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Success Coach Accountability

Success Coach Accountability

One of the many faces of a success coach is that of the “newspaper editor.” In my mind, the newspaper editor is one of those hard-boiled, almost mythical newsroom fixtures of old always seen walking around the bull pen, chomping on a cigar, calling out to the rookie reporter: “Masterson! You better have that scoop you’re writing on my desk by the end of the day or it’ll be the last time you see your name in print, ya hear?!” Though this model is not exactly the one to which I subscribe, the basic premise of this part of my job is this: it’s important for struggling college student to have someone to whom they must be accountable on a regular basis.

However, it’s not just students who need accountability in order to produce their best results; success coaches, too, must continue to check and re-check our status, progress, and methods. That’s why, at each of our bimonthly success coach meetings, all of the coaches in our program are required to submit a status report for each of our students. These reports contain three basic pieces of information:

1. Whether the student has been present for all scheduled meetings with their coaches. If there have been absences, how many and for what reason/s?

2. The number of documented study hours the student has accrued in the past two weeks. (We require all of our students in the success coach program to put in a certain number of hours of documented study time- they must sign in, sign out, and an authorized staff member must approve the validity of these signatures as well as the time accounted for- in either the library or the academic support center.)

3. A short, written summary about how the student is doing as well as a brief outline of the action plan the coach and student have developed to deal with any issues. These summaries can speak to academic issues we are dealing with, i.e.:  “student has expressed concern about math class, so we are looking for a tutor,” or more social ones:  “student continues to have trouble with his roommate, so we are setting up a meeting with his RA.”

Accountability is crucial in making sure that our program works effectively for our students. It also helps me, personally, keep track of the progress a student is or is not making. If I find myself writing the same short summary over and over again for the same student, I know that something’s not working. Likewise, nothing makes me happier than when I am able to write simply, “student is really on the ball now. She has gotten organized, is staying focused, and I expect good things.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

Organizational Skills Lead to Success

Organizational Skills Lead to Success

How do you keep your life organized? Your home? Your desk? If I looked into your closet, would I find it neatly organized by color and season, or would it initially look like chaos until you explained to me the method behind your madness? We all know that, in order to manage our lives successfully, we need to be organized. I, for example, live by my planner. (And as long as they sell ’em, I will always prefer a low-tech daily planner to a phone or tablet. There’s just something satisfying about writing things down on a physical piece of paper, and I won’t give it up no matter how shiny that iCal is!) If I don’t have it written in my planner, it’s not happening, which is why I’ve learned over the years to write things down immediately after scheduling. But organizational skills, like time management and a few other skills crucial for success in college are not necessarily intuitive for the average high school student turned college freshman.

One of the reasons that my students enter school or end up on academic probation in the first place is that their lack of organization is rendering moot all of the skills they do possess. For example, one of my new students this semester, a freshman named Jacob, is both intellectually curious and hardworking. I predict he would be producing competent and even above average work in all his classes…if he could ever find a syllabus in the black hole that is his backpack. Most of his papers are loose, and the two notebooks that he does use are not delineated by course. His notes are all over the place, and he is having a difficult time connecting the notes and thus the ideas of one week’s class to those of the next.

In addition to organizing one’s physical notes and papers, I help my students get organized digitally. It’s increasingly important that students keep up with their coursework through the online syllabus, check for changes to assignments or deadlines that a professor may only post online, and follow online discussion threads, even for classes that meet primarily in person. We too often assume that members of the millennial generation, who account for the majority of college students today, have such a natural facility with technology and the digital world that they just know how to do this stuff when that’s not always the case.

Despite decades working as a teacher as well as a success coach, I can still be surprised when a student takes the art of disorganization to a new level. However, I do have faith that time and a little coaching can help them turn it around. I’ve written a few times about a student with whom I worked last year who arrived on campus on academic probation, then climbed out of the hole only to fall back in. She’s with me again this fall, and it’s clear that last year’s roller coaster of an academic performance left her motion sick.  It’s also clear that she is intent on getting off the ride for good. She has her planner planned out way ahead, a folder for every subject, in the front, left pocket of which sits a copy of the syllabus like a trusted sidekick. She’s got her work cut out for her, but she is organized in a way that tells me she is really motivated to get it right this time.

