Understanding the Differences Among Guided Pathways, Degree Planning, Success Plans, and Degree Audits

I regularly hear people use the terms Guided Pathways, Degree Planning, Success Plans, Degree Audits and an SIS system interchangeably; however, they are all distinctively different tools. Frankly, there is no comparison. Starfish’s goal is far greater than an “information system.” We want to ensure that every student who shows up on campus receives the support they need to be successful. Our goal is an informed, collaborative and connected campus that supports students at every step. When we discuss guided pathways, some definitions that we find helpful include:

  • A Guided Pathway is a goal setting process to help a student determine where they want to go. It starts by creating a clear career goal, developing a plan to get there, and then offering support to ensure that the student reaches their goal.
  • Degree Planning is a forward-looking step – a part of the Guided Pathway focused on academic goals and supports for a student. What courses are required, which electives will I be successful in and align to my goals, what happens when I change directions or make a mistake? Behind the scenes, Starfish leverages the institution’s data to present actionable paths towards completion, eliminating excess credits or lost momentum.
  • A Success Plan is a list of co-curricular activities a student needs to do to be successful at an institution, like getting a background check ahead of a clinical rotation or recurring appointments in the math lab. Co-curricular supports are imperative to guided pathways and can be tailored to specific programs or cohorts of students.
  • A Degree Audit is the backward-looking process of using a checklist of courses and activities to ensure that students have met all the requirements of their degree in order to confer a diploma.

It can be helpful when explaining the differences to walk through an example.

Anna is an undecided student at ABC University. She meets with John, an advisor, to determine her Guided Pathway through ABC University.

Using the Starfish Solution, John can help Anna:

  1. Select a career using a soft-skills assessment;
  2. Understand the courses she needs to take and build a plan so that she knows which courses to take each quarter (Degree Planner); Know when to take co-curricular steps (Success Plans) and recognize the supports and services she needs (Service Catalog); and finally
  3. Help Anna course correct if she strays (Early Alerts, Degree Planner, Services).

When Anna believes she has completed her journey and is ready for graduation, she can work with John to execute a Degree Audit to confirm that she, in fact, is ready to graduate.

If you have additional questions about the Guided Pathways or the terms described here, please reach out and let us know. If you would like to read more, the below articles might help:

To learn more about how Starfish Retention Solutions can help your institution and students through Guided Pathways, contact us today to continue the conversation.


Visit the Resource Center