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?

5 Reasons Parents Should Invest in Career Coaching for High School Students


While a lot is made of overcrowded classrooms and slashed funding for arts, sports and electives, Americans are less likely to be up in arms about a severe shortage of guidance counselors in schools around the country.

Colleges and universities are increasingly being evaluated on the career outcomes of their graduates. However, most institutions invest relatively little in career services. The average annual operating budget for a career services department is only $89,819 and, on average colleges have one career services professional for every 1,889 students, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

And for high schools, the number of guidance counselors ranges from one for every 500 to 1,000 students according to the Association for College Admission Counseling. Very few of these guidance counselors are trained as a career coach. Most are employed in schools to align students to “high school academic tracks” – without any valid, reliable and student-driven career matching method. School counseling has been set up to manage a herd and is not designed to effectively attend to the unique needs of each individual student.

Five reasons parents need to provide their teen with career coaching are discussed below:

Student Career Counseling interview on Here & Now

The Guidance Counselor Crisis. Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston. In this recorded segment, Young and Hobson focus on the need for better career guidance in schools. Tap on the graphic to listen to the blogcast recording.

1. The Very Real Financial Impact of the Hit and Miss Student Career Counseling Strategy

Studies show the percent of students that change majors in college at least once is too high. The number that change majors two or more times (at least three majors before graduating) is too high as well. All that changing results in a delay in graduation. If the standard is four years, every extra college course (3 or more credit hours) and the cost of extending the stay (food and housing) AND the delay in starting their career and bringing in a pay check, results in at least one full semester, and many times, one full extra year at college. National data suggests the average cost of a semester is between $15k and $25k.  The low end of the college graduate starting monthly salary is about $2,500. Multiply that by 4 months for a semester and you add $10k in lost income on top of the added costs. Therefore, one added semester costs a minimum of $25,000.

The Career Coaching for Students program for high school students provides tools, methods and confidence that leads to the right choice of major and college, resulting in on-time graduation and lower student debt. Many of our students find it easy to complete a double major in four years simply because they knew and planned for what they wanted to achieve in college – before they arrived on campus.

2. The Emotional Cost of the Hit and Miss Student Career Counseling Strategystudent career counseling

No one is immune to the feeling of failure when their plans don’t work out. For teens, the emotional turmoil can be especially distracting and takes a toll on self esteem.  If you think your teen isn’t at risk consider that the college drop out rate in the U.S. is described as “awful” by author Jordan Weissmann, in the article America’s Awful College Dropout Rates, in Four Charts. According to Weissmann, “Our dropout crisis doesn’t get discussed a great deal outside of education circles. But it should, since the issue is directly tied to other problems the public rightly obsesses over like rising tuition and student debt.” According to data in Weissmann’s article, of those who started school at age 20 or younger—as 76 percent of 2008 enrollees did—about 59 percent complete a degree. For older students, graduation rates were closer to 40 percent.

Weissmann continues, “While finances are often cited as the number one reason students don’t attend college, the more pervasive problem is clearly college dropout rates. Improving dropout rates will have a cyclical affect, helping promote a stronger future for students that obtain degrees, and improved opportunities for them and their future children as well.”

According to The New York Times, 53 percent of students that enroll in college finish their degree programs – the second worst among a poll of 23 developed nations by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Furthermore, 30 percent of freshmen don’t continue on into their second year, while more students are dropping out in their final years of college as well. In 2011, 78 percent of college attendees failed to get a diploma after six years of higher education. Taking financial constraints out of the equation, we find the reasons are much more connected to a student’s emotional and intellectual readiness. Studies suggest there are 5 reasons students are dropping out of college:

Academically unprepared – One of the main reasons that students drop out of college is that they are unprepared for the demands of an undergraduate degree program. These students find themselves burning out quickly.  Looking back, many of these students tell a story of wishing they had  taken different classes during high school. While the “counseling and advising” might have been there, most students don’t gain a personal perspective that they can relate to. That personal perspective is impossible to achieve in high school if the student doesn’t have some vision for their future.

Isolation – Part of college is the social experience students gain to bring them into adulthood. However, many students are faced with a sudden sense of isolation when they transition from high school to college, with no friends and none of the social relationships they have spent the last 15 or 16 years building. This isolation is strongly linked to not having a strong purpose for being at college. Going in undeclared or choosing a major that was thrust on the student by parents’ or teachers’ suggestions rather than an intentional and tangible due-diligence process is the perfect formula for feeling like you don’t belong.

Indecisiveness – One problem that many students face during their first year in college is being unsure what major to choose, or selecting the wrong one and not knowing if and how to change it and start over (the first sign of insanity is doing something over and over again the same way and expecting a different outcome).  Research has shown that the majority of incoming college freshmen lack decision making competencies. This results in indecisiveness which can be extremely limiting, causing students to flounder rather than make the necessary changes to succeed. This is addressed by helping students to learn how to make big decisions such as choosing a major or choosing a career – in high school.

