If you're thinking about college, heading to college, or already in college, you'll undoubtedly hear about your "academic adviser." You know you have to meet with them and that they're pretty important during your time in school. But ... umm ... what exactly does that mean?
In short, an academic adviser is someone who helps keep you on track -- academically speaking -- during your time in school. At most institutions, every student is assigned an academic adviser. You'll need to meet with them before you register for classes and before you make any changes to your schedule (like adding/dropping a class or withdrawing from a course late in the semester).
Traditionally, academic advisers are professors at your school or people who have been specifically trained to help students navigate the academic channels of your institution. If you come in as an undeclared major, you might be assigned randomly to your adviser; if you come in with a declared major, however, you might be assigned to a professor in your (or a similar) department.
Having a good relationship with your adviser is pretty important and you should definitely make an effort to get to know him or her. In addition to helping you when registration time comes around, your adviser can help with all kinds of other things, too: letters of recommendation, support if you run into the unexpected (like a major illness during your time in school), or other issues.
While your academic adviser may seem like a stranger you're forced to meet with when you first arrive on campus, your can -- and should! -- start to view him or her as one of your greatest resources. Their job is to keep you on track and make sure you have the support you need during your time in school. And who couldn't use someone like that during their college years?!