Category Archives: student career assessment

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.

Is Decision-Making as a Skill one of the Keys to Student Success?


In life, there are so many options and decisions to make. For high school students, decision making skills are critical yet one study showed incoming college freshmen engineering students who were assessed using a specific personal skills assessment scored “decision making” at the bottom of their developed skills. And as seniors, college students did not show a significant improvement in the Decision Making competency.
SpiderChart-EngStudent-DecisionMaking
Students may get input from family, teachers and friends.  But, they are still not convinced – and shouldn’t be convinced – that they have the right answers.

10 steps for good decision making…

1. Define the problem you are facing? What is the problem to be solved (e.g., what classes to take next semester, what college major to choose, what college to choose, what career to choose)? Write down the problem statement so you are clear on what you are trying to resolve. Write down why you should solve this issue (e.g., what are your priorities) and any qualifiers for the best solution (example: I want to choose a major that leads to great career options and a high paying job when I graduate). This step gives you an idea of how important this decision is and what to consider.

2. Gather information. Ask for advice. Write down what you need to learn. Interview people (e.g., parents of friends, your own parents, other students). What do others who have already been through this say? Gather information from valid sources (e.g., speak to your school counselor, check for useful information on the Internet) What facts are important to consider? What is holding you back from gathering information (e.g., fears, etc.). This step provide you with both objective (non-biased) and subjective (biased) information.

3. What is important to you? You may have listed some important things in your problem statement in step one. Here you want to list those tangible values that further qualify the possibilities. What conditions must be met?

4. Brainstorm and write down your possible options. Come up with ideas and choices you can choose from. Organize them.

5. Create a plan for researching your ideas or choices and carry them out. Create a plan of specific steps with deliverable dates (everyone works better with deadlines) that you will take. Begin to carry out your plan.

6. Remove barriers. As you begin and throughout the process of carrying out your action plan, look for barriers to accomplishing what you want and take proactive action to mitigate (reduce) the impact of any barrier to achieving your goal.

7. Summarize your action plan. Provide a recap of what you are doing for yourself, and share the recap and the process you went through with your parents and other important stakeholders.

8. Identify the consequences (good and bad) of each choice? Use steps 2 and 3 to help determine the pros and cons of each possible choice listed in step 4. Write these down in a table so you have all the data right in front of you. Create a decision T-diagram for pros and cons to the option and, with your shorter, best possible options, analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the option.

9. Decide on the best choice for you. This is much easier after you go through the above steps. Rate your options if you have to. Rank order based on your research. Take a few days to think about it if you need to and then come back to your dilemma.

10. Measure the results. This can only be done once you made your decision, carried out your plan, and received feedback. How would you rate your decision? What about the steps you took? Are you still meeting the things important to you. What lessons did you learn? This is an important step for strengthening your decision-making skills. If you find your decision didn’t work out well the first time around, use what you learned when you go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate your choice. If the first choice didn’t turn out right, it doesn’t mean game over. Retrace your steps and start from the best place possible.

Are high school students provided access to competent career coaching and career, education and life planning exploration tools?
Since we all live busy lives, we are looking for tools and support that are easy to use and bring true value and benefits – saving time and money in the long run – not to mention greater self-esteem and confidence for the student.
Looking for Immediate Answers
It would be great to get instant answers.  However, searching for the right career is a journey – a process.
Tools make the journey easier.
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Career Coaching for Students™ is an easy-to-use program that divides the process into three steps –
• Knowing yourself
• Learning about careers that match You, Inc.
• Deciding the right strategies and paths
Even the Home Study self-directed program provides two 2-hour personal sessions with a career coach using distant-coaching technology (via phone and Internet) to get you started.  The tools provide students with the answers needed to successfully decide on a career direction – or to feel confident you’ve shortened the list to a very manageable two or three career areas to further evaluate.
Once you purchase the program, you get immediate access to the student assessments and client resources.
We also offer the most comprehensive and extensive student resources that students need to explore careers, school choices, majors and much more – to make the correct decisions.

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).

What’s the difference between a Student Career Coach and a School Counselor?


