The Top 7 Questions to Ask Yourself to Decide Whether YOU Should Enter This Growing Field
Ten years ago when I first started doing this work, no one had heard of Academic Life Coaching; these days, more and more families are googling the phrase “academic coach” in their quest for support for their anxious, overwhelmed, and/or unmotivated students.
It’s an up-and-coming field, this academic life coaching thing, with bottomless need all over the country (and world!) as far as I can tell. So it makes sense that YOU might be curious about whether this is work that you might like to do!
In this blog post, I’ll introduce you to exactly what academic life coaching is, and share seven reflective questions to ask yourself, to help you discern whether becoming an academic life coach is the right career move for you.
Let’s start by looking at what an exactly an academic life coach does.
An academic life coach works with the student 1:1 outside of the school setting. We help them de-stressify their lives and increase their effectiveness and confidence in their academics and in the rest of their lives, too.
More specifically, academic coaches help students learn strategies for time management, organization, effective studying, and self-advocacy. They also work on mindset, motivation, and goal setting and goal achievement.
Like a tutor, academic life coaches work with a student weekly throughout the semester. Unlike a tutor, who focuses on teaching a single content area, the academic life coach focuses on learning habits across all content areas, focusing on meta-cognition, habits, study routines and learning strategies to help the student troubleshoot his or her own learning. Often the strategies we put in place are useful across ALL subjects, and not just the specific subject that the student thinks they need support in.
What kinds of folks have the best success as academic life coaches?
The best academic life coaches love working with young people, especially teenagers. Perhaps this goes without saying. If you don’t have a special affinity for teenagers, this is probably not a line of work for you
But love for teens isn’t enough! It takes a certain kind of person to make it as an academic life coach. Here is a list of careers that most of the successful academic coaches I’ve met have transitioned from:
- Current teachers who are leaving teaching because they’ve burned out or fully intend to keep on teaching until retirement, but would love a supplementary side income.
- School counselors who have been disillusioned by the reality of their position, which includes more scheduling and less connecting deeply with students than they anticipated.
- Retired educators who need to keep on earning money for 5-10 more years, and would like to do so in a creative, nurturing, less exhausting environment than a school.
- Tutors who struggle to get families to pay decent hourly rates, and know that adding academic life coaching to their skill set can help them up their rates.
- Parents who supported a struggling learner through school, and realize that they are good at this work and would like to continue working with other people’s kids. This includes homeschool parents, who have a lot of intimate contact with kiddos as learners.
- Life coaches who have gotten clear that their perfect niche is students, but don’t know how to transition from life coaching to the specific requirements related to coaching teens.
Whether or not you identify as one of the folks above, I’m so glad you’re contemplating becoming an academic life coach! I want to help you discern whether this is the right career change for you.
The following seven questions will be helpful as you discern whether you’re ready to jump into this rewarding line of work. The first five questions center around issues related to the content and structure of the work; the second set of three questions will help you discern whether you can hack the unique challenges of self-employment.
Feel free to click on the questions that feel most relevant and interesting to you. Or, simply scroll down to read about each one of them in order.
- Am I passionate about learning and do I have a big enough toolbox of strategies to teach students?
- Am I comfortable with being improvisational, spontaneous, and not always having a plan?
- Am I willing to deal intimately with family dysfunction?
- Are you comfortable working with students who have learning differences and quirky brains?
- Do I want a part-time or a full-time business?
- Am I willing to invest time into marketing, even if it makes me uncomfortable?
- Do I have the external and internal support systems in place to deal with the inevitable uncertainty that comes with starting a business?
Here we go…!
THE NATURE OF COACHING
The first four questions have to do with the actual work of coaching students.
Am I passionate about learning and do I have a big enough toolbox of strategies to teach students?
The most successful academic coaches I’ve seen are folks with a huge toolbox of specific strategies that help students. Not every student benefits from every strategy, so it’s important to have a toolbox that is so big that you and your client can pick and choose strategies until you find ones that work for them.
This is important! I’ve seen many folks who are life coaches for teenagers who are great at getting students in touch with their own gifts, strengths, motivations, and goals, and uncovering mental blocks that keep them from achieving goals. That’s wonderful, but that’s not enough.
So many teenagers have simply never been taught some basic skills about how to be a good student. They NEED skills badly. And so academic life coaches should be equipped to teach these hard skills in the context of the other “soft skills” that they cover with students.
The most attractive and successful academic life coaches who have come through my Anti-Boring Approach Coach Training Program are passionate about learning, and LOVE to gather new tools and strategies to help students succeed. Their toolbox is CHOCK FULL of interesting tips and techniques for teaching students to study.
Typically, too, the best Academic Life Coaches love to learn and also love applying all the strategies and tools in their own lives. The more learning you do, the better you can share about how YOU are applying all these learning tools in your own life. That gives you a special cred with students.
Am I comfortable with being improvisational, spontaneous, and not always having a plan?
Academic life coaching is an art and an improvisational art at that.
