The idea that university is a place of personal growth is not a new one, but with tuition fees set to rise this academic year again, it may be wise to back up this claim with some empirical data. What personal growth occurs at university and why is it important?
Natalie Lancer has been studying the phenomenon of personal growth at university for her PhD in Psychology at Birbeck, University of London. Twenty undergraduate students at UCL volunteered for the study and they were each given six personal coaching sessions by professional executive coaches over the academic year 2014-2015. They were interviewed four times over the year about their personal growth.
Personal growth was individual for each student and what they learnt varied according to what they had experienced in life so far. However, the growth that occurred can broadly be described by several themes. The most pronounced growth was in focusing on their long term goals. They formed clearer personal goals about career and what they wanted out of life in general and were able to take positive and specific steps to fulfil them. This included making a short film and successfully applying for television internships for someone who had identified wanting to work in Film and TV. He had previously considered himself to be ‘not good enough’ but by building up his creative portfolio and helping to run the TV station at university, he gained valuable experience as well as confirmation that this was the sector in which he wanted to work. As his self-belief grew, so did his talent and positive mindset which shone through in his application and interview.
Others who had lacked confidence in the past identified that they grew in physical or psychological well-being. Many found that their analytical approach to situations and dilemmas had changed in that they felt more confident in their own decision-making. They all reported growing in competence and ability in a variety of skills including academic and organisational. Their university experience broadened their horizons, from an appreciation of different cultures to the realities of budgeting. They all gained a greater understanding of interpersonal relationships whether that be with their families, friends, professional contacts or romantic partners.
The coaching itself was seen as motivational and helped them with many areas including time management, life plans and positive outlook. All but one of the students reported that the coaching greatly accelerated what they would have learnt about themselves anyway which meant they were able to set things in motion much earlier on and reap the rewards from this head start of growth. This, in turn, meant that they had a more enriching university experience and they were able to leverage this with greater impact in terms of careers and personal development during and after university. In other words, they felt that they were more successful in landing a job that played to their strengths or finding a fulfilling relationship as a result of their ‘speeded-up’ university experience provided by coaching.
Some students had more profound experiences where a gain in confidence enabled them to excel in ways that would have seemed impossible previously. The emotional ‘baggage’ we carry around from years of people telling us that we are not good enough, for example, is like a fetter on our potential and capabilities. By engaging in new experiences, and showing themselves that they could do it (whatever the ‘it’ was for them), the students were able to blast these fetters away and reclaim their confidence, and tangible evidence of their new found abilities.
The students were given the option of continuing their coaching into a second year, allowing a further year of analysis and evaluation to take place, which the majority of students chose to do. The results of this will be available on the dedicated website (Educational Development and Evaluation Centre) in the coming months.

Coaching for students is increasingly offered by universities. However, it is not, as yet, widely available. If you think you would benefit from private coaching sessions with an experienced coach, please contact Natalie Lancer on 07747 612 513 or