Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Detrimental Dilemma for College Freshmen: Go In Undeclared? Should I Double Major?


Declaring a Major or Going in Undeclared – an Expensive Decision

AliceinWonderland-Any_Path_Will_DoEntering college is without question one of the most exciting and fun times for young adults and their parents. Many tasks have been completed to get to this point. Often, however, declaring a major is not one of them.

The Economic Impact of Being Undecided

The following is pulled from the book, College Planning for Busy Parents: A Guide to Affordable Colleges, Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Tax-Saving Strategies, by Troy Onin.

Dan Johnston does college aid presentations and workshops at over 50 high schools each year as the Regional Director of Pennsylvania’s Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). One of his most frustrating examples of bad college advice is: “If you don’t know what major you want, go as an undeclared student. You can decide on your major after a few basic courses.”

Johnston says that, “For most students that is the worst advice possible. Granted, there will always be students whose best initial choice is undeclared, but they represent a very small percentage of students. The idea that a large number of students without a career plan can take a few basic courses, then suddenly ‘find’ themselves (to the tune of $20,000 to $50,000 per year), is sadly pathetic and needlessly expensive.”

The Bottom-Line

For those of you that just want the bottom line message from this article, here it is. Going into college with your major undeclared is not only a bad strategy, it is unnecessary. It will potentially be costly in money, time and self-esteem. The same can be said if a student chooses a college major and career direction while in high school – if approached in a wrong way. It is with extreme prejudice that this author believes it is very possible to graduate with a double major in four years. Some exceptions to this rule exist but for most employers, a student with a double major is much more attractive than the college grad with a single  major.

The Career Coaching for Students™ program uses highly valid, reliable assessments in an appropriate way to support a proven approach to student career exploration, choosing a major, choosing a career and addressing student needs (see Tiedeman and Perry theories related to student career development below).

Declared Double Major

The Facts about students, choosing a major and choosing a career

In an article by Gayle Ronan, she describes how college freshmen face a major dilemma. Ronan points to a statistic offered by Dr. Fritz Grupe. “Eighty percent of college-bound students have yet to choose a major their senior year of high school. But they are still expected to pick schools, apply to and start degree programs without knowing where they want to end up. It is little wonder 50 percent of those who do declare a major, change majors — with many doing so two and three times during their college years, according to Grupe.”

Liz Freedman, student employment coordinator for Internship and Career Services at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, authored an excellent article posted in the Penn State Academic Advising Journal, The Mentor, entitled The Developmental Disconnect in Choosing a Major: Why Institutions Should Prohibit Choice until Second Year.

Rather than accept the argument presented in the article for delaying declaration of a major until the students’ college sophomore year, I will present relevant portions of the article here (excellent insights for parents come from the article) and respond with a solution that counters the argument and accelerates student development while in high school.

To be clear, without a solution in high school, I have to agree with the argument that Freedman presents to prohibit declaration of a major until the sophomore year of college. However, delaying declaration of a major but maintaining the status quo in career advising [as it is at most universities] will NOT result in better outcomes for students.

In her article, Freedman quotes E. St. John, “There is, perhaps, no college decision that is more thought-provoking, gut wrenching and rest-of-your-life oriented — or disoriented — than the choice of a major” (St. John, 2000, p. 22). This idea exemplifies the fact that choosing a major is a choice that should be intentional and based on knowledge of one’s self, and when the wrong choice is made, the implications can be harsh.

Ideally, we can all agree that the right major will lead to academic success, as well as fulfill academic, personal, and vocational goals. College and university administrators have begun implementing various types of institutional resources to assist undecided students when choosing a major, but most students are still likely under-prepared when choosing a major – no matter when they choose.

The Data

An estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as undecided (Gordon, 1995), and an estimated 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation (Gordon, 1995). The statistics show that choosing a major has serious implications for the majority of students, not just undecided ones. Unfortunately, few of the decided students are basing their decision of major on factual research and self-reflection. According to a College Student Journal survey of more than 800 students asked to elaborate on their career decision-making process, factors that played a role included a general interest in the subject; family and peer influence; and assumptions about introductory courses, potential job characteristics, and characteristics of the major (Beggs, Bantham, & Taylor, 2008, p. 382). While these may be valid factors in degree choice, the study ultimately implied that students are choosing a major based on influence and assumption rather than through an understanding of their own personal goals and values.

