After 25 years in higher education in a variety of direct service and leadership roles, I’ve come to realize that my passion is coaching individual students, over a sustained period of time, to find community, overcome challenges, and create fulfilling undergraduate experiences. While institutions across the country seek to provide this type of support for every student, and some even purport to do so, it is simply not realistic.
First, institutions become more complex each year. Second, most do not hire enough qualified staff to provide this type of comprehensive and sustained guidance to the majority of their students. In fact, nationally the average ratio of academic advisors and career counselors to students is astonishingly low.
Additionally, and equally important, students arriving at colleges and universities are increasingly diverse in their identities, backgrounds, and long-term goals. Working with a college student success coach gives you a unique opportunity to receive highly individualized support to navigate your experience most efficiently… freeing your time to engage in impactful activities during these highly formative years.
When you work with an effective coach, you will:
- learn new skills for success
- focus on meaningful experiences and reduce your frustration
- feel seen
- take full advantage of your campus resources
- launch your career confidently
1. A coach will help you to identify and enhance your skills for success
I’ve worked at several renowned universities that admit bright, capable, and accomplished students. Each of these institutions has learning centers that offer tutoring services and a wide range of resources to assist students in improving their study skills. Yet, time and time again, I met with students who were either unaware the learning center existed or took an affront to the suggestion that it might be helpful to them. After-all, for as far back as they remember, they had always been the tutor. And, as for having good study skills, as long as they paid attention in class and did their homework, they did well on most of their tests in high school…okay, maybe they had to cram for a few of their more difficult classes the night before a test, but overall, they know how to study. They fully expected that the approach they took with their studies in high school would translate 100% to college.
What comes as a surprise to many high-achieving high school students is that doing the same things they did in high school does not necessarily “cut it” in college, even when they do more of it. Because they succeeded in high school, many students have not yet developed adequate self-assessment skills or had the experience of asking for help, both of which are critical to college success.
The more time a student spends “working harder,” the less time they are learning to “work differently.”
A competent college student success coach will help you learn to identify what’s working and what’s not, where you may have some gaps in both study skills and content knowledge, and help you close those gaps in order to achieve your goals!
2. A coach will help you navigate the complicated landscape of your institution
Colleges and universities have a reputation for being bureaucratic and often lack transparency with changing processes and procedures. Additionally, many are decentralized, have their own vocabulary, and use unique acronyms for campus offices and services. I’ve spent countless hours over the years helping students figure out which office they needed to visit, which form they needed to complete, or who they needed to talk to in order to get a clear answer or accomplish a seemingly simple task. And, in every position, I tried to improve any byzantine process within my sphere of influence; believe me, they are infinite.
Despite having many benefits, technology hasn’t necessarily improved clarity or efficiency. Too often, well-intended automated emails and generic academic or career recommendations can be alarming or confusing unless a student takes the time to interpret the communication through the lens of their individual circumstances. Sometimes a student can do this on their own, but many times this requires a conversation with someone well-versed in the institution’s policies and familiar with the student’s situation. Knowing who that person is often requires the student to spend time finding out and meeting with them in a timely fashion.
Talk to any undergraduate and they will lament about the number of emails they get each day, the number of ed tech platforms they use for classes and extracurricular activities, and their ongoing challenge to “stay on top of it all”.
The time that a student spends trying to figure out how to navigate their school is time that they aren’t learning and growing in meaningful ways.
An effective college student success coach will reduce this “time sink” by helping you learn how your college works and who you need to connect with to get things done efficiently!
3. A coach will “see” you
This leads me to the next reason to consider working with a college student success coach. Most undergraduate students end up “going it alone.” Students who are doing “fine”, academically and behaviorally, often fly under the radar. And, because there aren’t enough advisors for all students to receive consistent and personalized support, students who are “surviving” are not likely to receive individual attention unless they initiate it. As we all know, surviving is not the same as thriving. It’s often not until a student has a disciplinary issue or is placed on academic probation that they are noticed by their institution. Even then, the result is commonly a generic warning letter that suggests resources and encourages the student to connect with an advisor or counselor.