Some of us can’t keep our clothes organized by color and season; I know I can’t. Everyone has his or her own system, but if someone doesn’t have a system at all, it’s not going to work. So I and my colleagues are in constant dialogue with our students, trying and erring and trying again to figure out what works for each of them.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

5 Criteria for Effective Goal Management

5 Criteria for Effective Goal Management

So what are your goals? To own your own business? To make partner or simply move up in the company? To publish a novel? To finish writing said novel? To say yes to an opportunity you’ve previously declined out of fear? To get one actual page of this stupid novel on paper if it kills you?!

Goals come in all sizes. Some are big; some are small. Some are concrete; some are abstract. Some goals can be relatively easy to achieve- others only by figuratively moving mountains (unless your goal is to build a mountaintop removal mining empire, in which case you’re going to be literally moving mountains).

However, almost no goal, large or small, is achievable without a plan. When success coaches work with students, one of the first things we do is help them to set goals that are:

1. Actionable- Goals are always more frustrating and less likely to be achieved if there is no clear first step to achieving them. For example, it is a goal of mine to visit every National Park, but that goal means little if I never begin to figure out how I will get to Kobuk Valley, the country’s least visited and least accessible (feet, dogsleds, and snowmobiles only, please) National Park, located on the Arctic Circle. Similarly, it’s extremely important that my students and I talk about the first, second, third step, and so on, to accomplishing a goal (such as figuring out how your average success coach based in the Midwest can hitch a ride to the Arctic Circle.)

2. Manageable- One of my freshmen this year has an English teacher who has a particularly esoteric way of explaining things.  Her syllabus, even for someone like myself, reads a bit like a riddle. So it’s no surprise that Davin is nearly always at sea when it comes to knowing what exactly he is supposed to do in her class. In a situation like this, the most manageable first step is not to complete even a simple assignment- it’s to schedule 10 minutes to speak with his professor after class in order to get more clarity on the assignment itself.

3. Specific- Goals are always easier to achieve the more specific they are. With my students, we break down goals into small and large, as well as short, medium, and long-term.

4. Prioritized- Based on our assessment of goals as either short, medium, or long-term, I use an ABC system with my students. Any work that needs to be completed and turned in within the next 24 hours is labeled A; work that I want to see completed by our next meeting (even if it is not technically due for another day or two) receives a B, and anything that a student could do but is long-term enough that it doesn’t match the urgency of the As or Bs is labeled C.

5. Empiric- While on the road to goal achievement, it is crucial to be able to measure one’s progress. When I am working with students who have assignments that may span two weeks or an entire semester, this is especially important A) in understanding whether a student is truly on track and B) in keeping a student motivated by acknowledging (and celebrating) the smaller yet concrete results on the way to achieving something larger.

I’d like to mention one more thing, and that’s how technology has substantially improved my and my students’ abilities to document goals and assess progress. For example, I have a student this fall who is taking an art class, for which he had a project due on Monday before we met. So I called him last Friday to see how it was going. He said that he was halfway through, so I simply asked him to take a picture on his phone of what he had so far and text it to me. I knew that if he didn’t send me anything, his story was most likely untrue from the start, and if he did, he would know that I was holding him accountable to his word and for his work. Indeed, not five minutes later, I received an image of what certainly looked like a work in full progress.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

3 Essential Goals of the First Success Coach Meeting

3 Essential Goals of the First Success Coach Meeting

I’ve spoken before about the importance of the first meeting between a success coach and a new student. Pretty obviously, the success of these meetings is crucial because it’s when first impressions are made, and thus when students decide if attending coaching sessions is just another onerous obligation- another mandated box they must check in order to graduate- or if is something in which they see the value. There are many aspects to a first meeting with students, but all of these are in service of a specific goal: that when my student walks out of my office, he or she knows three things.

1. “I know that my success coach is here to do anything and everything in his or her power to help me achieve my goals.”

If nothing else, students should leave the first meeting with a success coach with the absolute certainty that their coach has their back. I want my students to understand, even in the first 30 minutes, that I really do care about them, and that I want them to succeed just as much as they do. I also want them to know that, in the area of success, we have a very good track record.