Lastly, the choice of major significantly impacts the student experience, both positively and negatively, affecting retention, engagement, student learning, academic standing, setting of academic and career goals, and more. For example, in a 2006 Canadian study, researchers followed 80,574 students in 87 colleges during a five-year period and showed that high academic grades are related to having a major close to one’s personality which can be described as congruence. Most impressively, they found that congruence better predicted overall grade-point average (GPA) after five years than ACT scores (Jones, 2012).

The development STAGES of first-year students

Undeclared MajorIn contrast with the evidence that first-year college students are most likely making uninformed choices when determining a major, the common four-year college curriculum path assumes that students enter college prepared to make a decision regarding major and, ultimately, career path. Unfortunately, the reality is that students are most likely not developmentally prepared to do so. According to Perry’s student development stages, students in their first year will experience dualism, in which the world around them is made up of dichotomies (good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, yes vs. no, etc.).

Perry's College Student Development Stages

Perry’s College Student Development Stages

Students in the Dualistic stage believe there is one right answer for everything, including the choice of major (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2010). Dualistic students believe there is one “right” major for them, and they tend to look to others for the answer (adviser, parents, peers, and faculty) rather than draw conclusions based on their own research, personal goals, and self-reflection. Most first-year college students are still attempting to understand their own identity, and having lived a majority of their lives under someone else’s guidance, they may not yet be able to come to legitimate conclusions about themselves. This raises the question, without knowing one’s self, even after a year in college, how can one effectively choose a major?

Based on the understanding that most high school and first-year college students are  in the dualistic stage of development, it makes sense that students receive assistance navigating a decision-making process. According to David Tiedeman’s approach to decision-making, these students will begin college in the exploration stage, considering random, exploratory options (as cited in Harren, 1976).

The cornerstones of Tiedeman’s career construction theory unites the concepts that career emerges from self-organization, purposeful action bridges discontinuity, and decisions evolve through differentiation and integration.

According to Tiedeman’s approach to career development, in the process of making a decision, an individual progresses through seven sequential stages: (1) exploration, (2) crystallization, (3) choice, (4) clarification, (5) induction, (6) reformation, and (7) integration. Tiedeman identifies eight decision-making styles: planning, intuitive, impulsive, agonizing, delaying, paralytic, fatalistic, and compliant. Planning is viewed as the most effective style with intuitive sometimes being effective.

In Tiedeman’s Exploration stage, little to no progress is made toward a choice, because knowledge of one’s self and the professional world is needed but not yet understood, and students may feel anxiety about making life choices.  Since incoming students are both dualistic and in the exploratory process of decision-making, they may not yet be developmentally ready to make important life decisions without a structured period of self-reflection, learning, and growth. When making decisions independently or based on the opinions of those with whom they have a personal relationship, such as family members, students will most likely make an uneducated, unrelated, and ineffective decision not based on their true personal goals, interests, and values.

The OBVIOUS disconnect

According to the academic experts, most incoming students are not developmentally ready to make effective decisions such as choosing a major based on identity, self-reflection, and career path. To emphasize this gap, those in the employment field are starting to advise that students follow a double-major strategy to achieve the greatest marketability upon graduation.

Those in the employment field are starting to advise that students follow a double-major strategy to achieve the greatest marketability upon graduation.

Some students “end up” with a double major due to changing interests, but that usually leads to extended semesters beyond the traditional four years. However, if a student enters with a clear direction and establishes a double major as an incoming freshman, it is very likely they will be successful within the traditional four years.

…If a student enters with a clear direction and establishes a double major as an incoming freshman, it is very likely they will be successful within the traditional four years.

Another look at Perry’s stages of development shows that the earliest point at which students may be able to effectively choose a major is not until the stage of multiplicity (Evans et al., 2010). The key here is to understand that the Multiplicity stage is not age-dependent.

