Social-Emotional Learning

Coaching Objectives

  • Help students stay focused on the goal of graduation and build confidence in their own abilities to persist and graduate
  • Help students recognize what resources are available through their networks and practice leveraging those resources

Student Objectives

  • Using college graduation as the goal, develop or adjust action plans to stay on track
  • Believe in ability to persist and graduate despite challenges and setbacks
  • Recognize importance of developing and leveraging support networks both on campus and off

Resources Included


Student Materials



In addition to concrete academic skills and processes like filing financial aid applications and maintaining a solid GPA, a growing body of research suggests that students’ social-emotional skills play a critical role in college success. Social-Emotional Learning can be defined as the process through which people acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. The term social-emotional learning (SEL) is often used interchangeably with terms like non-cognitive skills, character skills, soft skills, growth mindset, non-academic skills, and emotional intelligence (EQ).

While SEL can encompass many different competencies and ideas, the skills we focus on most directly are:

  • Goal-Setting: Using the goal-setting process to stay focused on college graduation, and to build action plans that are strategic and efficient. Some students will need your help to develop an action plan from scratch, while you’ll guide others through the process of referring back to existing plans, assessing progress, and making adjustments as necessary to stay on track.
  • Persistence: Having the skills and confidence to stick to a goal even in the face of challenges and setbacks. For many students, this is a strength already! Your role is to reinforce and encourage, and help students navigate setbacks that may have shaken their confidence, as well as help anticipate any future barriers and plan for how they can be avoided or overcome.
    • NOTE: Persistence is also closely tied to having a growth mindset, which means understanding that intelligence and abilities can be developed. This belief results in working harder and persisting longer, as opposed to giving up after experiencing failure or setbacks.
  • Social Capital: Each of our students has a network of support, which includes you, and often also includes family, friends, professors, community members, faith leaders, campus resources (e.g. tutoring centers, advisors, etc.), and student groups. Reminding students that they have all these people and departments in their corner can be important, and coaching students on how to leverage these resources and ask for help is a skill that can always be further developed. The Connecting on Campus module delves into how to develop and utilize one’s campus network.

These skills cannot be fully taught or adopted in a single call, but they can be instilled and improved over time through intentional application in real-life situations. It’s important for students and coaches to have a shared vocabulary and framework.

Significance for College Possible Students

College Possible students often enter our program already exhibiting strong SEL skills. In fact, goal-setting, persistence and social capital are all session topics in the high school program, so students will hopefully be familiar with these concepts. It takes a solid goal-orientation to stay committed to attending college when a student is the first in their family to attend, and many students have persevered through considerable obstacles to get to campus. In the transition to college life, though, maintaining that focus and confidence can be a significant challenge, particularly if a student feels isolated or different from their peers.

Research from Stanford shows that being part of an underrepresented group on campus and experiencing a challenge or setback can yield dramatically different results depending on whether a student perceives their situation to be normal versus unique to them.

Normalizing the setbacks a student may experience is the first step in keeping them on track towards graduation and reinforcing their ability to persist. Using goal-setting to outline an action plan, and then adjusting the plan as needed when unexpected obstacles occur can offer the roadmap to stay on track. And reinforcing the communities of support that exist around a student can remind them that they do not have to go through this alone.


  • Review or learn how to set SMART goals.
  • Review materials in resource section.
  • Reflect on your own experience in your adjustment to college and how you overcame obstacles.
  • View videos of College Possible students reflecting on their experiences.


Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), non-cognitive skills, soft skills, character skills, emotional intelligence (EQ), growth mindset

Campus Resources

  • Professors and/or teaching assistants
  • Tutoring centers
  • Mentoring programs
  • Affinity groups
  • Student resource centers (multicultural, LGBTQ, etc.

Broad Outreach

Use broad outreach to share stories of students persisting through different challenges. The goal is to normalize the common challenges that college students face, while offering ideas for resources/strategies to overcome them. College Possible has a library of student videos you can send out. Send out specific opportunities to get involved on a particular campus (events, student groups, etc.).

Outreach Ideas and Examples

Social Media: “Most students find the transition to college challenging, whether they are struggling with academics, finances, or feeling like they fit in. You are college material, you can do this, and you are not alone!”

Social Media: “You have a community of support around you, including friends, family, College Possible, support services and student groups on campus. Asking for help is never a bad thing!”

Social Media: “Identifying your goals (graduating from college) and the steps to get there (which courses to take, what resources can help you get there) are critical components of success, and your college coach can help!”

Targeted Outreach

Target your follow-up to students who may need additional support in developing certain social-emotional skills. For example, freshmen who are feeling isolated on campus and haven’t yet tapped into their social capital or students who are experiencing a particularly challenging semester academically and/or personally.