Lack of guidance – Many of today’s graduating high school students feel they have had very little guidance moving forward. Empowering students with best-practice tools and methods for career exploration and planning leads to  development of a sense of ownership in their actions and decisions that will help them overcome any lack of guidance. High school students, with the right tools and methods for career planning, make smarter decisions. The resulting courage to make decisions will also mitigate worries about making the wrong choices that can hold students back from success.

Lack of responsibility – Of course, having a lack of a sense of responsibility for their own actions can cause students to drop out as well. Students who don’t understand and connect with their role to be personally accountable for creating their own future tend to over indulge in social activities and have poor class attendance that  results in poor grades and even poorer self-esteem.

In addition to extra curricular activities such as band, sports, school clubs, boy scouts, girl scouts, etc., consider giving students tools and methods for defining and creating their own desired future. The result is a student with highly developed personal accountability and self management skills, two key success skills consistently found in highly successful people. Give a high school student the opportunity to develop and display these skills before they enter college.

We don’t need studies to tell us that the more failures a student experiences the more likely they will be impacted emotionally. While some experts on teen behavior are concerned about the narcissistic Millennial generation, the college dropout rate may suggest a larger segment of the Millennial generation will suffer from low self-esteem or may self-select out of pathways to personal success –  ultimately resulting in under-achievement and low personal satisfaction.

Career Coaching for Students for high school students prepares the student on multiple levels that lead to high resiliency, many smaller successes while in high school, greater self-confidence and greater engagement and ownership in preparing for their own future.

3. The Ability to Speed Up the Development Processstudent career counseling

There are many skeptics to the idea that high school students can actually make an informed decision about what career direction to go and what post-secondary education is best for them. Yet, many high schools are expecting the incoming 9th grader to choose an education track that basically sets them up for a vocational career path or professional career path (college). To address this issue around developmental stages, check out our article The Detrimental Dilemma for College Freshman: Go in Undeclared? Should I Double-Major? and decide for yourself.

Many so-called teen development experts believe teens are not able to develop the decision-making skills and be developmentally ready to choose a major and career before age 19 or 20 (sophomore/junior in college). If they are right, if you can’t speed up learning and development, then why is there a legitimate and growing executive coaching industry? Why is there a booming SAT/ACT prep tutoring industry? Student career coaching is designed to accelerate the development process – for students.

The Career Coaching for Students™ program is specifically designed for and highly effective in giving teens the development needed to make the leap into post-secondary possibilities.

4. The True Secret: Delay in Career Strategy Planningstudent career counseling is Sadly Pathetic

So, we know that effective career strategy planning can be and is provided effectively to high school students. That has been proven thousands of times with the Career Coaching for Students program based on testimonials from students and parents. We also recognize the financial and emotional costs/risks for students not receiving career coaching. But is there a real need to worry about this while the student is in high school? Most colleges’ academic advising speech to incoming freshmen and their parents includes the following statement: “It is ok to enter your freshmen year as an undeclared or general studies major.”  How can they say that if it isn’t true? Perhaps the better question is “how does a college, university or any post-secondary educational institution benefit from students entering without a plan?”

Perhaps the better question is “how does a college, university or any post-secondary educational institution benefit from students entering without a plan?”

Dan Johnston does college financial 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.”

We simply can’t say it better than that.

5. Student Career CounselingGaining a Competitive Advantage

Let’s say the first four reasons that we’ve covered above aren’t making an impact in your thinking. Let’s move off of “career coaching” and look at something that seems to be very popular – SAT/ACT prep tutoring courses. These programs are now being offered for free by Khan Academy. The goal at Khan Academy is to level the playing field. It is well documented that high income families, those who can afford a couple of thousand dollars for the SAT prep courses, are spending the money to “increase the odds” of their son or daughter receiving a higher test score that gives them an edge when applying to the more elite colleges and universities. You might call that “gaining a competitive advantage”.

If more students will be receiving SAT/ACT prep, that suggests a higher SAT score won’t be a competitive advantage much longer. Many see an SAT test taking skills course as a superficial prop that doesn’t have any long-term benefits for the student, especially if it fails to land the student in the top tier school. However, becoming self-aware and having greater self-esteem, knowing one’s strengths, understanding the connection between what motivates you and ideal career options, being confident about your ambitions and goals, feeling in control of your future, knowing the critical path for success, demonstrating key soft skills for success and knowing how to make big decisions is a real competitive advantage that elite colleges and universities look for in applying students.

So perhaps it comes down to whether Career Coaching for Students gives students a competitive advantage. A few think it does.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting and executive coaching firm that provides executive development coaching, high-potential development, 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 a career exploration process that works.

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.