High School StudentsBy Julie Brewer, M.ED., licensed facilitator, Career Coaching for Students™ program and certified career counselor (GCDF)

What’s the difference between a high school counselor and a student career coach? We need to set the record straight: high school counselors are not the same as a student career coach! Parents need to know what support is being provided at school to help high school students and what is not. The difference can mean thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses for every family, not to mention the psychological impact with self-esteem.

A high school counselor has a broad job description. They are charged with addressing many areas around student success. Unfortunately, they also are responsible for a great deal of administrative work. To see a recent job description for a High School Counselor in a job posting go here.  The consistent theme seen in these job descriptions is a focus on “students in need”.

The school counselor’s educational level or credentials tend to be more specific as well (see Qualifications below). A student ‘career‘ counselor, employed by the school, may be more narrowly focused on student career development but will likely also have a significant administrative workload.

In addition, if the school subscribes to one of the tech solutions offered to high schools, the student career counselor may delegate too much of their career coaching job duties to the technology solution, expecting the student to be self-directed and motivated to use the tools.

A student career coach approaches each student as a unique client. They combine counseling best practices with high-impact career coaching in a manner that empowers the student and family to focus on vision, path and pursuit. The student career coach impacts personal social development, educational achievement, life skills and career direction.

Forward Movement
Career coaches first establish focus around the student’s self-awareness of talent strengths, current realities (academic, soci0-economic, etc.) and personal career and life goals. The student career coach has a method approach to working with the student to develop personal goals and create action goals to move forward – and break through barriers. As they work together, the student career coach looks for any past or current barriers that may be causing any challenges for the student.

Qualifications
Career coaches may have certifications from an accredited body like International Coach Federation (ICF) in addition to an undergraduate and masters in a wide range of career subjects like engineering, accounting, life sciences, psychology, etc. Those that come from academia may have an undergraduate degree in education, sociology or psychology and a masters in a related area. They will likely also have a professional license (e.g. Licensed Professional Counselor, LPC) which is typically required to practice in a school setting in the state they reside.

Outcomes vs. New Directions
A student career coach is going to assess the students’ talents and interests and provide tools and approaches that encourage/challenge the student to identify and research desired career paths and pursue those interests through student-appropriate action planning and execution. A student career coach focuses on co-creating outcomes/results/accomplishments that engage the student. They assess the student’s situation and help detangle confusion or address the emotional reasons if they’re not making progress.

Bottom line, a student career coach is dedicated to leading the student to a place of self-clarity and behaviors that support self-starting engagement in developing and sustaining one’s own future.

Do high academic achievers need a student career coach?
Annual Earnings TrajectoryMost high-achieving students are not provided much attention unless they specifically request assistance. Most students believe they are suppose to somehow magically know what they want to be or have the confidence and ability to figure it out – yet over 90% of students do not have clarity nor the confidence to adequately make decisions effectively.

Unfortunately, many high-achieving students are seen changing majors in college multiple times to “figure it out”. This results in much higher student debt and/or cost to the family – in the tens of thousands of dollars – that is not only unnecessary but delays the student’s ability to begin a career. The lost income by delaying graduation is much higher than the student debt. For example, if a graduating college student’s first salary is projected to be $50,000 per year, that equates to approximately $3,500 per month of income after taxes. Delay graduating by one semester (5 months) and you’ve lost $17,500 in earning potential at the start and over $80,000 for your lifetime. Delay a full year and you’ve lost $42,000 at the start and over $150,000 over a life time. The immediate cost of extending college by one semester is between $15,000 and $20,000 without considering the lost income. Lifetime Earnings Based on Education

Going to the School Counselor
The high school counselor will likely ask the student about why they are stuck in the first place. They will look for where the real motivation exists and if procrastination about making career decisions may have a deeper root somewhere else. The student career counselor will be there to remind you, encourage you and talk you through the experience of the process (taking standardized exams, applying to colleges, choosing a major, choosing a college and perhaps choosing a career).

The student career coach will go into high gear to provide the student with greater self-awareness, identify and narrow high-potential career interests, develop action plans around critical dates and deadlines and connect the student with people who are passionate about and working in the student’s career of interest.

Once the narrowing has been sufficiently completed, the career coach will focus more on what needs to be done today and tomorrow to move the student forward. Sometimes it’s dealing with the fear, but then you still need a method to set you up for success. A career coach helps a student with strategy and to think beyond what would normally be considered. For example, most students don’t realize they can join a professional organization as a student or start volunteering in the field they are interested in pursuing (without making a full commitment to that career yet). Student career coaching moves students into some form of action.