2. “I know that my success coach actually has a lot of connections and knows how to connect me with all available resources.”

Whether it’s knowing who to call when a student has a financial aid issue, connecting a student with a particular professor or tutoring group for extra help, or simply knowing about the myriad academic and social opportunities available on campus, it’s important that students know that I am a one-stop-liaison for any and all kinds of help on campus.

3. “I know that, at each meeting, my success coach and I are going to set concrete, achievable goals, and that she is going to FOLLOW UP in an effort to make sure I am on top of them.”

Number three is really a two-parter. I want students to feel the relief that comes with knowing that we are going to break this process down into manageable, bite-sized pieces. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will they be asked to fix everything all at once. However, I also want them to understand that, because these session-by-session goals will be small and concrete, there are concrete ways in which I can and WILL check to see if they are taking care of business. If they have any doubt, they can ask any of my former students, all of whom know that if I ever got a face tattoo of my philosophy in this arena, “trust but verify” would be forever etched across my forehead.

If, at the end of his or her first meeting with me, I’ve succeeded in imparting these three lessons to a student, there’s a good chance that student feels more empowered, confident, and supported than before he or she walked in the door. For example, just a few days ago I met for the first time with a freshman who barely squeaked through our admissions process (so close to the line that he didn’t get through the NCAA clearinghouse that would enable him to play his sport this year). At some point that afternoon, he struck up a conversation with a colleague of mine who works in the office of the Dean of Students. “A few days ago, I was really scared,” he admitted. “I didn’t know how people were going to be or if I’d make friends, but now I feel so much better! Everyone’s been really nice, I like all my professors, and,” he continued, “I have a success coach who’s going to make sure I get my stuff done!”

Over the course of our meeting, I had seen first-hand this young man’s expression change from one of deep anxiety to relief- the feeling of relief that can only come from realizing that he was not alone, that there were people here in this brave new world who really wanted him to succeed. It’s a good feeling.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

Success Coaching – The Semester Begins

Success Coaching – The Semester Begins

And now… it’s time for the hit, new game show that’s sweeping the nation: Get off of Academic Probation and GET! THAT! DEGREE!

The name of the show might be a mouthful, folks, but it’s making the American Dream possible for millions every year. Let’s meet some of our contestants…

Noah: Noah is a freshman entering college on a basketball scholarship (the good news) and academic probation (the bad news). Noah attended four high schools in four years, and the lack of stability obviously played a toll, for while his jump shot epitomizes follow-through and focus, his high school grades are all over the court.

Dante: While Dante’s composite test scores and GPA were all in range, I flagged his file as potentially at-risk because his English and math grades were particularly low, as were some of his ACT subscores. In addition, he made the ACT score that got him accepted by our university on his fourth attempt, and the other three score results would not have met our target composite.

Dan: Dan is arriving on campus seemingly carrying the weight of the world on his back. Six months ago, he lost his mother to cancer. Over the summer, his father was diagnosed with the same disease. An aunt is also battling a likely fatal illness. And yet here he is, excited and ready to jump in with both feet, according to the admissions counselor who has been his primary university contact up to now.

Tracy: Say it isn’t so, Tracy! Tracy is a returning sophomore with whom I worked last fall. She came to school desperately homesick and unable, due to her probationary status, to do the one thing that made her the happiest: run track. By the end of the semester, however, Tracy was one of my success stories. She had gotten her grades up enough both to get off academic probation and to run in the spring. That’s why I was so disappointed to discover, only days ago, that she had not been able to maintain the academic momentum she’d developed while working with me. But that’s okay, Tracy! We’ll dig in this fall and find a way to turn it around again. Sometimes you’ve got to learn lessons a few times before they really stick.

The stories of Dan and Tracy bring up two important points. The first is the invaluable role that our admissions counselors play regarding the students with whom they’ve been in contact, sometimes for upwards of a year. I can’t tell you how helpful it was to have these counselors attend part of our first success coach meeting. They were able to fill in the gaps- to give us information that even careful “transcript sleuthing” cannot provide, from insight into family dynamics to experiences which may have greatly influenced a student’s success in high school.

