Questions to Ask When You Consider Hiring a Student Success Coach

Male bluebird flying toward nest box.  Female bluebird perched on top of nest box.
Do you know what you’re looking for?

You may recall in the last post I shared five reasons to work with a college student success coach. As you further contemplate whether or not a college student success coach will be a useful support for your student, I encourage you and your student to first reflect on the first set of questions below. It is critical that your family is “on the same page” about why you are investing the money and why your student is motivated to invest their time and energy. It is important that there are clear expectations and a mutual understanding of “success” before you decide to hire a coach. The first set of questions can assist you and your student in having this important discussion. 

Once you confirm that you and your student are in agreement that college student success coaching is something worth pursuing, I encourage you to talk with one or more coaches. Coaches should offer a complimentary conversation so you and your student can ask questions to get a sense of their background and approach. This will also provide the coach an opportunity to understand your student’s motivations and for everyone to discuss some general goals and expectations.

The second set of questions below can be used in meetings with prospective coaches. There are many individuals offering services to support undergraduate students and it is likely that each one has a different philosophy, areas of focus, and set of credentials.Some are motivated by their own college experiences or from supporting loved ones in overcoming challenges during their undergraduate years-which may or may not be similar to your needs or goals. My caution to you here is to make sure that their approach to the work is informed by more expansive and diverse experiences, as well as a strong knowledge of higher education and student development. While it is understandable that a parent or recent college graduate may want to give back and use their personal experiences to support other families through the college gauntlet, it is important to remember that every student is different, each institution is unique, and relying too much on one’s personal experience may result in blind spots or interfere with being objective and effective.  

Being educated about current student development research and having an ethical and theoretical framework is critical.  Ongoing affiliations with national academic advising or student affairs professional organizations are important for both.  Having experience in  student-facing higher education positions, at several institutions, with responsibilities specifically related to student success will be important.  Such roles are critical for developing the skills to effectively and efficiently navigate any institution in order to be able to coach students.  Knowing that no two institutions are alike, being able to swiftly know where to look or whom to contact is often the key to resolving issues or accessing assistance.   

You may find that some coaches claim to have intimate knowledge about or influence with specific institutions, graduate or medical schools, or employers.  I encourage you to be wary.  In my opinion, the job of a coach is to teach skills and enhance a student’s development such that “personal connections”, which can undermine a student’s self-confidence, are not needed.  Rather, the job of the coach is to develop and assist students so that they are able to succeed without direct intervention by the coach during their undergraduate education or as they launch their career. It will be helpful to determine if the coach is focused on empowering students to grow and develop or if they are offering a “concierge service,” which may sound nice in the short term but will not be of long term benefit to your student. While there may be times when I am quite direct with a student about my observations, suggestions or past experience, my general approach is “I advise, you decide.” My goal with this approach is to address the issue at hand and also help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be utilized in future situations.

Another suggestion to explore with prospective coaches is their ideas about the length of time they typically work with students. Coaches should not allow students to come to depend on them, particularly in the long term. Short term reliance may be needed to change or form new habits. However, if you hire a coach during your student’s first semester, they should not be working on the same issues with their coach semester after semester, unless additional issues are identified or new complexities emerge. Working with a coach semester after semester to address new issues is certainly acceptable. However, if a coach is addressing the same issues with a student as junior as they were with the student as a first-year, then I would question the effectiveness of that coach and whether or not they are focused on developing your student into a self-regulated learner and toward being “career ready.” I am of the mindset that all other things being equal, and assuming nothing extenuating happens year to year, coaches should “work themselves out of a job” unless the student wants to address new issues in subsequent semesters. Wanting to continue with a coach to address new issues and enhance ongoing development is different from needing to continue working with a coach so that they don’t backslide. 

Given the significant investment of money, time, and energy that will be made by you and your student, I strongly recommend you do not rush into signing up with a coach before making sure you, your student, and the coach are “on the same page” and expectations are clearly defined. The two sets of questions below are intended to assist in that process. Investing the time to explore why you and your student are seeking a coach (and making sure you have similar goals) and hiring a college student success coach who has relevant qualifications and experiences, as well as a philosophy that aligns with your and your student’s’ goals, will help ensure your coach will provide the support you and your student are seeking and position your student to thrive…decision to degree!

Questions to ask of yourself or your student

  1. What are you looking for in a student success coach?
  2. Why are you considering a student success coach?
  3. What are your goals?
  4. What are your expectations/your student’s expectations of the coach (i.e., how much contact, type of contact, how to handle conflict)?
  5.  What do you expect to be the relationship/communication between you and the coach?
  6. How much do you expect your student to share with you about their work with the coach or progress, challenges, or new insights?
  7. How will you decide how long to have your student work with a coach or when will you know coaching is no longer needed or is no longer benefiting your student?
  8. How were you introduced to this coach (from a private admissions counselor, trusted friend, colleague, high school guidance/college counselor, via social media)?

Questions to ask of or things to learn about the college student success coach

  1. What is their educational background?
  2. How much experience do they have working in higher education and specifically with undergraduate students? 
  3. Which institutions have they worked at and what roles/positions did they have? 
  4. How familiar are they with the vast differences between institutions?
  5. How much student-facing, direct service work did they do? 
  6. Do they have references from parents and students with whom they have worked?
  7. Why are they coaching? Do they have any other current work?
  8. What is their overarching philosophy about coaching and what guides their philosophy? 
  9. What is the coach’s “goal” in terms of coaching students?
  10. What are their expectations regarding the duration of the relationship with every student? What experiences do they have outside of higher education that are relevant to your students’ goals and needs?
  11. What professional organizations do they belong to? How do they stay current with the research and trends? This can give you a sense of the professional ethics that guide their work.
  12. How familiar are they with the complexities of students’ diverse needs? 
  13. What is their approach to working with individual students? Do they have a program that all students step through? Do they individualize their services based on where students are at and what goals they have?

Are there other questions you’d be inclined to ask?  Other questions, suggestions, or ideas related to this topic? Let me know in the comments below.


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.

Leave a Reply

Skip to content