If you are someone who requires a set plan or curriculum and need to be advised exactly what to do when, if you don’t like surprises and need to stick to your plan in order to feel in control, then academic life coaching is not for you.
Let me give you some examples of academic life coaching sessions in action (at least, the way I practice them)
When a student shows up to their weekly session, the first 10 minutes of the session are spent getting an update. I often ask the following types of questions: How has their week been going? What tests, quizzes, projects, and assignments are coming up? Do they have any missing work? How are they doing emotionally? What extracurricular activities are going to consume their time in the next week? What do their parents think they need to accomplish during the session, and does the student agree with this assessment?
Once you have answers to all these questions, then you decide (in collaboration with the student) what needs to happen during that session. Here are a few options:
- If they’ve been consistently turning in their math homework late, you spend 20 minutes figuring out why and create some new routines and reminders to reverse this trend.
- If a new month-long project has been assigned, spend 40 minutes laying out a plan, putting it in the paper planner, and setting up digital alerts.
- If the student has no idea how to study, set aside the rest of the session to deliver what I call the “mini-lectures” about the brain, neural pathways, The Study Cycle, and basic learning theory. Then apply these mini-lectures to creating a study plan for an upcoming test.
- If the student is clearly upset, spend the session listening and helping them brainstorm self-care and self-regulation strategies.
These are a few of a kazillion options for what you might do during a typical coaching session.
Keep in mind: You should be able and willing to improvise at the moment. But improv, after all, is creativity within a very clear structure! I don’t recommend being rigidly attached to a specific curriculum; I DO recommend having a standard set of routines that you do with students during sessions, as well as a clear set of principles, tools, and strategies that you intend to teach during your work with the students.
In my Anti-Boring Approach™ Coach training program, I teach educators about the most effective routines I’ve discovered to help glean the important information from your student as fast as possible, and make strong decisions about what the work of the session needs to be. There is a method to my madness, and it’s not totally freeform. I share more about these systems in my free course “Should I Become an Academic Life Coach?”
Am I willing to deal intimately with the messy (and sometimes dysfunctional) realities of family life?
Have you heard the phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”? In my experience, many teenagers with learning challenges and/or anxiety have parents with the same (often masked) challenges.
When you get the first inquiry call from a parent, usually the student is the is “identified patient.” The parent is reaching out because the student is overwhelmed and struggling, often filled with anxiety about school and super stressed out. The family is feeling the repercussions of this stress, too. If we fix the student’s habits, motivation and outlook, the family dynamic will be fixed too, right?
Of course, what many parents often fail to realize is that a certain percentage of the students’ stress is caused BY the parent (even though they perceive that the dynamic is reversed).
Perhaps the parent is overly anxious about their kid’s grades, working themselves into a tizzy by checking the grades on PowerSchool several times a day and freaking out with every new zero that appears. Other times the parent is ADD or ADHD themselves and so has difficulty providing enough structure and sustained attention for the student to feel held.
It can be very hard for parents to take an honest, up-close look at their contribution to the student’s challenges and the family system. And so they choose to stay focused on fixing their kid rather than changing their own behaviors and mindsets.
One of the joys of academic coaching is taking the burden of vigilance off of the parent so that they can focus on simply connecting with their kid rather than being the student’s administrative assistant. I also provide a lot of reassurance to parents. I’ve seen many an anxious parent calm down simply because I’ve provided a listening ear, and then told them, “Parenting is hard! This situation is hard. I see how much you care about your kid. You’re doing a good job navigating this.”
However, sometimes the family dysfunction runs deeper and is not easily solved with empathy or a quick intervention. I’m quite clear that as an academic life coach, I’m not a family therapist. Sometimes, I have to simply watch the family dysfunction playing out, and do my best to help the student take care of themselves in the midst of this situation*.
If you are considering becoming an academic life coach, you need to be willing to work with the parents on some level, as well as to learn to establish solid boundaries so that you know where your work with the student and family begins and ends. In my training programs, I provide lots of tips and tricks for working with anxious parents.
*Note: I’m not talking about signs of abuse here. Of course, I would take more extreme action if I suspected this, though in my 10 years of coaching I’ve never encountered this extreme of a situation.
Are you comfortable working with students who have learning differences and quirky brains?
Most of my clients either have some kind of undiagnosed learning difference or suffer from some kind of anxiety or depression.
Although it’s possible to be an academic life coach for neuro-typical students, you will have a much more successful business if you’re open and willing to work with students who have beautiful-and-quirky brains.
You do not need to be a learning disorder expert to be an academic life coach for students. However, you do need to be willing to read and learn about the nature of learning differences and how they impact a student’s executive functions. (If you don’t know the phrase “executive function,” hop on over to google and look it up. It’s super important that you’re familiar with this phrase if you’re planning on becoming an academic life coach).
You also need to be creative and patient and equip yourself with a huge toolbox of learning tools, so that you and the student can experiment with what tools will work best for them.
