Strong Start To Finish

Identify academic direction and supports.

Every student’s postsecondary education begins with an intake process to choose an academic direction and identify the support needed to pass relevant credit-bearing gateway courses in the first year.

Students are far more likely to succeed in postsecondary education if they have a purpose in mind. Yet many new students arrive without clear goals for college and careers and, in many cases, without an understanding of their options. Recognizing the need for students to aim for clear academic and career goals, the process for college enrollment is changing to accomplish critical objectives for student success. Specifically, an effective intake process helps students make an initial choice of academic and professional direction; identifies their academic and nonacademic needs with multiple reliable measures, including practical information about their academic skills, interests and goals; and ensures they have the supports they will need to succeed in college-level work.

For example, many colleges are helping new students choose from a small set of “meta-majors,” or broad career and academic focus areas, including social and behavioral sciences, information technology, health careers, business, the arts and STEM. These are characterized by a default curriculum that allows students to explore and select a specific program of study by the end of their first year. An early determination of an academic direction helps students better understand the purpose of the courses they are taking, leading to increased student motivation and persistence.

Leading colleges are not focused on screening students out of credit-bearing work and into remediation. Instead, they are implementing innovative and effective intake processes that help students clarify their goals, build their academic confidence and college know-how, and position themselves for success in gateway courses and beyond.

Next Principle


Altstadt, D., Schmidt, G., & Couturier, L. (2014). “Driving the Direction of Transfer Pathways Reform.” Jobs for the Future.

Bailey, T., Jaggars, S.S., & Jenkins, D. (2015). “Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Jenkins, D., & Cho, S. (2012). “Get With the Program: Accelerating Community College Students’ Entry Into and Completion of Programs of Study.” (CCRC Working Paper No. 32). New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.

Implementation Guides

Achieving the Dream. Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS initiative).

Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities. A SMART Approach to Student Success.

Austin Community College. Orientation for all First-Time-at-ACC students.

Northwest Vista College. Math Paths. Tree of Math.

Northwest Vista College. Math Paths. STEM-B Road Map.

Northwest Vista College. Math Paths. Non-STEM Road Map.