Research on Coaching

Findings from a number of studies suggest that coaching appears likely to help many college students with executive functioning challenges achieve greater academic success.  For many of these students, college is the first time they have faced the task of managing their own lives.  While in high school, their parents, teachers, and guidance counselors often acted as external executive function managers for them (Katz, 1998).

Coaching is an equal partnership that requires students to think and behave in new and fundamentally different ways than traditional advising and tutoring.  It is a transformational process that enhances overall well-being and allows students to develop positive expectations about their future.   It is unique in its emphasis on development of executive functioning skills.

Coaching appears to help students manage daily levels of stress and anxiety about their academic performance as their self-regulation skills improve. Benefits may extend to  students with and without ADHD who increasingly reach out to counseling centers after becoming overwhelmed by the demands on their daily functioning and problem-solving skills (Kadison & DiGeronimo, 2004).

Students report that their coach’s empathy, support, and assistance enhanced their skills while also diminishing their worries about meeting their academic responsibilities (Parker & Boutelle, 2009; Zwart & Kallemeyn, 2001).

Standford University Study

The 2011 Stanford University study “The Effects of Student Coaching: An Evaluation of a Randomized Experiment in Student Advising.” by Associate Professor Eric Bettinger and doctoral student Rachel Baker reviewed the academic records of more than 13,500 students from eight colleges and universities across the 2003-2004 and 2007-2008 academic years.  Findings for the coached groups included a 1o to 15 percent increase in retention and graduation rates (coached groups led consistently after 12, 24, 18 and 24 months) and that expenditures expenditures on coaching are much smaller than the costs of other methods to encourage persistence in college.  Bettinger concluded that “Coaching not only works, but it appears to be one of the more cost effective ways to produce better retention and  graduation rates.”

Coaching for College Students with Learning Disabilities and ADHD

 Rather than using a didactic (i.e. instructional) approach, coaches use specific types of questions to model effective executive functioning and to elicit students’ own ideas as they increase their capacity to clarify, plan, and take action on goals.  These questions encourage students to stop, reflect, and develop more realistic plans, based on more accurate self-awareness of how they think and act.  Coaches then hold clients accountable for taking action on these plans and learning, in the process, about factors that support or restrict their goal attainment (Quinn et al., 2000).


  • provide information, offer options for strategies and skills, and aks questions that prompt students to create their own solutions and take increased responsibility for their actions
  • challenge students to set specific goals, develop realistic plans for achieving them, monitor obstacles and successes
  • hold students accountable for their efforts to implement their plans
  • support students by listening without judgment, affirming their feelings, and sharing relevant inforamtion about how other students with ADHD have succeeded in academic settings

Coaching Benefits for Students:

  • improved ability to set goals and capacity to attain them (e.g. break projects into smaller steps)
  • use of time management systems in effective ways
  • awareness of and focus on action needed to improve specific areas
  • improved motivation to achieve or maintain academic success resulting from caring, accountable relationships with coaches (balance of challenge and support) 
  • more positive sense of well-being and self-control (beliefs and feelings about capacity to accomplish goals; modulated negative emotions; improved confidence and reduced feeling of being overwhelmed)
  • using self-talk to organize thinking and engage in problem solving


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