Luckily, students with diagnosed learning differences come with neuropsychological evaluations that include a super helpful list of doctor-provided recommendations, which provide a roadmap for your work with the student.
THE NATURE OF BUSINESS BUILDING
This second set of questions is all about the unique challenges of starting your own business, and whether that path is right for you.
Do I want a part-time or a full-time business?
If you are considering just starting out as an academic life coach, by necessity your business will most likely be part-time at first. However, it’s good to have a bit of a plan in mind, to know what you’re shooting for regarding the intended size of your business.
To make a realistic plan it’s important to consider two things:
- Your schedule, and how many clients you can realistically fit in, and
- The amount of money you need or want to earn
- Where you plan to host sessions — your home, online, client’s homes, a cafe, etc.
Keep in mind that most academic coaching happens outside of school hours. If you are working with high school students, that means weekends and 3:30pm-9pm on weekdays.
If you have a full-time job and/or a family with young kids, this is a hard time to be working! But it’s not impossible. I know several coaches who have made a nice initial side business for themselves by working the following schedule:
- 1-2 nights a week after school, accepting 2-3 clients each night, and/or
- 3-4 clients in a row on the weekend.
One consideration related to schedule is where you will host the sessions. If you are driving to clients’ homes, you will be able to see fewer clients than if you see them at your home, at a cafe, or online. In the upcoming free course, I’ll share more about what it’s like to have clients come to my home office, which is my preferred method.
Once you’re clear about how many client sessions your schedule will allow, then you get to decide whether this will bring in the money you need to make the business worthwhile.
In the example above, the coach will be maxed out at 9 clients/week (and realistically, they’ll probably only have the energy to work with 5-7 clients, if they’re also holding down a full-time job).
Let’s assume that you charge each client $1700/semester (a reasonable rate for a new coach). This means that your first full semester you have the potential to bring in approximately $10,000. If you can repeat these numbers the second semester, you’ve brought in $20,000/year (before taxes). Does this amount work for you and your family?
In my FREE COURSE, I reveal the various financial models that worked for me as I grew my business, starting with traveling to families homes and ending with what I do now — seeing students online and in my home office. I hope to see you in the free course; but first, grab a pencil and play around with a few possible schedules and the associated financial model.
Note: I suggested a package price here rather than an hourly fee. I’m a strong believer in using packages, and in my free course, I talk more about that. For now, while you’re running the numbers, I recommend choosing a number between $1500-$2000 for your semester package prices.
Am I willing to invest time into marketing, even if it makes me uncomfortable?
Once you’ve sketched out a basic business model for one-to-one coaching, you know how many clients you need to be able to attract every semester. Many clients do renew from one semester to the other, but many do not, and so it’s necessary to do ongoing marketing tasks to make sure that you are getting a steady stream of clients.
I wish I could tell you that there’s an easy formula for how many hours you need to spend on marketing tasks for every x clients you hope to attract. There’s not. However, it’s a good idea to factor in at least 1-2 hours of marketing tasks a week (or 4-8 hours of marketing tasks a month) to start and sustain your business.
Note: By “marketing” I don’t mean building a website and buying business cards. These tasks are NOT necessary to start your thriving side business.
Also, marketing does not have to look salesy and feel icky. It is very possible to fill your 1-2 hours of marketing tasks per week with fun, inspiring, interesting tasks that also attract new clients.
In both my free course and the paid training, we look much more closely at what marketing looks like in the field of academic life coaching. I aim to give you a recipe of actions you can take that both feel good and attract clients.
However, it’s important to be realistic: there will be some discomfort in marketing when you first start out.
Although the tasks I’ll share with you are actually fun and interesting, so many people are so frightened of the big monster named Marketing that they bring that fear with them. So part of being willing to start your own business is to face the Monster, realize it’s not as bad as you think, and then start having fun with the Monster instead. It really is possible!
Do I have the external and internal support systems in place to deal with the inevitable uncertainty that comes with starting a business?
Let’s be real. Starting a business is emotionally gruelling work.There’s no sugar coating this fact.
In the early days, it didn’t feel so hard, because I had another job to back me up. However, the minute I quit that job and committed to full-time self-employment, all my sh*t came to the surface. I had a huge fear of rejection. Because of this fear, I kept my fees lower than they should have been, said “yes” to too many clients who weren’t ideal for me (and who ended up consuming more than their fair share of my emotional bandwidth), and I was scared to reach out and create relationships with colleagues who I knew could ultimately help me with referrals.
And then there was this: the financial feast or famine that often happens at the beginning of a business (especially when you’re trying it alone without getting adequate training). Until you learn your marketing and business building systems and have them completely in place, there is a lot of uncertainty, and this can be emotionally trying.
Please be clear whether you have the courage to face this uncertainty, and if you say “yes,” please also spend time making sure you have some great support systems in place so that you have others to lean on when things get hard.
Support systems can include family, friends, therapists, like-minded colleagues and group training programs (like my Anti-Boring Approach™ Coach Training Program).