After deciding where to attend school, students shift their focus toward a major or degree. But mapping out a path to graduate on time requires just as much attention – if not more. 

Keeping track of graduation requirements can be a challenge for schools with small advisory teams and first-time students. If some courses are only available during certain times of the year or availability is based on other shifting factors, a plan of study lets school staff plot out a student’s direct path to graduation. 

While this might sound like a straightforward process, it’s easy for this type of planning to fall through the cracks. Without a plan of study, a student may not graduate on time or encounter other roadblocks to getting a degree.

Campus Cafe recently added a plan of study feature to our integrated student information system to help schools keep students on track to meet graduation requirements. This article will share more information about why a plan of study is important and the benefits it can provide to your school and students.

In this article, we will cover:

Plan of Study “101:” What It Is and How It Works

A plan of study is a tool that creates a roadmap for a student’s time at a school. Some schools refer to it as a “guided pathway.”

It is a dynamic feature within Campus Cafe’s student information system that identifies the requirements for majors, minors, general education programs, prerequisites and course availability. It tracks credit hours, grades, records course completion (or not), program requirements and graduation requirements. 

A plan of study can be used for a variety of school types, including colleges and universities, as well as career, trade, technical or vocational schools.

A plan of study helps schools keep students on track to meet graduation requirements.
Campus Cafe recently added a plan of study feature to help schools keep students on track to meet graduation requirements.

A Flexible Tool

A plan of study can be configured individually for each student or an entire cohort. Advisors and administrators create the plan during the enrollment period. Later it can be updated or created for each semester or module. 

Most importantly, the plan adjusts to a student’s coursework. 

If a student is required to take Biology 101 for their major but withdraws during the semester, their advisor can update the plan to push the course to a future semester. This also happens if a student completes the course but doesn’t hit a required grade threshold and needs to retake it.

Advisors and administrators have access to modify and update the plan of study. Students can view the plan through the student portal but may be restricted from making changes to the plan.

How a Plan of Study Differs From a Degree Audit

Many schools require students to complete a degree audit to graduate. This is a formal evaluation of academic coursework and degree requirements to obtain a diploma. 

A degree audit serves a different function than a plan of study. 

Think of it like this: A degree audit is like a rocket’s checklist right before liftoff, while a plan of study is an ongoing assessment of work toward that end goal of launching into space. 

A degree audit is an important tool, but it is more limited in scope because it only records the completion of required courses.  

In contrast, a plan of study is a dynamic and collaborative process between a student and their advisor. It is organized by semester and can be updated as a student’s academic journey progresses and evolves.

A degree audit serves a different function than a plan of study.

Benefits to Schools and Students

If students do not meet their major or certificate requirements, they risk falling behind schedule or not receiving a diploma. 

At some schools, administrators use manual methods to track student progress, such as spreadsheets or paper checklists, which introduce many problems:

  • Error-prone: Manual processes can lead to incorrect, missing or incomplete information.
  • Static data: Information on paper may not get input into the school’s SIS or database. 
  • Insecure file management: A student’s personal information can be compromised by insecure storage. 
  • Lack of transparency: Students may not be able to see informal logs or must make redundant requests for information.

A plan of study can act as an intervention to help keep students informed on their progress by providing a clear roadmap to graduation. Here are the benefits to schools and students:

Boost On-Time Graduation Rates

Schools are tracked on how long it takes students to graduate, and that data is available for prospects considering which school to attend. If graduation rates at your school are lagging behind the national average, it can be a competitive disadvantage.  

Advisors who use a plan of study can create structured program maps and academic plans that help students stay the course to graduate on time.

Increase Student Retention Rates

At-risk students may be reluctant to reach out for help and can easily fall through the cracks. A plan of study can be used with other SIS features to identify struggling students before it’s too late.

Together, students and their advisors can make changes to their educational goals that prevent students from dropping out.

Save Students Money

If students are overwhelmed or confused by which courses to take, it can result in graduating with unnecessary credits, increasing time to graduate and costing students more money.

With a plan of study, advisors and students work together to build course schedules that align with educational goals, are flexible with their current job or caregiving requirements, and make their overall education more affordable.

A plan of study keeps students informed on their progress by providing a clear roadmap to graduation.

Improve Communication Between Faculty, Advisors and Students

Plan of study information is attached to a student’s record, so faculty and advisors can easily monitor student progress. 

From within the SIS, faculty can directly communicate with advisors and students to offer academic support.

How Colleges and Universities Use a Plan of Study

A plan of study helps students at two- and four-year schools stay organized and on track, leading to improved on-time graduation rates and successful degree completion.

