Category Archives: high school career development curriculum

Why college students succeed. The answer may surprise you.

CoveyJobPassionRoot cause for college student success? We all hear statistics thrown around about all kinds of issues. What is the true root cause of student success?

When it comes to students, college attendance, choosing a major, changing majors, time-to-degree attainment and student debt, there appears to be a correlation between clarity of personal goals and quality of decision making skills at the high school level and the length of time in college, student success and student debt.

But no one is focusing on root cause of student success. They are simply studying what is happening in the general college student population or causes of student failure. In one study, students got it right: it is all about MOTIVATION.

Even a Google search for “Why do college students succeed” produced 65 million hits for opinion articles that were basically “tips” on how to succeed based mostly on study habits. Studying root cause for success is more elusive. Asking students and faculty what causes student failure starts to get at the root cause.

“In short, according to the college students who participated in the study, motivation is the leading cause behind students’ failure or success in completing schoolwork. Motivation influences students’ attitudes, study habits, academic readiness, and so on.” Higher Learning Commission, 2014 Collection of Papers, conclusion of 2011 study of students opinions for success and failure

According to faculty who responded to the survey “Why do students fail?”, the number one reason (37% – 40%) for college student failure was “Not Ready for College“. Other significant reasons listed include Lack of Effort (11% – 13%), Lack of Motivation or Interest (9% – 14%) and Failure of Educational System (14% – 24%).

Not Ready for College

The student-related factor that both two-year and four-year faculty members mentioned most often was students not being ready for college-level work (cited 231 times, or 38% of responses). Faculty members stated many reasons, including the fact that a significant number of incoming students have poor levels of or a complete lack of academic preparedness for college courses, lack of learning and study skills, and/or lack of organizational skills (including time management and setting priorities). More than half of the respondents cited students’ lack of academic preparedness and poor study skills, note-taking skills, reading, and scientific reasoning skills, lack of experience, and more, without directly attributing responsibility. Others specifically blamed students’ K–12 education for this lack of preparedness. It was difficult to separate these two criteria as both dealt with lack of preparation, rendering students not ready for college work. As one respondent said:

They have not been adequately prepared for post-secondary work and may lack foundational skills (such as the ability to write clearly, comprehend readings, follow instructions, etc.) that interfere with their ability to achieve passing grades. For some reason, many students do not learn these skills throughout grade school and high school, and so when they reach college they are not ready for what it demands.

Still others said that students are “underprepared for college-level work in terms of basic writing, reading and thinking skills. For example, they have an inability to think critically, an inability to express oneself in a written format, and an inability to comprehend the nature of assignments.” One respondent said students have a “high school-rooted misconception that one can pass a course without studying,” and several cited the lack of college-level reading and writing skills and other essential study skills.

One faculty member was very specific in pointing blame: “Many of the students (attending) two-year colleges in large cities come from the Urban Public Schools where they have not necessarily encountered a quality education and experienced a deep understanding of real learning as opposed to externalized and superficial learning.”

Another thought that students fail because they have not been exposed to the “academic rigor of college, or the expectations of college work.” Faculty respondents said many students arrive without knowing how to learn, without having the academic prerequisites, or without having the skill set needed to be successful. Many faculty respondents mentioned that students do not know how to be active learners and engaged in the learning process. A number of students do not realize that college requires a higher level of commitment involving a variety of learning skills, such as deep reading, purposeful study, critical thinking, or even asking for help.

Other faculty respondents said students are not aware of the rigors of their chosen discipline. Students can have difficulty in adjusting their own career expectations. Some students have/aspire to become a physician . . . but they do not realize that it is a very difficult and long road academically. Learning is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration . . . some students have not realized this yet.

Respondents saw insufficient academic skills as closely related to lack of time management skills, often mentioning the two in the same sentence. Faculty respondents said too many students do not know how to study or learn, do not know how to organize their time and set priorities, do not ask for help from their instructors or advisors, and do not use available resources, such as the library and tutors. They most likely lack critical thinking skills and other higher-level learning skills so necessary in college. In short, many of them come from high school not yet ready for college-level work and learning.