Secondly, Tracy’s fall and rise and fall again (going for rise #2 starting next week!) played a big role in the substance of the remarks I made to the entire freshman class earlier this week. Often, the problem with freshmen is that they don’t realize how difficult it can be to pull oneself out of an academic hole once one has dug it. So I spoke frankly with them about how hard it can be to come back from a bad first semester, but I also let them know that, luckily, the way to avoid waking up in a ditch of one’s own making is simple: speak up. Ask for help. Let someone know you’re struggling. Chances are, we have the resources you need to turn it around, but they only help those who take advantage of them.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

The New School Year – Part 3

The New School Year – Part 3

Well, the first official success coach meeting for the 2013 fall semester is now mere days away, and I’d like to talk a little more in-depth about the agenda. This will be our first meeting of the year but also the last before we meet our students, so it is imperative that we use this meeting to ensure that, come the first day of school, the program is running like a well-oiled machine.

First, the swimsuit competition! Oops, never mind, that’s just what happens in my anxiety dream version of this meeting. In reality, we will begin by listening to two Ted Talks given by educators Angela Lee Duckworth and Rita F. Pierson as well as discussing a Stanford University study (previously discussed on this blog) on the benefits of college success coaching programs.  I think it’s fitting that we begin our discussion of coaching students by becoming students ourselves, and hopefully the lessons provided by these educators and researchers will give us new and inspiring insights into our work.

Next, we are going to give each coach his or her student assignments along with the corresponding folder containing each student’s high school and college (unless they are freshmen) transcripts, standardized test scores, application, and class schedule. Then we are going to meet with freshman seminar instructors as well as as with the admissions counselors who have been in contact with our incoming freshmen for the past few months. Counselors will share what they have learned about this or that student over the course of their communication, so coaches will have some idea as to their personalities and backgrounds.

Then we are going to go through the folders and talk about specific students. For example, I will need to inform one of our coaches, who I paired with this particular student because he has a background in hospice work, that she recently lost her mother. I will inform another one of our coaches, who has experience working with students with disabilities, that one of her incoming freshmen has been diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. Sometimes, while going through these folders, we will swap certain student assignments due to scheduling or other issues.

Finally, we will close the meeting by talking about goals. I have asked each coach to come prepared to share one personal goal for the year as well as one goal for the program as a whole. I can say for certain that each year of our success coaching program has been better and more effective than the last, and I believe that’s partially because, as demonstrated by the way in which we will begin the meeting, many people who become educators do so primarily because they are students at heart. Simply put: we love learning. Thus, our program, like education at its best, is dynamic- ever-changing in order to better itself.

Here’s to doing it even better in the fall of 2013.

Please check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the ‘The New School Year’ series if you missed the earlier posts.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

The New School Year – Part 2

The New School Year – Part 2

It’s just over two weeks until the start of classes for the 2013 fall semester, which means my colleagues and I are hard at work making sure we are ready to go on Day 1. Right now, I am primarily working on making a final list of students with which we will either definitely be working (as in the case of new or returning students on academic probation or warning) as well as those “borderline” students who we will be offering an optional but highly recommended opportunity to participate in the program.

This semester, our roster includes 18 incoming freshmen who were admitted on probationary status, 25 students I culled from a freshman class of over 400 students who fall into the “borderline” category, and 25 returning students whose spring semester grades put them on either academic probation or warning. I am especially pleased with this last number, as it represents a huge drop from that of previous years. It’s a good feeling to have the personal knowledge that our program is effective (and only becoming more so) corroborated by data; after all, numbers do not lie.

I am also excited about the prospect of bringing these “borderline” students into the program. In order to make my final list, I went through the transcripts of every single freshman who will be walking onto our campus in two weeks, and looked for potential issues. Did a student do well overall but consistently struggled in a particular, core area? Were a student’s ACT or SAT scores significantly higher or lower than his or her classroom grades? Did a student have a chronic problem with tardiness or absenteeism? One girl on my list of 25, for example, missed nearly 20 days of school (and in one year she missed 24) every year of high school. This pattern could potentially speak to a lack of motivation, a chaotic home environment or one in which education was undervalued or simple immaturity, all of which could have a deleterious effect on her ability to succeed in college. As I went through these transcripts, I ranked students (1-3) according to how much or little they seemed at risk.

