Start online. Go to the 'about us' or 'contact us' page on your school's website, and click on 'admissions' if that is an option. At a minimum, you can send an email requesting to speak to a virtual advisor.

You should have to wait more than two business days for a reply. If it is longer, reach out to a different program.

 Virtual advising is key to decreasing inequalities in access to education

Low-income students, minority students, first-generation college students, and rural students, among others, have less access to college than their peers.

Virtual advising seeks to change that. Several virtual advising groups -- some from the College Board, and others from independent groups like College Point and College Possible -- work with public and private high schools to find at-risk students with high GPAs and standardized test scores. 

They set up virtual mentoring and advising possibilities -- guidance counselors from afar. Students and their virtual advisers connect on the phone, through email, Skype, and other teleconferencing tools, often supported by the public library.

What do they help you do? Lots. Anything from learning about the application process to having big life conversations, and of course, helping students figure out where to apply -- and then helping them through the process.

They also help with another biggie: financial aid.

Best of all, many of these services are free!

They help you with the paperwork

Face it: even once you are accepted, the process is still exhausting. There is a ton of paperwork, and it all needs your attention. Even if you end up tossing some of it in the recycling bin.

Your adviser can help you focus. They help you get organized, figure out what you need, what you can toss aside, and what you need to keep -- anything from determining your first semester, to obtaining medical records and housing forms.

They help you keep track of your studies

Think of your adviser as an accountability partner. Need someone to keep you on track? To help you make a study schedule and stick to it? You can set up regular meetings with your virtual adviser for virtual check-ins, and set up consequences and rewards for not completing or meeting your goals with flying colors. 

Here is the difference: in high school, you probably have lots of people around you keeping you on track: parents, teachers, coaches, guidance counselors. In college? Not so much. You need to seek it out. You need to make it happen.

Make it happen. Get a virtual adviser. You will be thankful you did. 

But who says they won’t be a robot one day?

However, there is a chance that your virtual adviser might one day be a robot!

Think about it. What do you do when you have a question? You google it, ask Siri or Alexa, or use some other form of artificial intelligence to help you find the answer.

It seems only a matter of time before you will have virtual assistants helping you make real-life decisions. 

In fact, they already are. In finance, robo-advisers are online, performing automated portfolio management services.

That's right: robots are helping people manage their money. They follow complicated algorithms that compute risk tolerance over time based on past choices. A recent article in NerdWallet even offers reviews of this year's best ones.

Whether you get a human or AI adviser, we advise you to find one you like and work together to make your learning experience as meaningful as possible.

Learn more about online studies.

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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