How Do New Online Students Define Success?

As part of our process for introducing students to coaching, we guide them through a series of content modules in our uCoach® Platform designed to prepare them for a strong start. This also arms our coaches with useful information on ways to tailor coaching to each student’s needs. For example, one module asks students a series of questions such as: why they selected this particular institution or program, how valuable has the experience been so far and what services would they like to connect with first.

As part of this intake survey, students are also asked, “What will success look like for you this year?” This question helps coaches better understand students’ motivations, fears and approaches for goal setting.

Recently, we took a slice of data drawn from about 200 students who entered a major public, online degree program in January 2017. Here is what the data had to say.

Online Students’ Primary Answer to “What Will Success Look Like For You This Year?”

(data from Jan 2017 start at major public online degree program, n=201)

For the majority of students, the primary description of success fell into one of four categories.

 1.  A general statement about grades, credit accumulation and/or academic progress (29%)
  • “Completing all pre-major courses and requirements for my degree.”
  • “Maintaining the discipline to grasp and complete coursework, obtain good grades and progress through my degree program.”
2.  A specific grade point average or credit accumulation goal (25%)
  • “At least a 3.5 GPA, completing at the minimum six courses.”
  • “Completing all three terms and raising my GPA from a 3.4 to a 3.7.”
3.  The desire to effectively balance school, work and other life commitments (18%)
  • “Success for me would look like a well-balanced two-basket scale. School in one basket and work and family life in the other. Each side should be able to dip but not crash based on the immediate needs of school, work and family.”
  • “Completing as many courses as I can while maintaining a good GPA, as well as helping my husband figure out his next step in his military career. Learning our new town, and keeping my overactive 8 year old happy and healthy. “
4.  Getting off to a strong start in their educational journey (17%)
  • “Not being scared and afraid of going back to school or of failing. I want to be comfortable.”
  • “Understanding the way online learning works, making the adjustment into my civilian life and balancing everything I need to do, and also adjusting to having classes and being in school again.”
Other definitions of success included:

A desire to learn and/or practically apply new knowledge (3%)

  • “I want to integrate my learning experience into logistics projects which will directly impact the functioning of my department.”

Advancing career opportunities (2%)

  • “I will be succeeding when my performance continues to improve within my career. As I become more educated, I will become more efficient in the things I do, and I will make better decisions.“

Completing a credential (2%)

  • “Finish my degree and move on to the next chapter in my life.”

Being fully engaged in school (1%)

  • “Learning how to take full advantage of all resources available to me, so that I can be successful.”

Defining a clear life direction (1%)

  • “I was faced with a very tough decision … whether to re-enlist in the Marine Corps or get out. If I decide to reenlist, my goal is to be successful wherever the Marine Corps sends me next. If I make the decision to get out, I will make sure I get out with an honorable discharge and do great things in the civilian world.”

Getting assignments done (1%)

  • “Getting all my assigned work done on time.”

Serving as a role model (1%)

  • “I want to do the best I can, be proud of the grades I receive and show my 10-year-old daughter how important it is to continue education after graduating from high school.“

You can imagine how understanding each student’s definition of success helps our coaches tailor their approach. For example, the student who said, “Finish my degree and move on to the next chapter of my life,” may be motivated by exploring and defining the “next chapter.” Meanwhile, the student who identifies “Getting all my assigned work done on time,” may benefit from exploring procrastination and time management.

By starting with the student’s definition of success, coaches increase the likelihood of establishing the necessary trust and rapport to get and keep them engaged with relevant resources and enhance the overall value of their experience with your institution.

What do your students say success looks like for them this year?  What are you doing to help them make success a reality?


Please fill out the form below for access to our webinars.

Related Resources