The 25 in my final list will be receiving a letter from our admissions director informing them that we would like to pair them up with a success coach for the fall semester. Participation in the program will not be required; however, we strongly recommend that they do participate. I am also going to talk to the athletic coaches to see if any of these students are on their teams. Our coaches are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of success coaching, and for those students who are on athletic teams; their coaches are going to personally request that they join the program.

Now that I have a complete list of the students who will (or who we hope will) be joining us, it’s time to assign students to specific coaches. Most of the time, this process is either random (as in the case of incoming freshmen about whom we know very little) or a continuation of the status quo. Most students who return to the program, and who have therefore worked with a certain coach before, choose to remain with the same coach. There are, however, cases in which we do match students with coaches based on perceived compatibility.

For example, sometimes a coach will recommend that a student receive a different coach for a second semester in the program. This decision can be based on the gender, age, or temperament of a particular coach or it can be based on the precept that a student may simply bond more naturally with someone else. For example, we had a female student last semester who did alright but who is still on academic probation this fall. In conversations with her coach, it became apparent that this young woman was in need of a strong, male role model in her life. Her coach and I both agreed that she might do better, therefore, with a male coach, and so this year we are pairing her with our very best.

Similarly, another student who struggled last year largely because she was dealing with a double dose of social isolation and homesickness, so this fall I have matched her with a coach who spent more than 20 years as a counselor in public schools. Yet another student, a football player whose coach left to take another job at the end of last year, is going to be working with a colleague of mine whose life has revolved around football for decades. Her husband and both of her sons played football, and her husband (as well as one of her sons) coaches professionally. I’m sure this student would do fine with anyone on our very capable team, but why not match him with someone with whom he has something in common?

There is still much work to be done before classes start for this brand new school year, but day by day my colleagues and I are doing our best to ensure that we will be ready.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

The New School Year – Part 1

The New School Year – Part 1

The beginning of a new school year has a distinct (and for those of us in education, an exhilarating) smell. Even as a little girl, I loved the aroma of new books and pencils, and, of course, that delightfully chalky smell of a blackboard- because these smells were all harbingers that a new term was beginning. Even these days, when chalkboards have largely been replaced by whiteboards, pencils by pens, and books by visually entrancing yet odorless tablets and laptops, I find that I can smell the onset of another fall semester. And these past few days, after two months of summer vacation has bestowed upon me its myriad gifts, I’ve started to smell it.

On August 21st, my colleagues and I will meet for the first time to discuss the upcoming school year, and I am looking forward to discussing the changes at the university as well as the ways in which we can improve the Success Coaching program specifically. In this first installment of a three-part blog, I would like to give an overview of what we are looking to accomplish in this first meeting.

First of all, there are a few changes going on university-wide that we will need to discuss. The one about which I’m the most excited is the complete revamp of our student instructor (which we call PAL: Peer Assisted Learning) program. I’m always an advocate of students learning from their peers, and I hope that this new model will be even more successful in helping those who are struggling in core areas like English and math.

In terms of the success coaching program in particular, I am very excited that we are currently in the process of hiring one to three new coaches. All three applicants are experienced former teachers- two are younger women who have been out of the workforce for a few years to stay home with small children, and one is a retired teacher with 32 years of experience in the public, K-12 school system. In general, our best recruits have almost always come from the “helping” professions- people who have previously worked in human resources or as counselors, social workers, and especially teachers- so I have high hopes that all three of these potential, new success coaches will be joining us on August 21.

I have asked all of our success coaches to come to the meeting with a few things. First is a list of their own personal goals for the semester. While we all think about what we can do better, I’ve found that it’s always more effective when we A) write these things down, and B) discuss them aloud in front of others. In addition to a list of personal goals, I’ve asked each coach to make a list of ideas as to how we can improve the program as a whole. I’d like a significant portion of the meeting to be a discussion of the question: how do we, as a group, better meet the needs of students? For example, last year we had a coach who began working with her students once a week via Skype. The experiment was a huge success, and we plan on doing more of this kind of coaching this coming year. We are also doing more to connect our students with one another as well as to attempt to catch at-risk freshmen before they fall through the cracks. We have tweaked our program every year since its inception, and positive gains have followed. This coming fall, I am proud to report, we have the lowest number of students on academic probation or warning than we’ve ever had. While there is an interconnected web of reasons and realities that have contributed to this exciting statistic, the success coaching program has certainly been a big part of the solution.

