College Advisors as Developmental College Coaches

February 20, 2018 by John Andrew Williams

Where Does College Advising Stand Today?

Over the past half-century, research has demonstrated the effectiveness of academic advising as a key factor in promoting student retention. However, it still remains a challenge for colleges to maintain a solid academic advisory team during times of financial challenge. The research proves the value of advising, but what makes some teams more effective than others?

Ever since the late 60s and early 70s, there has been contention between the various types of academic advising. There are 3 primary categories of academic advising: Prescriptive, Intrusive, and Developmental (Click the link here for a quick Wikipedia on the three categories). While each form of advising has its place and function, the past 50 years have seen more research supporting and advocating a mix of Developmental and Intrusive Advising.

As Academic Life Coaches, following the standards of the International Coach Federation, it is our dream and passion to see more colleges embrace a developmental approach to advising that also combines the purposeful partnership found in insight-driven intrusive advising. Ultimately, we see the relationship between a coach and a client, or an advisor and a student, to be the most critical element in making an academic guidance arrangement successful – and research from college advising supports this belief. This page explores the connections between the research of Academic Advising, particularly Developmental Advising, and the skills and practices of Academic Life Coaching.

Wearing Two Hats: College Advisor and College Coach

The Work of a College Advisor

When we think of traditional advising, we tend to imagine students entering an office on academic probation and being told what needs to change before failing school. Oftentimes, especially for students, there is an expectation that the advisor is there to solve the student’s problems. In many ways, this mindset of advising creates confusion around who is really responsible for student success. This notion, that the advisor’s primary role is to dispense advice, is embedded into the very name of the academic advisor.

Along with confusion between simply offering advice and cultivating student development, many advisors have to balance a variety of responsibilities. Most academic advising teams must facilitate the intake of new students, alignment of degree plans, and the data entry process for those plans. Ideally, this work is combined with the work of a developmental academic advisor; however, there is systematic confusion about the most important work of a college advisor – the work that truly pushes those retention numbers up.

The most effective work of an advisor happens when they are less focused on delivering advice, and more focused on partnering with their students to learn through the student’s challenges together. This is the work of a College Coach.

The Work of a College Coach

When applying the skills of an Academic Life Coach (ALC), a College Coach works as a developmental advisor. College coaches work hard to build a relationship between student and advisor that signals a mutual partnership instead of a hierarchical arrangement. The focus of this relationship is to provide meaningful, challenging yet warm conversations. These conversations help a student not only deal with academic challenges but also non-academic ones which also have a bearing on the student’s college experience.

When training advisors on ALC skills, we often discuss how and when to use the coaching process with students. Because of the misunderstanding, many students have concerning a College Advisor’s responsibility, we make a habit of letting our students know when we are serving as a traditional advisor (in this case, a prescriptive advisor) and when we are stepping into the role of a college coach (developmental advising). This is meant to be done literally, as a coach speaks with a student letting them know when they are simply advising, advice-giving, and providing coaching. This process helps to further build a partnership between student and coach.

Ultimately, the College Coach believes the student is capable and willing to pursue his or her educational goals. Academic Life Coaching provides an excellent model for helping students embrace their vision for college while building positive, realistic plans for how to accomplish their goals.

Let's stay connected

ALC Logo


To provide life coach training that changes lives, launches careers, and promotes human flourishing.

Connect with us

Facebook linkInstagram linkTwitter linkYoutube linkPinterest LinkLinkedin link
PO Box 2021
Hood River, Oregon 97031

This website is powered by

CTEDU logoACTP logo