Multiplicity signifies the ability to recognize that various options exist when one right answer is not known. In this stage the student may be ready to narrow their major preferences, but it may not be until even further in development (the relativism stage) that students can truly begin deciding based on what they know about themselves. Furthermore, Tiedeman’s decision-making process argues that after the exploratory phase is the crystallization period (as cited in Harren, 1976). Here the student can begin making progress toward a decision but does not actually make one. For example, the student can effectively begin weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a particular decision, consider other alternatives, and understand some of the consequences of these alternatives. Clearly, there is a serious disconnect between where traditional freshmen students are developmentally and the level of development needed to make a successful choice in major. If choosing a major actually means choosing one’s goals, values, and interests based on intentional self-reflection and understanding of one’s self, then most first-year students are not ready. But some are.

There are solutions

Fortunately, it is not all bad news; there are practical solutions to address this inherent disconnect. Experts agree that high school summer career exploration and planning programs that incorporate a heavy “assess and reflect” focus using valid and reliable assessments followed by an intentional and effective step-driven exploratory approach will eliminate the gap – and empower the student to make an informed choice of major – before they enter their freshmen year of college. For those students that don’t have that opportunity, the experts agree that implementing a first-year college program is paramount – but few colleges and universities do this well according to student feedback.

For some universities, there is a mis-directed desire to change the terminology we use about pre-major students from “undecided” to “exploratory” students or something similar rather than implement a sustainable and effective career exploration and planning program. Choosing a Major

Colleges and universities are failing to assist students who are unprepared to effectively choose a major. Therefore, truly assisting students in making well-informed life choices will require systemic changes in institutional structures and processes.

Some academic advisors believe prohibiting a major choice until the sophomore year is the most responsible option. To do this, there would need to be a mandatory course or program during the first year, and a “total intake academic advising model” would be required in which students in their first year receive counseling from an objective, central career coaching office (coaching model) and it is not until the second year that students will be advised within a specific academic discipline, such as with a faculty adviser (King, 2008). A structure such as this may offer first-year students career assessments, a relevant and effective career exploration process, personal research intensive opportunities in areas of study, job shadow experiences, informational interviewing guidance, personal reflections writing, upper-level classes observations, and  faculty interviewing.

But all of this already exists  – if the student is given the properly designed program and support – during high school. Students as young as incoming 9th graders (freshmen in high school) have demonstrated the cognitive ability to leverage a program that addresses all of the points made by Perry and Tiedelman. In fact, most high school students who have participated in the Career Coaching for Students™ program have demonstrated complete ability and competency to leverage the program.

High School StudentsThe Best Solution

The significant disconnect identified in this article and the fact that colleges and universities are far from delivering a solution was the motivation behind the development of the Career Coaching for Students program, developed by Carl Nielson, an executive coach and organizational development consultant with over 20 years in human resource management. “I initially developed this program in 2007. As of 2015, it has been delivered to thousands of students through high school sponsored programs, local public workshops and one-on-one in family homes and webinars throughout the United States. The “distance-coaching” webinar-based program has been received very positively with reports of consistent student success and enjoyment. Students in India and China have also participated in the program along with U.S. students via webinars.” stated Nielson. But we’ve hardly scratched the surface.

“Perry’s stages of development and Tiedeman’s work around decision making are important for parents to understand, states Nielson. “The Career Coaching for Students program moves the student through the multiplicity stage (the ability to recognize that various options exist when one right answer is not known) and relativism (students can truly begin deciding based on what they know about themselves). The program also supports the development of the students decision-making skill based on Tiedeman’s decision-making process. The student is able to work through the exploratory phase and make significant progress in the crystallization period where they begin making progress toward a decision but do not actually make one. The student begins weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a particular decision with the use of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, considers other alternatives, and understands some of the consequences of these alternatives. The truth is that I was describing the Career Coaching for Students program as a Decision Making Skills Workshop several years ago, well before I stumbled onto David Tiedeman’s research. Between the solid alignment to theoretical research and extremely biased positive feedback from students and parents, I believe Career Coaching for Students™ is the only solution for high school students at this time.”

Conclusion

It is not only possible, it is essential that high school students be given the opportunity to develop in ways that position them to make good life decisions, including choosing a major and career before spending thousands of dollars and risking self-esteem. You are encouraged to take advantage of the Career Coaching for Students Self-Directed Home Study offering (high school or college level version) – which includes three hours of one-on-one coaching. This program is available for customized implementation within a high school’s core curriculum or as an after-school program.