It was very hard to separate lack of organizational skills from academic preparedness as a reason for student failure. As a separate subcategory, poor time management and organizational skills ranked second as a major roadblock to student success. Faculty respondents said that students could not organize their priorities. They have work, home, social, and school obligations and cannot organize their time to accommodate all of these conflicting time demands. They do not make a plan that enables them to spend the necessary time reading, studying, attending class, completing assignments, and learning. They do not have “contingency plans” in case of illness, child care, work schedule changes, and so forth. As a result, they develop unrealistic expectations and overcommit themselves:

For the most part, students are unrealistic about the time it will require to do the assignments, readings, and problems. They work full time, have family responsibilities, take a full course load, and do not set aside enough time to concentrate on the problem at hand. They are over committed in terms of their time. The data proves out that college students who work more than 20 hours per week in a job have much lower GPAs upon graduation.

In other words, if students have not planned sufficiently to manage their time, they have not got a Plan B in place. They simply “don’t invest the amount of time required or expected” to succeed.

Several faculty members mentioned procrastination as a problem, “waiting until the one before the last to give ‘the best shot,’ forgetting grades are cumulative.” Students start asking for extra-credit assignments, what they can do to make up what they missed, and so on. In short, most respondents mentioned three major problems under this category: overcommitment (jobs, family, and school), unrealistic expectations about the time necessary to do well in college, and the inability to organize their time effectively. Once they get behind, they can no longer catch up.

Will being passionately interested in a specific and “informed” career goal – in high school – change a student’s perspective about academics that lead to that career, time and priority management and personal accountability?

Will high school students be better able to connect the dots and see the bigger picture if they have a personal career goal in mind that they feel is attainable?

Will a realistic and exciting future vision empower a high school student to demand the academic rigor needed to achieve that vision?

Lack of Effort

The next category of student-related issues, ranking third in that area, was Lack of Effort, repeated 72 times, or 12 percent of responses. This category included both Lack of effort and Poor or nonexistent work ethic as subcategories. Many faculty members were disturbed by how many students are satisfied with a grade of C or D instead of working harder to get better grades. A few faculty members stated that even when they give students opportunities to improve their grades by redoing homework, lab reports, or writing assignments, many students do not bother. Some participants stated that students do not exert enough effort and do not bother to find out, either from the instructor or fellow students, how much work is really needed to pass a given class.

Under the subcategory of Poor or nonexistent work ethic, some respondents said that students do not complete assignments but then expect teachers to let them make it up with extra-credit work. Some students expect to pass just because they attend class, and others think that doing ungraded homework is unimportant. Many believe that an open-book exam means they can learn the material while taking the exam. One respondent blamed more than the student: “Work ethic (strengthened by peer behavior AND administration acquiescence) was summarized by the notion, ‘do just enough to get by,’ which is rarely enough to just get by.”

Another said that students expect teachers to excuse multiple missed assignments and absences “based on a student’s circumstances,” which demonstrated a “diminished sense of personal responsibility.” Still another cited a much more serious problem: “They [students] may be collecting financial aid money for living expenses and have no intention of completing a course once they have received all the funds.”

Respondents said failing students come to class late and/or do not show up at all. When they do show up, they send texts or play videos during class or otherwise do not pay attention. They do not read the material before class and do not complete their assignments. Some students do not care if they fail. A few instructors stated that some students do not value education because they do not have to work to pay for it, or if they fail, they can always repeat the course. Bad study habits that worked in high school were also cited more than once; students are unable or unwilling to put effort into learning. This could be due to lack of motivation or inadequate preparation to be successful.

Is lack of student effort or low work ethic a character flaw or an indication the student is disconnected from what motivates them?

By not properly addressing career interest and career matching early in high school, did students adopt a sense of apathy that will continue until career interest and direction are aligned?

Is it possible the student not only lacks a connection to what motivates them but also has a fear of failure that inhibits their ability to pursue goals?

Lack of Motivation or Interest

Lack of Motivation or Interest, engagement, persistence, and “not being active learners” were mentioned frequently in this survey. It ranks third overall, in terms how often it was mentioned, and it was the second most-often-mentioned student-related root-cause factor: 73 times or 12 percent of responses. This category included the following subcategories: Lack of motivation; Don’t-care attitude, or negative attitude; Lack of engagement; Lack of interest, direction, or focus; Don’t want to be in college; and Lack of passion. Some faculty respondents thought that failing students have little understanding of how their education relates to their lives. They do not know what they want in life and have no clear goals as to where they are going. If someone has no idea where they are going, it will likely be extremely difficult to get there.

