The 5 Stages of Student Success

February 11, 2022 Watermark Insights

As part of our Strategies for Student Success Best Practices series, our VP for Client Success, Heather Taynor, shares additional insights in this blog post.

Our 5 Stages of Student Success was developed to help an institution guide students through the college experience and help identify what retention strategies and interventions should be provided as students matriculate and progress towards their educational goals. The methodology is based on a solid foundation of theory, research, and practice on college student retention.

Institutions spend a great deal of energy understanding how students progress through the recruitment or admissions funnel – inquiry or prospect, applicant, accept, etc. – with detailing what type of communications should happen at what stage of the admissions funnel, what outreach should be done and how we should be helping students. Just as admissions or recruitment has a funnel, we have created the 5 Stages of Student Success so that retention also has a funnel from the point of student enrollment through the remainder of the student lifecycle.

The 5 Stages of Student Success help an institution define the outreach, intervention services, and retention strategies at each particular stage in order to help maximize student persistence and student success. The 5 Stages of Student Success are dictated by student enrollment behavior and help retention professionals understand what type of coaching behaviors should happen at what stage and how we should communicate with our students.

For example:

  • Outreach: Should it be proactive outreach or reactive outreach?
  • Interventions: Are they transactional vs transformational?
  • Services: Academic advising, tutoring, enrollment services, career advising, etc.
  • Coaching/Advising: What type should we use - prescriptive, developmental, or intrusive?

The components of each stage consist of when the beginning and end is for each stage, what services may be offered, what alerts may be triggered to help identify what interventions may need to happen, what communication outreach should be, and even if there are assessments or surveys that should be considered.

1. Learner Intake Stage

The goal of this stage is to help students enroll.

  • Finalize financial aid and registration processes
  • Facilitate orientation
  • Complete intake assessment
  • Build rapport
  • Goal setting

2. Early Intervention Stage

The goal of this stage is to assist students with acclimation to college life, academics, and independent learning.

  • Begin proactive outreach
  • Ensure students are set up for success
  • Facilitate support with 1st week of classes - ensuring books are secured, successful login to the online classroom, and awareness of class locations
  • Deploy early intervention strategies for those who are falling off

3. Learner Support Stage

The goal of this stage is for students to be supported and to begin to accept responsibility for developing their own skills.

  • Provide instructional support and tutoring
  • Academic developmental advising
  • Social integration
  • Additional support services - library, disability, career exploration, etc.

4. Learner Transition Stage

The goal of this stage is to help the students start to transition into their end goal whether that be a career, to complete their bachelor’s degree, or to continue on to graduate school.

  • Assist the student to reassess their goals
  • Refer students to career services or financial planning resources

5. Actualization Stage

The goal of this final stage is to ensure the students' educational goals have been achieved.

  • Assess the student’s satisfaction
  • Send an exit survey regarding institutional resources, student services, advising, faculty, and even other areas of the institution

As an institution, you want to ensure that student outcomes are documented and as much information is collected in order to make better-informed decisions.


The 5 Stages of Student Success is a framework for an institution to use when thinking of what type of communication, retention strategies, and services you could provide to students throughout their student lifecycle. It’s a great starting point to organize your thoughts around how you should communicate with students, when you should communicate with students, and how to best interact with students in order to increase student success.

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