Timing is Everything
When is the best time to employ school counselors and/or career coaches?
We strongly encourage families to meet with the high school counselor the summer of the incoming 9th grade (freshman year). And, ideally, in the same summer before that meeting, employ or attend a student career exploration program such as Career Coaching for Students™ (one-on-one distant coaching by phone/web tools, in-person locally or workshops in your area).

About the Author
Julie Brewer is a licensed facilitator of the Career Coaching for Students™ program. She is a certified career counselor (GCDF) with a Master’s degree in Education and over ten years teaching experience. Her passion and expertise lies in coaching high school and college students to help them identify, appreciate and match their unique set of strengths and talents to high-potential career areas.

Through Career Coaching for Students™, a proven coaching program, Julie works with students and parents to develop a meaningful and successful career and education plan. She was trained in advanced assessment facilitation by Carl Nielson, creator of Career Coaching for Students, and went on to found Compass Discoveries in 2015.

Julie’s two sons graduated from Hinsdale Central High School, her oldest is pursuing a career path in economics at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Her youngest is in Ghandruk, Nepal gaining experience in a wildlife conservation gap year program.

In her free time, Julie is an avid traveler, music fan, and life long learner.

Julie’s passions include:
★ Playing the role of certified career counselor, coach, educator, and entrepreneur.
★ Specializing in career coaching students in high school, college and recent grads.
★ Engaging students with high-quality, insightful and accurate assessments.
★ Co-creating achievable and exciting educational plan design based on student’s goals.
★ Introducing and focusing students on life skills development throughout the process.
★ Helping students choose a university and college major or vocation based on career and education goals.

Visit Julie’s website at http://www.compassdiscoveries.com/
Julie’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/juliecbrewer

Email Julie

The Career Coaching for Students™ program takes a practical, highly effective approach to helping students:
◾Gain greater self-awareness
◾Understand strengths
◾Identify high-potential career options
◾Research different educational strategies
◾Differentiate themselves from the crowd
◾Ensure future success and satisfaction

For more information, visit the website at http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net

Student Career Coaching and the Cure for Alzheimer’s


by Janet Blount, licensed facilitator, Career Coaching for Students™, serving Baltimore, MD and Atlanta, GA

Career Coaching for Students article imageThere are 5.3 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s is a debilitating brain disease that robs people of their memories, the ability to speak, read, swallow and enjoy life.

My mother is one of the millions who have Alzheimer’s. I am watching this once vibrant, intelligent woman become a shell of her former self. Those of us who have seen the devastation this disease causes, shout out in despair, that this disease must be cured.

Alzheimer's Effect on the brainSomething that is equally devastating to watching your loved one succumb to this disease is to think that someone who could cure this disease will not because they have not had the opportunity to identify, understand and pursue career paths that match their interests and talents.

The Career Coaching for Students Program is the leading career exploration and planning program that takes a proven approach to coaching students. This program empowers students to gain greater self-awareness and clarity about their strengths and passions, understand the connection between their personal strengths and different career choices, identify high-potential career options that align with the student’s talents and pursue their passion.

The students in the upcoming high school graduating class may invent the cure for Alzheimer’s – if they really know more about themselves. Think about it. It’s about the Science of Self.

Helpful links about Alzheimer’s:

Alzheimer’s Association Website

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA)

To learn more about Janet Blount:

Careers Are Us website

On LinkedIn

Career Coaching for Students

Email Janet

When is a person old enough to have a PURPOSE?


Purpose. A lot has been written and said about it because purpose is a significant part of a life well lived. Its power may lie in one simple thought: There is no forward without purpose.

  • Purpose is a stake in the ground. It positions.
  • Purpose is direction. It orients.
  • Purpose is clarity. It focuses.
  • Purpose is energizing. It empowers.
  • Purpose is supportive. It overcomes.

Of course unstructured experimenting and discovery are wonderful tools for living. It’s not always necessary to know your purpose; mindless wandering has its place.

But having a purpose – knowing where ‘forward’ is – quickens the journey.

Coaching Point: When is having a purpose critical versus “nice to have” for teens? What’s your purpose? Where is forward for you?

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.