Next week, I will detail more specifically how my fellow coaches and I plan to improve our program for the coming year, but for now…I’m just enjoying the smell of anticipation.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

Success Coaching: The Boomerang Effect

Success Coaching: The Boomerang Effect

In my career spent success coaching I have realized the painful truth that sometimes students fail out of college. Sometimes they drop out. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to help a student turn his or her college career around, nothing seems to work.

It’s a reality that has made me frustrated, sad, and, at times, even defeatist. I thought, “If they’re just going to go back to bad habits, or continue with bad attitudes, or ignore my advice completely, what’s the point?” However, I’ve been at this job long enough to know that there’s another, equally true reality, and that’s what I call the boomerang effect. Sometimes, it turns out, being dismissed from school is exactly what students need in order to finally hear what you’ve been saying all along. Sometimes it is in these moments, when students are forced to re-assess their entire plan, that all of the conversations you had with them during success coaching sessions finally make sense. And sometimes, just like a boomerang, they come flying back. And when they do, it’s often their success coach that they call first.

Success coaches are, of course, only one kind of adult mentor for college students, as many become close with a favorite professor or athletic coach. However, the rapport that success coaches build with their students is often free from the outside expectations that can exist in other types of student/mentor relationship. A student can become close with an athletic coach, but at the end of the day, that student is still trying to prove to his or her coach that he or she can compete at the level the coach desires. Likewise, students can only be so open with a person who is responsible for their grades, even if they do have a friendly rapport. The relationship of a student to his or her success coach is a much simpler one, and that can enable students to open up their coaches more fully and freely.


Abbie just didn’t do anything anyone expected her to do. Everything had to be her way or the highway, and her way turned out to be a dead end road. I worked with Abbie during the spring semester of her freshman year, and despite the best efforts of his professors, her RA, and me, Abbie was dismissed at the end of the year. A year after that, I received a letter in the mail. “I know I don’t deserve this, and I know there’s no good reason you should help me now,” Abbie began, “but I realize now that I was wrong about so many things.” Abbie went on to apologize for a variety of things before asking if she could call me to start a conversation about figuring out how she might be able to come back to school. She did, and thus began Abbie’s Second Act.


Like many college freshmen, Marcus entered school at the age of 18- a young 18. He came to campus to play basketball, and that’s pretty much what he did…until his poor grades prohibited him from playing. We worked together for two semesters, and for the first one his grades improved enough to make him eligible for the following season, but then he took another nosedive and was dismissed at the end of his sophomore year. Two years later, out of the blue, I got a call from Marcus. Shortly after, he re-enrolled. It took him almost three years to finish his degree, but on graduation day this past May, there he was, handsomely “capped” and “gowned” and smiling from ear to ear as he enveloped me in a bear hug.


I worked with Jonah not as a success coach but as a supervisor of student teachers; however, his story reminds me that sometimes students go forward even when they do not come back. Jonah was in the final, student-teaching phase of his education degree, but all was not well. Already he had been asked to repeat his student-teaching once, although I was not surprised when I heard the news, as I had seen during my observations that Jonah was anything but comfortable in front of a class. Not long into his second stint, I got a call from the cooperating teacher telling me that Jonah was in tears. When I arrived, I asked a question I’d asked Jonah a dozen times before: are you sure this is really what you want to do with your life? A dozen times before, Jonah’s answer had been the same, but this time he reversed course. “No, he said, tears still in his eyes, I really don’t want to do this. I don’t like teaching.” “That’s great news!” I replied, and then I began to explain to him how knowing for sure that a certain job is NOT for you can be just as informative as realizing what career path is. Once Jonah admitted that he no longer wanted to teach, we started an honest discussion about what he might want to do instead. A few months later, he came back to campus to tell me that he’d been accepted into one of the few programs in the country that teaches people to repair musical instruments. I had never seen him so elated, and it was immediately clear to me that he’d finally found his path…at least the next mile of it.

