Knowing the differences between coaching and advising creates a collaborative road to success

Understanding student support roles: A three-part explainer series

Advising and coaching are both critical student support roles that work toward a similar goal – to have a positive impact on the student experience and contribute to student persistence and retention rates. Yet in order to understand how advisors and coaches can work together to provide the most holistic support to their students, it’s important to understand the difference between a student success coach and an academic advisor. Because this is a fairly common point of confusion, this is the first of a three-part series exploring the differences between “coaching” and other similar-but-not-the-same roles within higher education.

What is advising?

Advisors are critical contributors to any student success effort. Generally, they are the go-to experts in policy, procedure, campus resources, and degree requirements. Their focus is often on a specific – and usually academic – need and ensuring the student has a plan for meeting that need (such as assistance with registration, a degree plan, resources for academic support). Sometimes that plan is co-created with the student using a developmental advising approach, and at other times the advisor will direct students toward resources or recommend specific next steps using a more traditional or directive advising approach. Academic advisors are honed-in and adept at working with students to select courses and programs that lead to a chosen career path, and they typically work only within the academic sphere.

What is coaching?

Coaching is an important student support role that moves beyond the realm of academics, creating a collaborative, individually tailored approach to address each student’s needs. Coaching typically takes a proactive approach to both short- and long-term success, and can be implemented separately from or, ideally, alongside advising services. InsideTrack coaching is further distinguished by our research-proven methodology designed to include holistic assessment of potential risk factors and development of specific cognitive and non-cognitive skills to help students overcome barriers.

Designed to support institutional goals, coaching carefully balances meeting the immediate needs of students, helping them solve problems as they arise, making sure students are aware of various institutional resources and how to engage with them effectively, and nurturing long-term personal growth and development. Coaches help students make small, meaningful changes and integrate new strategies, habits, and mindsets into their lives. This process helps students build skills that will serve them well each day, overcome bumps in the road, and successfully achieve their goals.

One scenario, two approaches

Let’s say an upset student reaches out because they got a bill they weren’t expecting. How might advising and coaching differ in communicating with the student?

The advisor may explain information about fees and will ask about the student’s funding sources. The advisor also helps identify which departments might be involved, then refer the student to the financial aid office, veteran’s benefit office and/or the bursar’s office, as applicable.

The coach may help the student articulate their concern by asking a series of open-ended questions. The coach then helps the student create specific questions for each department involved as a way to make sure the student gets the answers and explanation they’re looking for — exploring different options and building confidence. Before ending the conversation, the coach will ensure the student commits to a specific plan (day, time and channel) for connecting with the appropriate department. The expectation is that the student will follow-up on this topic with the coach during their next meeting.

During that next meeting, if the student has run into any difficulty or still isn’t understanding details of their billing issue, the coach will help the student prepare for another outreach, or can escalate their concerns to a predetermined contact at the school who can coordinate with others to resolve the student’s questions or concerns.

Co-existing and collaborating for the win

Advisors and coaches both play a critical role in higher education, and the work they do with students should be seen as symbiotic. In fact, the best scenario for student success is when coaching and advising complement one another.


In part two of our three-part series, we explore the difference between coaching and mentoring.

Experience the true power of coaching through the dedicated eyes of our coaches as they each recall a student they worked with at a crossroads.

Watch the Video: The Voice of Coaching

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