Would you like to discuss the program in more detail with Carl Nielson? Click here.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm that provides executive development coaching, team development and assessments for hiring. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl has helped thousands of students find a better way through the career exploration process that works.

Disparity Between Teachers’ Views and Student Performance


High School StudentsThere is a major disparity between high school teachers’ views of college readiness and student performance.

  • High school teachers estimate that 63% of their graduating seniors will be adequately prepared for college-level coursework without the need for remediation and that 51% will graduate from college (MetLife, 2011).
  • Data shows that only 25% of high school graduates who took the ACT test were ready for college-level work (ACT, 2012).
  • Ninety-three percent of middle school students report that their goal is to attend college. However, only 44% enroll in college, and only 26% graduate with a college diploma within six years of enrolling (Conley, 2012a; Conley, 2012b).
  • High school seniors who set the post-secondary goal of earning a four-year degree are 28% more likely to apply to college than students with no aspirations to attend college. Students who aspire to complete an advanced degree are 34% more likely to apply to college than those who do not (Gilkey, Seburn, & Conley, 2011).
  • There is a gap between students’ aspirations to attend college and their preparedness for college-level work. As a result, many students who enroll in college do not graduate with a degree.
    • From 1997 to 2010, the percentage of middle and high school students planning to attend college increased from 67% to 75% (MetLife, 2011).
    • During that same time, the percentage of Americans ages 25 to 29 who attained a bachelor’s degree increased only slightly from 28% to 32%. (Snyder & Dillow, 2011).
  • Nearly half of all high school seniors believe they lack the full spectrum of skills and abilities needed to secure non-entry-level jobs. One fourth of seniors surveyed reported they did not feel at all prepared for college-level work (San Francisco Youth Empowerment Fund, 2011).
  • Many new and underprepared college students must enroll in remedial coursework. Twenty percent of incoming freshmen at four-year institutions and 52% of those at two-year colleges need to enroll in some type of remedial coursework. African-American, Latino, and students from low-income families enroll at the highest percentages (Complete College America, 2012).
    • The estimated cost to states and students to provide remedial college courses to underprepared high school graduates is $3 billion annually (Complete College America, 2012).
    • In community colleges, less than 25% of students who required remedial coursework earned a degree or certificate within eight years of enrollment. Forty percent of students who did not require remediation completed their degree or certificate within eight years (Bailey, 2009).
  • However, completing a postsecondary degree has become more important than ever. Although 76% of young adults say that college has become harder to afford in the past five years and 73% believe that graduates have more student debt than they can manage, approximately 80% still believe that some type of postsecondary education or training is more important now than it was a generation ago (The Institute for College Access & Success, 2011).
  • Research predicts that within the next 10 years, 63% of all jobs in the United States will require some post-secondary education and that 90% of new jobs in growing industries with high wages will require some postsecondary education (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010).

Root Cause – Student Apathy

In the “real world” of work, especially high volume/high value manufacturing, when a problem has been recognized, resources are assigned to identify the root cause and fix it – quickly and systemically. This doesn’t seem to apply in the academic world. Consider the College and Career Readiness Overview Page on the American Institute for Research’s National High School Center’s website. I became apathetic trying to read and understand their message.

Too Much of a Good Thing

The idea of “careers” is introduced to the students in elementary, middle and high school. Classroom time is allocated a few times each year to focus on becoming more aware of careers. Until the student develops a fixed  “personality”, exposure to the world of work and all the possibilities for a career is a good thing. At some point students begin to feel overwhelmed by the choices and the perception that the world of work is too complex and intimidating. Once the student’s personality (we call this “natural talent”) has been established (around the summer of incoming 9th grade), the student needs a valid, reliable and tangible approach to considering paths, careers and educational options.

Today, many high schools require each incoming 9th grader to choose a “path” that will trigger many curriculum decisions – that the student and parents of the student may not be fully aware of their implications – which may handicap the student later as they look at post-secondary education and career options.

