Using Motivational Interviewing to guide students

We’ve discussed in class times when advisors may need to talk to students who are struggling and who don’t seem to be a good fit for their program. In these cases, the issue is likely not that the student isn’t smart or motivated. The student is likely not in a field or program that he / she really wants to be in. A good advisor could have a constructive conversation with the student that could lead to the student making the decision to pursue a program that’s better aligned with his interests, rather than the advisor just telling the student that he isn’t a good fit for a graduate program and leaving the student feeling like he doesn’t belong in graduate education.

These discussions led me to think about Motivational Interviewing, which is a counseling style that I help teach as part of the Health Counseling course I TA for. Basically, in Motivational Interviewing the goal is to assist the client with finding his / her own motivation for change and building commitment to change. The counselor uses a guiding style of communication rather than a directing (telling the client what to do) style.

I think that Motivational Interviewing could be successfully utilized by advisors having these difficult conversations with their students. Through using Motivational Interviewing strategies like asking open-ended questions and affirming the positive, the advisor could guide the student towards making a decision that best fits with his / her goals and values in life.

Is anyone else in a field that uses Motivational Interviewing? If so, have you had interactions with professors / advisors who used the style? How do think it would work when advising students?


I think MI could be an amazing tool for educators. One of the key principles of MI is that the client already has all the answers. The role of the counselor is to facilitate change talk and explore the possibilities identified by the client. We often talk about power differentials between educators and students. I think MI could be a great way to empower students.

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