By Anna Nickerson, Babson College Class of ‘22
Elizabeth Pyle is the founder of College Success Plan, which helps students stay on track once they’re in college. She and her team of fourteen other women help students develop a plan for where they want to be at the end of each semester. In order to do so, she helps students structure their weeks, assess weekly goals, manage course materials, and develop realistic study strategies. As a mom of four, business owner, and active community member, Elizabeth is an inspiration to us all. Gap Year Solutions had the opportunity to speak with Elizabeth recently. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
Gap Year Solutions: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how College Success Plan came to be?
Elizabeth Pyle: I graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in liberal arts and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I made my way to New York City post-grad and worked in advertising for a bit before I decided to get my Masters in teaching. I eventually moved to Chicago, got married, and had four children. I spent most of my adult life teaching and tutoring, which I loved. From the time I was about sixteen years old, I knew I wanted to start my own business at some point. So, after about twelve years of this I created a tutoring company in my town where we worked with K-12 students.
I noticed a trend when these students went off to college, though. They were rock stars in high school, but weren’t successful in college. I thought, “How can we support these students to get back on track?” I decided to sell my company to my business partner and I used that capital to create College Success Plan in 2014.
GYS: What exactly does College Success Plan do?
EP: I wanted to create College Success Plan to empower college students and the women who are working with them. I’d say about 50% of the students we work with are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, so we try to hone in on executive functioning skills for them, but also for all our students. This can be adapted for everyone, but we specifically work on time management (managing a calendar/planner) and creating effective study skills and strategies. When their big exam comes around, we want them to feel prepared and ready.
Our ultimate goal for students is independence. We keep students accountable with weekly check-ins and strategy sessions that increase their confidence and decrease anxiety. We usually work with students for two semesters, but many students stay on because it lowers their stress. With that said, we hand the reins over to them and empower them to work independently. We work with students across the country, 100% virtually, which provides our students and our academic mentors a lot of flexibility, which is important to me as a working mom.
GYS: How are you dealing with COVID-19? Have you been forced to pivot in any way?
EP: One of the things I love to tell students is, “There is a Solution to Every Situation.” While this is applicable to students who are struggling in school, we also need to adapt as a business. Because we work with students virtually, there was a seamless transition when students came home due to COVID. I’d say the parents were even more freaked out than the students, so we had to communicate effectively.
The biggest change for us and for students is that professors are not following their syllabi and adapting their classes at the last minute. This means that students must check their emails and college portals every day to make sure they have the most up-to-date information.
In general, we are a students’ constant which is super valuable to that student and their families. We have always provided individualized focus on every student and that hasn’t changed. This past semester, our cumulative GPA across all students was 3.3, which is great!
Another thing I’ll add is that nothing ever surprises me. I tend to be super realistic and can address any situation – as a mother of four active students and an active community member, I’ve learned to adapt quickly.
GYS: Do you get many Gap Year students using your services? What is your general perspective on Gap Years?
EP: I think Gap Years are fabulous – it is the gift of time for students. About 15-20% of our students take Gap Years! It’s all about the experiences for students, so Gap Years provide an opportunity for students to figure out what they like and don’t like. If we work with a student who is transitioning from a Gap Year, they typically do extremely well freshman year.
GYS: What advice do you have for students navigating the college experience this semester?
EP: Finding structure in this very unstructured environment is critical. Students should find a realistic routine and try to follow that every day, whether they’re back on campus or taking classes from their childhood bedroom. I find that at the beginning of the week, planning out what the upcoming week is going to look like is really helpful.
We are also seeing that students are getting unmotivated. If they’re in their room all the time, there’s not a lot to look forward to. Finding new places to study and take classes (like going outside when it’s nice out), is really important as well.
To learn more about College Success Plan, visit their website here.