My interactions with Abbie, Marcus and Jonah have all made me realize that, even when I feel like my words are falling on deaf ears, and even when I feel like my best efforts have not been enough to save a student from dismissal…my students are listening, but some messages just need to incubate longer than others. And in the end, it’s always better late than never.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.

Top 5 Characteristics of The Prepared Student

Top 5 Characteristics of The Prepared Student

Since I started blogging about my experience as a success coach, I have written a fair amount about the ways in which my students find themselves unprepared, in one or multiple ways, for college. However, another way to look at it is: what are the primary skills that students who are prepared for college life have that others don’t? In my experience, students who are most apt to succeed in a university environment, whether on campus or online, exhibit five common characteristics:


A student can only succeed once he or she realizes that the responsibility for an education falls solely on his or her shoulders. Without the basic maturity required to take control of one’s own decisions, students can find themselves floundering in a world where no one else is there to make sure they get up in the morning, go to class, or turn in assignments. In college, there is no longer an authority figure looking over students’ shoulders to ensure that they are staying on track or, conversely, there to ground them or send them to detention if they aren’t. With maturity comes the strength to ignore the chorus of peers imploring one to skip class just this once or put down the textbook and go out to that Thursday night party. It also gives students the confidence they will need to feel comfortable talking to professors, deans, or staff who know the answers to vital questions.


For most students, the transition from high school to college is a major one that can be simultaneously thrilling and daunting. For the first couple of semesters, especially, students can feel like strangers in a very strange land. That’s why the students who are the most prepared for this brave new world are those who have the capacity to adapt easily to new environments. This can mean ease making friends, asking questions, or being able to quickly recognize what one doesn’t know. Most students, for example, can discern how well or poorly their high schools prepared them academically for the rigor of college-level work within the first few weeks of classes. The most adaptable, and therefore the most successful, students take this information and immediately begin trying to fill the gaps in knowledge or ability. For some, that means seeking out tutoring upon realizing that they are behind the curve in core subjects. For others, it’s finding they lack experience in writing and then taking a seminar on writing research papers.


As much as we would like to think that all high schools’ “college prep” programs adequately “prep” students for “college,” this just isn’t the case. Some high schools are simply more rigorous than others, and two students can walk onto the same college campus with the same high school GPAs and even the same SAT or ACT scores, and yet their first semester work can reflect vastly disparate levels of academic preparedness. However, those students who come to campus underprepared can close that gap if they display (or learn) some or all of the other attributes common among successful students.


I’ve mentioned time management multiple times before on this blog, but I can’t stress its importance enough. Some students come to campus straight from college preparatory programs that emphasize student initiative and independence; these students may have a great deal of experience managing their own time, and completing writing-intensive or long term projects for which there is little day-by-day guidance. However, many students have not had these kinds of experiences, and even those who have can find themselves needing to become not just apprentices but masters of the craft of time management. College students need to learn how to successfully manage free time, and most college freshmen find themselves with more “free time” than ever before. I am not a mathematician, but even I know that the equation: more free time + assignments that may not be due until the end of the semester = PROCRASTINATION. Also, students often are not prepared for the amount of work they may have to do for a given assignment, and so they often give themselves far less time than they actually need to complete it.


This may seem like a no-brainer, but the students who come to college most prepared are almost always those who are the most organized. (Now, organized is in no way the same thing as “neat”- some of the most organized people I know have messy desks, but they all have a concrete system that works for them.) Organized students generally keep materials for a given class in the same place, have separate folders on their computers for different projects or courses, and work/study in a regimented fashion. For a paper, they keep checklists as well as a running knowledge of what they need to do first, second, third, etc. Organized students also find out what environments and times of day are best for them and plan their studying accordingly.

Students do not need to exhibit all five of these characteristics in order to be “prepared” for college life and work. I’ve seen students who are incredibly immature in certain ways yet are able to get work done efficiently and proficiently. I’ve seen others who are adaptable in some ways but not others, or who are academically very ready for college-level work if only they could find that darn syllabus they keep misplacing. As success coaches, we have strategies for helping students address their lack of preparedness in these areas, for the more that students learn to master these skills, the better positioned they will be for success in not just college…but life.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.