Other faculty members stated that some college students don’t have a real desire to be in school. Perhaps they are being pressured by family or friends, or perhaps they are drifting in life or repeatedly changing majors.

A few faculty respondents said that even students with passion “often lack the understanding of how specific course(s) fit within the ‘grand scheme,’ especially if they determine (rightly or wrongly) that the course(s) is not on the critical path” to their ultimate goal. Others do not realize the amount of work involved in their majors or cannot decide on a major field of study. Other faculty members said students lack direction, and that “These students attend college with little, if any, goals in mind; education means little to them due to the lack of connection between what they study and their lives.” Finally, a faculty respondent said simply that:

Pursuing a bachelor’s degree is a long-term goal requiring passion, determination, the drive to overcome “hurdles,” and a willingness to do “whatever it takes” to achieve their goal.

If a student comes to college with a clear vision for their future, a vision they have been focused on for at least a year of high school if not since 9th grade, if they see and recognize their talents and interests, if they have created the path for achieving their personal career goals, nothing can stop them. Hurdles become small and student engagement is self-driven.

The statistics are out there. We found the following to be credible references.

Fast Facts: IES NCES National Center for Education Statistics

On average, a college degree takes six years, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says, by Polifact Investigative Reporter Tom Kertscher

Digest of Education Statistics, IES, NCES National Center for Education Statistics

Web Tables Profile of 2007 – 08 First-Time Bachelor’s Degree Recipients published 2012 NCES 2013.1500

Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates, Indiana University, Project for Academic Success

Here is what we know from our experience delivering the Career Coaching for Students™ program, looking at the statistics and talking with high school counselors and administrators:

  • 99% of students’ parents state “I wish I had this when I was in high school.”
  • 99% of students do not receive adequate or competent career coaching in high school or at college.
  • The average time to complete an undergraduate degree is five years and 10 months.
  • 39% of students completed their undergraduate degree in four years.
  • Student debt is rising and is currently at unsustainable levels for most.
  • Going beyond four years to complete a degree is a root cause for rising debt.

Students who receive the Career Coaching for Students™ program

  • …have a higher grade point average going forward, which we believe is due to greater personal motivation that came from having a clearer and valid vision of a future that they wanted.
  • …are more likely not to change college majors
  • …are more likely to pursue and complete a double major in four years
  • …are more likely to have a summer internship and/or study abroad
  • …experience greater satisfaction and happiness in college
  • …are more likely to graduate college in 4 years or less and have less debt
  • …are employed upon graduating college

Goal of the Career Coaching for Students™ program:

  • Provide students with the ability to make better, high-quality decisions.
  • Bring clarity about self, interests, talents that results in greater self-motivation and personal accountability.
  • Save students money.
  • Increase the potential for success and happiness in life and career.

More information for high school students or college students at

What Career Assessment is Best for 14 Year Olds?

talentinsightsforstudents_coverpageWith any assessment used for career matching, it is important that it be valid and reliable. It is also important that it be applied with that same care. When you add age as a criteria, you are simply being more specific about validity and reliability – that is – you are wanting the assessment, the output or report and the process to be valid and reliable for the typical 14 year old.

A Validity score is simply stating how accurately the assessment is for what it measures. A Reliability score is simply stating how accurately the assessment measures the same thing over time. More info on validity and reliability here.

With the Career Coaching for Students™ program for 14 year olds, we use two assessments that measure behavioral style and personal motivation (personal interests, attitudes and values). Behaviors and Motivators are two areas of talent that have extensive career matching data and are two areas that employers look at with assessments to determine job matching of candidates. The assessment we use, Talent Insights for Students™, is highly engaging and serves to bring exceptional clarity about the students strengths and interests based on behavioral style and personal motivators. For both areas measured, the validity and reliability for anyone who has an 8th grade or higher reading ability is very strong.

The next concern is about the assessment output or client report. Any assessment that produces a simple list of job titles is not going to be helpful. In fact, it can be damaging or at the least discouraging. Without guidance, many teens will “check out” once they receive a list of job titles that appear to be nonsensical, even if buried in the list are some good possibilities. One or two erroneous, nonsensical job titles or a list of 50 titles without a way to reduce the list most likely invalidates the entire list from the student’s perspective. Engaging the student means giving them information and a process for working with that information.