Additional Preparation

  • Review notes from previous conversations and look for clues about the student’s mindset, confidence, and previous challenges they’ve encountered on their path to graduation. Do they feel connected to their campus community? Do they have a clear sense of their end goal and when/how they’ll get there?
  • If student is not currently enrolled at a bachelors-granting institution, check their transfer scale to see if their education goals have been noted (i.e. workforce-oriented, transfer-oriented, objective unclear).
  • Create list of specific questions and follow up questions you’ll ask—SEL is more nuanced than many other topics we work on, and will usually require thoughtful follow up questions to get at the root of the issue.
  • When speaking to your older students, ask if they’d be willing to talk to your younger students about challenges they’ve faced and how they overcame those struggles. Then, connect them so younger students have a role model of someone who experienced something similar, and at the same time create a new connection that can increase their social capital moving forward.

Differentiated Guidance

First Year/New Enrollees

  • Low-income students often feel isolated from their peers in the transition to college, and may not realize that their peers likely feel equally anxious and uncertain.
  • First year is a great time to build social capital because most students are eager to make friends and build connections. Joining student groups and proactively utilizing campus resources is a great first step.
  • A student’s performance in their first year will likely impact their confidence in their ability to persist and succeed.

Core Years

  • Is the student excelling, or just getting by in terms of academics? How can you help them adjust their habits and plans to perform strongly this year?
  • Some students refrain from getting involved in student groups their first year because they are focusing their energy on academics. Core years can be a good time to take their campus involvement to the next level, which will help build a broader support network for challenges that may come up down the line.
  • Students will likely have to declare a major in this timeframe. This is a great opportunity to ask students about their long-term, post-graduation goals and make sure their choice of major is aligned with where they want to go later in life. Focusing so far in the future can help keep students on track towards getting their degree.

Approaching Graduation

  • Revisit student’s graduation plan. Are they on track with credits to graduate on schedule?
  • College graduation is not the end; it’s a step toward a student’s long-term goals. Staying focused on those goals can be helpful for students who are struggling to finish strong.

Community & Technical College

  • Often community college campuses have lower levels of student engagement, but many still have student organizations and events that can help students become involved on campus.
  • Help-seeking and self-advocacy are particularly important for new students at community colleges, especially if meeting with advisors isn’t a requirement. Coaching students to ask questions and make solid plans is very important for student success.
  • Assess student’s confidence in their ability to get to their goals, whether that is transferring to another institution or entering the workforce, particularly if a student has been in and out of school.
  • Sometimes students who have been attending community colleges for several years may not have a clear plan or goal. This is the time to work with them to identify goals and plans to get there, along with assessing the social capital and resources they’ve built up so far that can help them achieve their goals.

Outreach Ideas and Examples

Direct Message: “Hi [student], just wanted to follow-up on our conversation last week. Have you visited the [office or department] like we discussed? Remember that you’re not alone—you have a network of support that is here to help you succeed!”

Personal Email: “Hi [student], I know that this has been a really tough couple of months and you’ve shown so much persistence this semester. You’re so close to your goal! Remember that I’m here to help however I can.”

Coaching Session



It’s best to think of SEL not as a stand alone topic, but rather as one that can be weaved into almost every conversation with a student. Discussing short and long-term goals, for example, creates a natural opportunity for follow up in future coaching sessions. This can also be a responsive topic as students describe challenges in relation to other module topics, or if they seem to be losing sight of their goals and motivations.

Modeling is a particularly effective method of teaching these social-emotional learning. For example, being open with a student when you don’t know the answer to a question but letting them know that you have a network of support that you lean on demonstrates social capital in action.

Key Messages

  • Setting goals and creating action plans is necessary to earn a degree and make the most of your college experience, but it’s common to experience challenges and setbacks that require you to adjust your plans.
  • Students are talented and resourceful and have all the tools they need to succeed, including a network of people around them (like you!) who support them.
  • Students are not alone in their experiences, even if they can’t see that other people are struggling with the same issue.
  • Setbacks and challenges happen to everyone and are not indications that a student cannot or should not persist in seeking a college degree.

Questions for Students to Consider

  • What would you like to do differently or the same in your next semester?
  • What events or organizations have you participated in so far?
  • When was your last meeting with your academic advisor?
  • What support systems do you have on campus, and which resources have you used? Have you ever been to X group/office/resource center?
  • When do you feel most at home on campus, and when do you feel most alone?
  • How is your family adjusting to you being in college?

Coaching Resources

The importance of SEL to college success

The science behind growth mindset and an assessment

On the importance of persistence and its relationship to growth mindset


Self-Advocacy Guidance


Looking Ahead

Other modules you may want to reference and consider when working with your student include:


Update the student record in Salesforce, including notes and follow-up items from your conversation.

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