Despite the ever-increasing price tag of higher education, students are often left to “go it alone” or take the initiative to seek support, particularly after the orientation period. High-achieving students in particular, propelled by their high school success, often maintain an “I’ll do it myself” attitude even when there are signs of trouble. More than a few students I’ve met over the years experienced some difficulty in college, didn’t ask for help (see #1), and thought that “trying harder” would change their trajectory. Sounds like “grit” and that’s a good thing, right? Nope!
Most of these students would have benefited from support and coaching to “work differently” before their grades took a hit, their frustration levels increased, and their self-confidence waned. Something as simple as being mentored about how to email a professor to ask for an extension, how to make use of office hours, or the various counseling options on campus can make a huge difference. Other times, being advised on accessing more formal support like accommodations due to an unidentified or unaddressed learning difference, or arranging care for a physical or mental health issues, or securing a new living situation may be the “thing” that changes a student’s path. However, without anyone having “eyes” on them, too often students don’t get the timely support that can make the difference between languishing and flourishing.
The longer a student feels invisible while struggling, the longer they are likely to keep digging themselves a hole.
A knowledgeable college student success coach will meet with you regularly and “see you”… helping you assess your progress, identify challenges, and connect with appropriate support.
4. A coach will help you maximize your investment and do more than “just survive”
College is expensive… it takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money. I don’t know of anyone who embarks on a multi-year endeavor that is going to cost tens of thousands of dollars with the goal of just surviving! (Okay, an exception might be someone doing one of those extreme adventure trips!). I presume most students do not enroll in college with the goal of just surviving.
Rather, I believe most embark on their college experience with every intention of taking advantage of the amazing academic and experiential learning opportunities, the unique social and cultural programs, alumni connections, and career development opportunities. And yet research shows that dropout rates are astonishingly high and graduation rates continue to slip. Connections to faculty and staff are critical for student development, engagement and persistence. These connections often facilitate a true sense of belonging, access to unique opportunities on campus, and strong letters of recommendation or references for post-graduate opportunities or networking with key alumni.
The stronger a student’s sense of belonging, connection to faculty and staff and engagement with campus opportunities, the more likely they are to thrive and have a strong return on their investment.
A good college student success coach will foster relationships, facilitate your connection with resources, and encourage engagement with personally relevant opportunities.
5. A coach will help you feel confident about launching your career
Most students who transition to college have been thinking about it, at least generally speaking, for years. Just like finishing elementary school meant going to middle school… and completing middle school meant going to high school; graduating high school meant going to college. Now, for the first time in their life, most college students are confronted with determining their “next step” and processing the overwhelming and infinite number of possibilities.
The paradox of choice becomes real.
It is likely that for the first time in their life the plan for “what comes after college” has not yet been determined. Even if the specific undergraduate college or university that a student attends was not known until spring of their senior year in high school, it is more than likely than not that going to college had been presumed for years. Understandably, most students feel comfortable “being a student,” but what if life after college means being something else? Most institutions are not staffed to provide intensive individual support for the career development process.
Students who are deliberate about a career development process that includes exploration, gaining experience, and developing career readiness skills will be more confident as they approach graduation.
A skilled college success coach will connect you with critical career development resources, increase your career readiness, and help you feel self-assured and excited about launching after graduation.
Have I convinced you yet?
Of course, I am biased on this topic, but college is too significant of an investment to risk languishing or just “getting by.” Research emphasizes that having a sense of community, the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships, and timely access to support and institutional information are critical for undergraduate student learning, retention, and success. Given the increasingly dynamic, diverse, and complex environment of higher education, it is more urgent than ever for students to receive individualized, proactive and comprehensive coaching and advising. Most institutions are unable to provide such support. Working with a college student success coach is an emerging opportunity, and one that provides you with the tools to optimize your college experience and maximize the return on your investment.
Beth A. Howland is a higher education consultant and college student success coach based in Ithaca, NY. She is the founder of College Navigators, LLC.