What Is Success Coaching Anyway?

What a Success Coach means—and what it doesn't—in higher education.

by N’Digo Kali, ReUp Manager of Learner Services 

When used outside of the realm of sports, the term “coaching” can be difficult for people to grasp as a profession. Although student success coaching has seen a steady increase in visibility and demand over the last decade or so, a knowledge gap still exists for many people who are unclear as to the role, need, and validity of this service if they have no plans to join a professional sports team. 

Similar to athletic coaches—or those who focus on health, business, or any other aspect of life you can think of—coaches have a keen ability to identify the skills and talents of the people they assist and take the time to create the best exercises, training, and game plans to bring out each client’s potential. For the athletic coach, the goal is to develop one’s physical and endurance potential; health coaches support one’s efforts to increase optimal well-being. And then there’s business coaches, who help co-create and sustain successful business practices for their clients.

But what happens when you combine coaching with academics? As a Success Coach and manager in Learner Services for ReUp, I have to clarify this position in relation to a student’s academic experience from time to time.

“Coaches have a keen ability to identify the skills and talents of the people they assist and take the time to create the best exercises, training, and game plans.”


Understanding student coaching services

To define what a Success Coach is, you have to make a distinction from what it is not: an on-campus academic advisor. Adding to the importance of student support services, Success Coaches can be a strong part of a student’s academic success team, including their degree/major department and academic advisor.

While academic advisors are focused on making sure that the student is taking the right classes at the right time, meeting their prerequisites, and fulfilling what they need in order to graduate, Success Coaches take a more holistic approach, understanding that there’s more to people than just academics.


Adult learners have a number of roles, responsibilities, and goals outside of school that are equal to, if not more important than, their college journey—it’s no secret that time management for working students is often a huge barrier to academic success. Student data from our own partner institutions has found that outside circumstances are the very reasons why people stop out of college to begin with.

The most frequently cited reasons for stopping out of school include:

  • Finances: 24%
  • Life balance: 23%
  • Professional commitments: 12%
  • Health: 10%
  • Motivation: 8%

Success Coaches, then, have the objective to help students balance school and life by:

  • discovering what their goals and interests are inside and outside of school
  • identifying what they most need at the moment and find the appropriate steps to get there
  • highlighting their academic and personal strengths and supporting them in overcoming potential obstacles

Success looks and feels different for each student, so coaching interactions are individualized and in support of students returning to school feeling as prepared, confident, and capable as possible, all while keeping their personal and professional development in view.

The difference between coaching and counseling adult learners

It is worth noting that coaching is not counseling. As Success Coaches work with adult learners to uncover the mindsets that move them forward or hold them back, it can be easy for some people to try to use coaching as a therapy session.

Although coaching can be very therapeutic, it is in no way a qualified space to diagnose or treat any traumas or mental-health issues, or to “fix” what may be perceived as what is “wrong” with a student. Instead, it is an opportunity to bring awareness to what is “right” with the student. It trusts that each person who engages in coaching has the potential to create and adopt healthy habits and behaviors that will enhance latent or known strengths to help them be successful in key areas of their life.

The impact of student coaching services in higher education

Coaches inspire people to become the best versions of themselves, and success coaching cultivates students that perform better at institutions of higher education.

Students become “better” when internal motivations are uncovered, connecting those motivations to short and long-term goals. Students can then learn to become more proactive and less reactive to perceived challenges—all through the partnership and support of a coach.

This type of personal evolution happens when a person experiences higher education and achieves their goal of personal and professional achievement. With a degree in hand, coached students walk away from their college journey a more self-actualized individual, and nothing thrills Success Coaches more than to know that they’ve supported someone in closing that chapter in their lives and opening the next chapter to possibility.

Personalized support for returning students: ReUp’s unique approach to student coaching services

At ReUp, our Success Coaches are passionate about helping students finish their degree. We guide students through the re-enrollment process and connect them to the information and resources they need to be successful in college completion and beyond. (Read our Learner Stories here).

What’s more, many of ReUp coaches and staff are stopout students themselves, they understand the lived experience of trying to return to school and earn a credential.

What also makes ReUp’s coaching unique? We combine student data insights with the work of our Success Coaches to provide the right support and resources at the right time. This approach, which personalizes our support of stopout students at scale, has led us to re-enroll thousands of students for our partners (12,600 in 2021 alone).

To learn more about ReUp and our dedicated Learner Services team of Success Coaches, set up a strategy session with us.

Let’s start the conversation

Schedule a call with a ReUp team member to learn more about what a ReUp partnership could do for your institution.