  • Program Length: Colleges and universities can deploy a plan of study for four- or eight-semester programs and use it from the onset of a student’s time on campus. 
  • Visual Guide: The plan provides students with a realistic view of their journey to graduation and helps manage expectations.
  • Tailored Plans: An advisor can help tailor a plan of study to the student’s interests and professional goals. For instance, if a student needs 120 credit hours to graduate, a plan of study helps outline how many credit hours that individual needs to take each semester to meet that goal by their graduation date. 
  • Flexible Plans: Undeclared students can receive an outline of general education classes. Once a major and minor are declared, the plan can be updated to map out requirements by semester.
  • Transfer Credits: Students who transfer can have their accepted credits added to the plan of study. 

Ideally, advisors will meet with students each semester to update and revise the plan. Then, as the student progresses toward graduation, the plan of study information helps populate a degree audit.  

How Career and Trade Schools Use a Plan of Study

At professional schools, many students juggle coursework with their jobs and families while studying for a new skill or career. 

  • Flexible Structure: Depending on a school’s structure, the plan can be configured by modules, such as a 10-week course, or by traditional semester. 
  • Synchronous or Asynchronous Schedules: The plan can map out when students are in session and on breaks. 
  • Adaptable: If students accelerate their pace or slow their studies, the advisor can adjust the plan accordingly. 
  • Tracks Work Outside the Classroom: Some career and trade programs require students to work in the field, at job placement sites or in clinical settings, and the plan can map those requirements and track completion.

Programs are typically shorter than those offered at four-year schools, but it’s equally important for students to have a clear view of the requirements to graduate. 

Who Uses the Plan of Study

Several users are involved in the creation, implementation and oversight involved with a plan of study. The list below outlines who would use the feature, how they might use it and the benefits it can provide.

Academic Advisors

As the primary power users, academic advisors have administrative access to students’ plans. Advisors meet with new students to design a plan and update it regularly in consultation with the student. 

Advisors use the tool to:

  • Help students understand program requirements, select appropriate courses and make progress toward their goals. 
  • Provide support and assistance in navigating academic challenges or changes to the plan of study.
  • Monitor student progress to improve student retention. 

Notably, if an advisor sees that a student is getting off course, meetings can be arranged between the student, faculty and administrators to help with course correction. Advisors can work with at-risk students to update their plan of study to prevent dropping a class or missing a requirement.


A plan of study is a valuable tool for students to monitor their academic work. It benefits students in the following ways:

  • Regular meetings with advisors help students visualize their path to graduation.
  • Students have transparency into graduation requirements. 
  • The plan can be tailored to individual goals and career aspirations.

With the rising costs associated with college, a well-mapped plan of study can help students save money by completing their degree in the expected timeframe.


At smaller schools, instructors may also serve a dual role as an academic advisor. Their knowledge of the curriculum and subject-matter expertise can provide guidance and academic support to students. 

For faculty members who might not know all the requirements for majors, minors and general education, a plan of study template can guide faculty in content areas outside their department coursework.


A plan of study helps school leaders with data-driven decision-making in many areas: 

  • A plan of study reveals information on enrollment, course completion, success rates and graduation stats. 
  • Data can inform staffing, course availability, and major and degree offerings.
  • Plan of study data can also be used in a variety of state and federal compliance reports or for accreditation purposes. 

Post-secondary institutions can use this data to make improvements and adapt their offerings to better meet student needs.


The registrar helps facilitate student enrollment and can glean significant insights from a plan of study about enrollment and course offerings at their school:  

  • The registrar can adjust course offerings based on historical and planned enrollment trends. 
  • Plan of study data can help with resource allocation for faculty or room assignments. 
  • Data can be used to inform additional areas of consideration for majors, minors and general education.

Verifying completion of program requirements outlined in the plan of study is more streamlined.

How a Plan of Study Feature Works With an Integrated Student Information System (SIS)

The plan of study feature integrates with all modules of Campus Cafe’s SIS so students, advisors, faculty and administrators can create, manage and track academic plans. Here’s how it typically works:

Data is Pulled From a Single Source of Truth

An integrated SIS uses real-time information. Data like attendance, grades and enrollment information is synced directly with a student’s record. 

Workflows can be triggered to help staff to communicate more efficiently and effectively with students.

Plans are Easily Accessible From the Student Portal

Not every student fully understands the requirements to graduate or has the support to achieve their goals. A plan of study helps advisors stay connected with students who are most in need of help. 

Students can access their personalized plan of study through the student portal to view their degree requirements, track their progress and plan their schedules around their busy lives.

Additionally, a plan of study doesn’t have to be limited to a single track. In the SIS, an advisor can create several plans to map out different degree programs and how a student would progress through each. These plans can be saved in the SIS and are accessible to staff and students.

Supports Degree Audits

A plan of study supports degree audits by comparing the courses completed with the requirements outlined in the plan of study. 

Together, the plan of study and degree audit features help students and advisors track progress toward degree completion and easily identify outstanding requirements.

Better Communication and Collaboration

A plan of study bridges a divide that often exists between students and advisors. It creates a real-time roadmap that facilitates an advisor consulting with a faculty member or the registrar working with a student.

Ready to see how the Plan of Study can transform your school’s planning and organization? Contact us for a demo today.


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