What is an Academic Coach?

Whenever I mention that my title is “Coordinator of Academic Coaching & Tutor Training” to someone, one of the first things they ask me is, “What is an Academic Coach?”. The answer to that question usually depends on who is asking.

When speaking to groups of academic professionals, I would likely explain it this way:

According to Bettinger & Baker (2011), an academic coach is defined as a person who, “work(s) to help students prioritize their studies, plan how they can be successful, and identify and overcome barriers to students’ academic success” (p. 2)

While this definition isn’t hard to understand by any means, if a student were to ask me the same question, I would give them a totally different answer; something more along the lines of:

My job as an academic coach is to guide you towards becoming a successful, autonomous student. I’m the guy you come to when you’re struggling to plan out your schedule or don’t really know why you can’t seem to understand that chemistry lecture the same way you understand chemistry lab. Want to know the differences in learning styles? I’m the guy for that. Want to make sure you’ve set yourself up to achieve your goals? I’m the guy for that. If you want to gain “skills” that are related to college success, I’m your biggest supporter for obtaining them.

It’s a bit longer of an answer than the former, however, I’ve noticed that it packs more of a punch for persuading students to recognize where they may be struggling. A longtime mentor and friend of mine once told me that she wished students would take advantage of the offers she gives to help students to get the most out of college while they can. Had it not been for her, I would definitely be on a much different career path; one that would probably involved me being on my way towards writing articles about students I’ve never worked with while holed up in an office with thousands of dusty books. Not that anything is wrong with that… I just find much more enjoyment working with students and not just the idea of a student.

Academic Coaches = College Success

In general, academic coaches help students with time management, organizational tips, understanding what success in the classroom looks like, improving student skills, building confidence, motivation, study habits, taking advantage of campus resources, learning how to properly approach professors and teaching assistants for help, participating in clubs/cultural events, attending academic workshops, and just about anything else that has to do with promoting healthy habits, decreasing the number of students who are academically at-risk, and increasing college retention rates.

ac chart
Epps, M. (2015). Coaching a winning team: Good academic coaching when working with academically at-risk students (Unpublished master’s project). State University of New York at Buffalo, Amherst, NY

I must caution you however: an Academic Coach is NOT the same as an Academic Advisor. Your Academic Advisor helps you plan your curriculum and makes sure you are meeting any and all university requirements in order to graduate. Academic Coaches, on the other hand, help you with your learning strategies and college-life management skills.

Academic Coach vs. Tutor

Another common cause for confusion is understanding the differences between an academic coach and a tutor. Academic coaches primarily deal with academic integration and do so by aiding students with all of the skills mentioned previously. Coaches are trained to look at the whole student and not just the subject specific issues a student may be having. Tutors, on the other hand, are very well versed in their specific subject areas and help students with classwork in more detail. Basically, coaches focus on the student at a macro level while tutors focus on students at a micro level. There are actually more similarities between an academic coach and a tutor than there are differences; and in fact, many coaches are also trained tutors and vice versa. In fact, many tutors may double as academic coaches and don’t even realize it yet!

Just for clarification purposes:


  • Subject specific
  • Help students with schoolwork
    • Reviewing lecture notes, textbook readings, discussing what to study, etc.
  • Sessions last 60 mins on average

Academic Coaches

  • Help students gain “soft skills”
  • Help students understand how to approach school/schoolwork
  • Sessions last 30 mins on average (however, can be extended up to 60 mins when needed)

Always remember, it’s the successful students who take advantage of the support services they’re offered. Success for an academic coach is helping students connect their goals with their college lives, getting them on track to becoming the student they want to be.

Featured image photo credit: (Playced.com)


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