Understanding the Differences Between Coaching and Advising

“How is coaching different from what our advisors already do?”

This is a common question we hear at InsideTrack. We turned to our coaching experts, for the answer.

At a high level perspective, what are the key differences between coaching and advising?

First, we need to mention that in many cases there are moments of coaching happening in advising and counseling interactions. It’s important to recognize that many advisors already employ many general coaching principles, even if they aren’t aware of it.

In a very general sense, what distinguishes coaching from advising is that coaching is a co-creative process to determine what success looks like for each individual and takes a proactive approach to both short and long-term success.

In advising, the focus is often on a specific need and ensuring the student has a plan for meeting that need (such as registration, a degree plan, resources for academic support). Sometimes that plan is co-created with the student using a developmental advising approach and other times an advisor directs students toward resources or recommends specific next steps using a more traditional or directive advising approach.

InsideTrack coaching is further distinguished by our methodology designed to include holistic assessment of potential risk factors and development of specific cognitive and noncognitive skills.

How does InsideTrack Coaching coexist with advising?

Our coaches view their work as a complement, not a replacement, to advising. We work with students to see and understand their strengths and challenges and to seek and leverage the right support as needed.  In addition to making sure students are aware of various resources and how to engage with them effectively, coaches often focus on building student motivation and willingness to ask for help. Coaches also provide structure and accountability for students to follow  through on that plan and develop next steps after utilizing a resource. Finally, a coach often works with a student to integrate what they learned so they can apply it to future situations and build skills for long-term success.

What do you say to people who see coaching as a form of “hand holding” or coddling students?

Coaching employs a careful balance of meeting the immediate needs of students, helping them solve problems as they arise, and long-term development that builds personal agency and self-efficacy. A good comparison would be instructional scaffolding where instructors engage students in learning important course material one piece at a time and eventually students can integrate it into their own base of knowledge and experience. We’re always looking for ways to equip students for long-term success. Each coach trained by InsideTrack strives to coach themselves out of a job.

Now that we have a better understanding of what differentiates coaching from advising, what characteristics does a coaching initiative need in order to be most effective?

After many years of fine-tuning our coaching pedagogy we’ve learned there are three main pillars to coaching that gets results:

  • Our coaching methodology
  • Training and quality assurance
  • Strategy and analysis

Coaching skills are important for any student support professional but without these additional components we’ve learned it’s not enough to see substantial results.

Can you explain how InsideTrack does this and what this looks like under each of the three pillars you mentioned?

Our methodology includes the basic building blocks of our approach

  • Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes and Beliefs (KSABs) – our rubric of the cognitive and noncognitive competencies research has shown support academic and career success; we then equip our coaches with specific tools and strategies to address these
  • The Elements of Coaching – which includes building relationships, assessing, advancing, building student motivation, and strategizing.
  • Focus Areas – a comprehensive look at specific areas of a student’s life we know contribute to persistence and long-term success such as commitment to graduation and managing commitments

In practice it looks a little something like this:

For training and quality assurance, our methodology requires intensive training and ongoing professional development. On average, our coaches engage in over 100 hours of professional development each year. All coaching interactions are recorded and regularly observed and debriefed. Our coaches strive to walk the walk of continuous improvement and lifelong learning.

Finally, strategy and analysis is something that can be often overlooked when institutions are implementing a coaching program. It’s not just the coaches and the training that make a difference. Developing systems and strategies to determine at any given time which students a coach should reach out to, why they should reach out, how often and via what modality are all essential. Sophisticated technology, analytics, management, accountability etc. are all necessary to make the best use of personnel time and expertise. Whenever possible, we want students connecting with their coach or other appropriate resource before a problem is too big.


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