An excellent assessment report will provide insight to the student in a manner that produces very high “face validity”. Face validity is the simple reading and agreeing by the recipient. From the parent’s perspective, parts of the Talent Insights for Students report, specifically the behavioral section, will be easily validated this way by the parent. However, parents report learning a great deal about their child when they read sections of the report that cover the student’s personal interests, attitudes and values. The typical statement by parents that we hear is “I had never thought of that before but now it makes perfect sense“. These personal interests and values are sometimes called the “hidden motivators” only because they aren’t easily recognized when observing the behaviors of a person. A person’s motivators tell us why they do something. A person’s behavioral style tells us how they do something (observable).

The next critical component for 14 year olds is the career evaluation process. The process or steps the student [and career counselor] is provided in the program guidebook should empower the student to easily narrow the entire world of opportunity. Through a proven and easy-to-follow process, the student identifies career possibilities from their behavioral style and motivators. The goal of the process is to filter a larger list of high-potential possibilities into three to five high-potential career options that they are “positively curious” about. The student then performs high-level research on each to determine a top interest with 2 or 3 strong backup career interests. Students use the #1 choice to dive deep on the research, talk to people in the career, job shadow, flush out education requirements, college major, best school choices, etc. At any time they can switch to their #2 or #3 choice knowing any of the choices are a strong match to their talent profile.

The key for the 14 year old is that the assessment is valid and reliable with 8th grade reading comprehension, the output provides an excellent opportunity to build self-awareness and the process is engaging and valid from the students’ perspective. Studies show the behavioral style and motivational design of an individual is well developed and relatively stable by the teen years. The student’s behavioral style may shift slightly by the time they graduate high school but not much. This slight behavioral shift will not alter the usefulness of the career interest process used in the Career Coaching for Students™ program.  

Want more information about Career Coaching for Students? Let us know!

Carl Nielson is the founder of Success Discoveries and creator of the Career Coaching for Students program. Carl is also a consultant to large, multi-national companies and small-family-owned businesses, providing applicant assessments, executive coaching and organizational development services.

Student Well-Being: Two Reasons Schools Should Care

High School Studentsby Carl Nielson, Chief Discovery Officer, Success Discoveries, and creator of Career Coaching for Students, a program for high school students.

I work with high school students rather often considering I’m not a teacher or school administrator. What I’m sensing is that student well-being is important – for two key reasons. The first reason is the recognition that schooling should not just be about academic outcomes but about well-being of the ‘whole person’; the second is that students who have higher levels of well-being tend to have better cognitive outcomes at school (an important goal of most high schools).

I provide a program called Career Coaching for Students™ which is how I’ve come to work with so many high school students. This program has a key component – to focus on the whole student, to establish a sense of well-being on multiple levels while exploring self and possible futures. According to the Australian Centre for Education Statistics & Evaluation, in May 2015, they released their literature review into Student Well-Being. You can access the entire document here. It clearly and concisely lays out all the considerations important for addressing student well-being in schools. It also offers dozens of research papers to explore by way of referencing.

Defining well-being as:

A sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience and satisfaction with self, relationships and experiences at school.

Assuming your school or organization is keen to address well-being in a meaningful way, the literature suggests you need to have 5 things in place.

1. Safety – Schools need to provide a safe environment

2. Connectedness – A sense of belonging to the school environment

3. Learning Engagement – Students can engage with a school at social, institutional and intellectual levels.

When people work with their strengths, they tend to learn more readily, perform at a higher level, are more motivated and confident and have a stronger sense of satisfaction, mastery and competence.

4. Social & Emotional LearningSocial emotional learning (SEL) is an educational process for learning life skills but many of the aspects can be found in other more reactive problem-focused educational programming such as character education, restorative justice, peer mediation, bullying prevention, anger management, drug/alcohol prevention, violence prevention, school climate, ethical-decision making, harassment prevention, positive behavior supports. SEL teaches mental skills that lead to understanding and managing emotion, setting positive and realistic goals, building long-lasting relationships, showing empathy for others, and constructive and ethical problem-solving skills.

5. Whole School Approach – a culture of high expectations for all students with teachers who emphasize continuously improving their own thinking, skills and tools.