So if the student didn’t fall into apathy as they entered 9th grade, there is a good chance they fall within the first two years.

Student EngagementFast-Forward to the Solution

Opportunity for Apathy #1 –  Students desperately need to feel in control of their own destiny. The sooner the better. If a student feels they are part of a “system”, a system that may or may not serve their best interests, they aren’t in control – the system is in control. Forcing the student to choose a “path” upon entering high school when the student isn’t prepared and has no process for decision making is where apathy is born.

Opportunity for Apathy #2 – Our youth are under constant pressure to compare themselves to others, in the classroom, on TV, in the neighborhood – and even with their siblings. Middle school graduation includes celebration of accomplishments in many ways. Teachers try hard to give every student an award or recognition of some kind. But the reality is that student self-esteem is tied strongly to academic performance. About 50% of students moving to high school feel inferior, inadequate and incompetent.

Eliminating Apathy – Now, imagine the student receives a sophisticated “talent assessment and career exploration” program in the summer prior to entering 9th grade – that has nothing to do with IQ or grades. And in that program, not one time did the career coach/instructors talk about the requirement for grades or academic performance for career matching.

Keep in mind, we are very aware that the more elite the college or university, the more important the need for grades and high SAT/ACT scores. And if you want to go to medical school, grades are everything…until they aren’t. Students with perfect grades and GMAT scores have been turned down from medical schools. We also see student college applications with higher grade point averages rejected by elite colleges and universities over student applications with lower grade point averages. Yet, none of these institutions are looking at the primary driver that correlates with success – a student’s talent. College Admissions teams do look at a students’ “well-roundedness” which is like shooting a shotgun at the side of a barn – you’re bound to knock some of the paint off.

As part of the program, the student was given the clarity about their position in the class ranking – everyone was starting at #1 in their class. And, as research is proving and employers are recognizing, GPA, grades or SAT/ACT scores do not correlate to success (yes, they are important but not the deciding factor).

So instead of administrators, teachers and parents harping on academic performance so the student qualifies to go to college (even though the student has no idea why they want to go to college), the program focuses on serious but interesting, tangible career matching exploration that results in one, two or possibly three career choices that create organic excitement in the student. And, as they learn about the career option, they also learn what education is required, which post-secondary schools and major course of study offer the best opportunity to achieve and succeed in that career and – here it comes – what it will take academically to get there.

And once they get excited about a career interest, the career exploration program introduces the student to scholarship and financial aid information (extensive resources) with one message – you can afford it.

Self-Direction and Will are Born Instead of Apathy

With the right career exploration program, the student is able to walk into 9th grade with excitement and tell the academic counselor what they want to get out of high school.

It’s Not Only Possible. It’s Happening July 18th and 25th

Any high school student, from incoming freshmen to senior, needs to attend this program. Tap on the link in the following heading:

National Student Career Exploration Extravaganza!

  • Webinar-based – Attend in the comfort of your home.
  • Students and their parents attend for one price
  • Includes
    • Student binder
    • Extensive talent assessments
    • Two 3-hour group webinar-based sessions
    • One 1-on-1 private tele-coaching session after the webinar program
    • Extensive research resources (for career, education, financial aid research, and much more)

Registration now open. Seating is limited.

Carl Nielson to Conduct National Webinar – Student Career Exploration Seminar – for student and parent


Better Career Planning Better LifeWe’re calling it an Extravaganza!

Two 3-hour webinars (time will go by very fast), one 1-on-1 personal tele-coaching session (for student and parents), student binder, over 70-page Talent Profile, and much more.

We’re putting everything a high school student needs for career exploration, choosing majors, choosing schools, choosing career options and strategic academic planning into this program. And we’re doing it in an engaging way for students.

No classroom. Participate from the most comfortable seat in your house. Webinar dates have been set: Part One – Sat. July 18, Part Two – Sat. July 25.
To learn more go to http://tinyurl.com/2015studentcareerwebinar

Life’s Reality Check for Students


success-really-looks-likeCharles Sykes lists eleven things you did not learn in school and directed these eleven rules at high school and college grads in the book “Dumbing Down our Kids” by educator Charles Sykes.

Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it!

Rule 2: The world doesn’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters.. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.