Guided Pathways to Success (GPS)

What Is GPS?

GPS or Guided Pathways to Success is a completely restructured way of approaching higher education. It leads students to making more informed and deliberate decisions about their future. It also guides them toward graduation and away from spending time, money, and credit hours on courses that do not count toward their graduation requirements.

Whole Programs of Study

Traditionally, students have been given an enormous list of class options to choose from. By implementing whole programs of study, students choose a coherent major or program and a clear pathway to graduation is prepared for the student by professionals at the college who know the best sequencing and learning paths that students should take. Semester-by-semester, students have a clear map of what they should take and when, as opposed to a huge list of options.

Informed Choices and "Meta Majors"

By working with individual students and learning more about who they are, their past school performance, and their interests, coaches can make informed recommendations to students about what programs would complement their skills and interests. This way, a student is informed about their choice.

By choosing a "meta major" the student has a broad academic goal for the first year, which can then be narrowed down toward a more specific major after they complete the relevant prerequisites. For example, a student may choose to enter the Health Care field and take some relevant courses, then narrow down to the specific major of nursing once they know that is what they want to do. So long as the college thinks through the courses in the meta major intentionally this can be done without asking students to take extra classes toward their degree path.

Default Pathways

Default pathways keep students on a path toward graduation by requiring approval to change direction from an advisor. This prevents students from choosing courses that do not count toward their degree plan and wasting time or money without expressly understanding the consequences of getting off of their path.

Exploration outside of a major is still allowed and enabled, but with guidance that prevents the "aimless wandering" that can sometimes occur.

Guaranteed Milestone Courses

By developing key milestone courses for each semester, it can be assured that students stay on the right track. These courses will provide a realistic assessment of student progress and give students early signals about their prospects for success in a given field. This also prevents students from putting off more difficult courses until the consequences of changing majors are too damaging and costly. For example, we know that math in the first semester is a milestone course for students. Students who complete their math in the first semester are more likely to complete their programs of study. Designing schedules with these milestone courses in mind helps keep students on track for success.

Proactive Advising

Proactive advising means a customized (often technology enabled) approach to advising that is designed to better meet the needs of individual students. Specifically, colleges can use an early warning system to track student performance in required courses, and target interventions for off track students right when they are needed. This allows advisors to focus on students in the most need instead of spreading themselves too thinly.

Math Alignment to Majors

For many students, math can be a challenge, especially when they do not see an immediate connection to their career goals. Traditionally, the required course for students has been college algebra, a course where the only purpose is preparation for calculus. Colleges in WV have transitioned to allow students to take courses such as quantitative literacy and career math, which better align with skills needed for non-STEM majors.


Understand why should you implement GPS. The majority of college students don't graduate on time (or at all!). This is because students are often taking too many credit hours and spending extra semesters.

According to Complete College America, students across all levels of higher education are taking an excess of anywhere from 10 to 20 credits before graduating.


Act on this problem by implementing GPS strategies on your campus. Provide students with a clear purpose - a Meta Major, academic maps which guide them through every credit they need, default pathways and registration, and proactive advising.


Improve and tailor GPS to fit your school's needs. By measuring and keeping accurate data, this program can become even more efficient and work to help your students succeed.

Face the Facts



A WVUP student talks with a counselor to discuss what pathway will best serve her as she pursues her degree.

WVU Parkersburg Finds Success with GPS

Throughout the country, colleges and universities struggle to keep students on track toward graduation. Often, students waste time, money and credit hours on courses that don't relate to their degree, ultimately leading them not to graduate at all. Complete College America has established one of its newest game changers called Guided Pathways to Success (GPS). This is a system where every student is given a clear path to complete their program of study and move directly into the job market or a baccalaureate program. The system operates on this simple notion: when students are given a clear path toward their degree, they are more likely to complete their degree.

Read More

The University of Houston has an excellent example of an institutional progress checklist here.