Building the Right Skillset for Your College Success Team

College success advising is both an art and a science. The most effective advisors bridge technical expertise, from degree planning to financial aid verification, with the interpretation, empathy, and heart that make it possible for them to connect with students. It takes a certain kind of person to do this work well, but the blending of skills that’s required can come from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. And those skills will only continue to grow as each advisor finds their footing.

Whether you are looking to bring on new staff or nurture the skills of your advisors, here are a few considerations to ensure you have the right skillset on your team to provide every student with the support they need to succeed.

Here to Serve

Your team will thrive on a diversity of backgrounds, communication styles, and professional experiences. But there is one non-negotiable for being effective in this work, and that is a true passion and desire to help others. College success advisors must be able to build connections with their students to develop a deep understanding of their challenges and motivations. That means being an effective listener, but also building enough of a rapport and a level of trust that allows students to open up. From the first conversation with a would-be advisor, it will be clear if they have the innate motivation to build those relationships and guide students along this journey.

Lived Experience

Don’t underestimate the importance of representation on your team, with an advising staff that resembles the students you serve. Perhaps they come from a similar community or shared cultural background, or they were also a first-generation college student. Advisors who are willing to open up, to make themselves vulnerable and relate to students’ experiences, will make students feel more comfortable opening up, too. (One way to get lived experience on your team? Encourage former students to apply!)

Diverse Backgrounds

Many advisors find their way to college success advising through a nontraditional path, and not many job candidates may have in-depth knowledge about supporting college persistence in the context of an organization like yours. That means your onboarding process will need to quickly bring them up to speed and professionalize their advising approach with students. But in turn, these advisors will each bring a different perspective to the table, and your team will be all the better for it.

Learning Every Day

Every advisor needs to understand different pathways and potential pitfalls throughout the college journey. Even for a seasoned veteran of this work, that means learning something new every day, as the higher education landscape is always changing. Here are a few places advisors can turn to make sure their work is guided by the latest insights and best practices.

When supporting students’ college success, clearly there’s a lot to keep up with! Your advisors could be attending conferences and webinars every single day if they had the time, and there is always more to learn.

Divide and Conquer

To help make it all a bit more manageable, consider opportunities for members of your team to specialize. One advisor may be the team’s point person on financial aid, monitoring shifting regulations and mapping out a support strategy for verification. The team’s communications whiz can take the lead on student engagement, with social and email campaigns promoting events or raising awareness of program milestones. Or you may need a skilled data analyst on your team to make sure your efforts are making an impact at scale.


No matter how much experience an advisor brings to the table, supporting students will continue to challenge them in new ways throughout their career. Thriving in this role is about finding motivation in those challenges. The most effective advisors will do everything they can to help a student persevere and reach their goal of earning a college degree.

The stakes are high, and that’s why it’s so important to meet these challenges with a passionate team of dedicated experts. Together, we can ensure every student has the support they need to reach graduation and unlock a lifetime of opportunity.

GradSnapp’s recent e-book outlines five steps for charter schools to optimize their alumni persistence support, including getting the right team in place. Download your free copy to access our college success blueprint.


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