Well-being must be integrated into the school learning environment, the curriculum and pedagogy, the policies and procedures at schools, and the partnerships inherent within and outside schools including teachers, students, parents, support staff and community groups.

I believe that engagement and well-being are at the crux of what highly successful schools focus on and if we get this right, outcomes will – largely – look after themselves (for staff as well as students).

Misguided outcome focus

  • Average student GPA
  • Percent of students going to a four-year college

More effective outcome focus

  • Number of students with an established career plan, path and vision for their future
  • Number of students using and displaying effective life skills throughout high school years

But still… too many schools, organizations and systems pursue the wrong outcomes at the expense of engagement and well-being, and then they struggle to understand why staff, students and the wider community are so disaffected.

Career Coaching for Students logo

So what do you want to do with your life?

Career Coaching for Students™ and Life Skills for Students™ is primed and ready for mass delivery in high schools. But in the meantime, if you are a parent wanting to provide your high school student (incoming 9th grade is a perfect time) with a kind of well-being that leads to higher engagement and success, visit the Home Study version of the Career Coaching for Students program (which includes the Life Skills for Students self-study curriculum).

Should Career Coaching Be Mandatory Curriculum Like Math and English in High School?

Better Career Planning Better LifeWe receive incredibly positive feedback from clients, those parents AND students, that experience the Career Coaching for Students program. We also consistently hear the same comment: “this needs to be mandatory in high school.”

When we talk to school counselors or administrators, we’re told they are adequately addressing career development.  Using the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Career Development for Career Development as a guidepost,  we find defined requirements for Middle School (7th – 8th grade) and High School (11th – 12th grade).

In middle school, it appears from the TEKS Career Development regulations that the middle school requirements “resemble” the Career Coaching for Students™ program which enables the student to move on to the TEKS high school requirements. Neither are mandatory, only recommended. However, we strongly believe 7th graders are not prepared or capable of gaining enough value from the middle school recommended focus, especially assessments for career matching. Generally speaking, focusing on career exploration in middle school is a great start and appropriate. Assessing students at that age may not be a good idea and will likely create more confusion than value, especially considering the assessments most middle schools may be using. However, providing a portal of high-quality career exploration links for middle students to learn about different careers can energize students. But every high school student we have in our program says the same thing, “I never received anything like this in school” and “I don’t remember anything from what we did in middle school.”

Talking with Career Development Directors in Texas, we hear a consistent statement, “The Career Coaching for Students program is exactly what we need in high school. If I could, I’d leave the Kuder program to middle school level and make Career Coaching for Students™ the standard curriculum for high school students starting in 9th grade.”

We have found the following formula for career development curriculum is very powerful:

Middle School – Use our Student Resource Central web portal of career and education exploration. Create a lesson plan that takes the student through career exploration TEKS requirements using Student Resource Central.

High School – Implement a four-year career development curriculum that starts at the beginning of 9th grade, and uses the Career Coaching for Students program as the foundation. Train all counselors in the use of the program. Train teachers who are passionate about career exploration to deliver the curriculum.

So, here are some pros and cons for implementing a more focused and tangible career coaching program for high school students. Consider these along with your own thoughts and experiences and then answer our poll question below (poll open for one week starting 1/15/2015). Please share on all of your social media so we can get a large sample size for the poll.

Pros of Implementing a Mandatory Career Coaching Curriculum for all High School Students

  • By starting at the incoming 9th grade level (perhaps even the August before school starts) the program helps with 4-year high school course planning that aligns with post-secondary desires
  • Greater self-awareness comes at the right age to leverage the insights gained
  • Increased self-confidence enables the student to pursue a more challenging academic schedule
  • Greater clarity about high-potential career possibilities (a high-quality short list that matches their talents/personality traits) empowers student self-direction.
  • Less missteps towards high school graduation
  • Lower dropout rates
  • Greater student engagement that results in higher average GPA
  • Higher percent of students enrolling in post-secondary education

Cons (based on what I’ve heard or what was implied)

  • Already too many academic demands, no time to add more class time
  • Not needed – time, money and attention need to be allocated to other more important things
  • Already appropriately covered in middle school, don’t see the need to duplicate
  • We’re already doing a good job in this area, don’t need to improve
  • We don’t have the budget for it
  • Better to let families address this rather than handle in school