Tag Archives: choosing a major

College Tours. Questions to Ask on a College Visit – And Who to Ask


College Tours. Campus Tours. Questions to Ask on a College Visit – and Who to Ask

Visiting your prospective colleges before you make a decision is smart. If you can’t visit one of your top choices, conduct phone interviews with multiple college staff and students. Either way, you have a great opportunity to make a more informed decision if you take the opportunity to learn from the people who study, work, and teach on campus first. By asking the right questions, you can gain a strong sense of a school and its culture, far beyond the facts and figures on its website.

201109-w-college-campus-notre-dameTo make the most of your visits, you should prepare thoughtful questions to ask on each college visit. The college tour is just one part of your college visit. Set your goal to meet with more than just the college tour guide and watch the promotional film or PowerPoint slideshow. This guide will provide you with a comprehensive college visit checklist of questions for your tour guide, current students, admissions officers, financial aid officers and professors. Plus, we’ll offer some advice on what not to ask.

Do the Research Before You Arrive on Campus.

You’ll see a few links highlighted throughout the article that refer to different pages on Student Resource Central, an online e-binder of relevant and highly valuable information. Between Student Resource Central and the college’s website, you have 90% of the information needed to make a good college choice. That last 10% will be revealed on campus and is equally critical.

About Shyness.

Get over it. You and/or your parents are about to spend a great deal of money (even if you have a full scholarship) for your education. If you were buying a $70,000 car, you’d probably ask a few questions and take it for a test ride before buying it. This is your opportunity to make an informed decision for you. Don’t let the circumstances hold you back from asking the questions you want and need to ask.

If you are considering colleges – then you have earned the right to ask questions – and get answers.

Why Are College Tours Important?

You can check out the school’s facilities, like the library, dorms, dining halls, gym, and science labs, as well as branch out to see its surrounding city/town culture. Gathering your impressions of your college’s campus and beyond will help you gain a much stronger sense of whether or not it’s a place you’d like to live and learn for four years. First impressions usually carry a heavy weight. However, many students who ended up going to their “2nd choice” for reasons out of their control report adapting and loving their “2nd choice”. At the end of the day, loving or hating any given college choice will be in your control.

We recommend having three designations for college choices after you have completed your due diligence. Sort your college choices into A, B and C groups. The A group is for your strongest matches – those that offer exactly the major you are wanting, the college is visited and supported by industry-related companies that employ students in your major and/or for your career interest and have great facilities, culture and top quality academics. Group B is for those colleges that offer something that fits what you want to major in, have reasonably good connections with industry representatives in your field of study and have an acceptable level of facilities and campus life. Group C is for those you have clearly decided to reject for any reason.

Keep in mind, an amazing visit is actually a subjective evaluation using fabricated events. When students have an amazing visit they typically feel much more empowered to put together a stellar application. If you find yourself applying to one of your “B group” choices, be sure to approach the application with the same enthusiasm as if it were your first choice. That B choice may just be the best choice.

collegecampusfallBesides sampling the dining food or hanging out on the quad, you can also learn about the student experience from your tour guide who is usually a current student, and other current students that you meet (summer tours present less opportunity to see the campus the way it will be during the busy Fall and Spring semesters).

Even the other student visitors on the tour with you are valuable connections. Ask them why they are considering that college, what major and career direction they are considering. Set up meetings to speak with admissions officers, financial aid officers, and/or professors. Those meetings are not advertised, and the admissions folks may even say they don’t want you meeting with professors. However, most deans and professors enjoy meeting with prospective students. Keep in mind they are needing to market their offerings so it is in their interest to take the time to meet with you.

Prepare.

Current students, tour guides, professors and deans can offer their unique perspectives and experiences, especially if you ask meaningful college visit questions that lead to broader conversations.

Before you hit the road, be sure to do your homework. Student Resource Central: Education Research: Search Colleges and Universities has incredibly rich data on pretty much every college, university and most vocational schools. You’ll want to know about costs, financial aid and perhaps most importantly, graduation and retention rates.

College Search Results US Dept Education College Scorecard

Choose questions based on your specific interests and who you are interviewing. Modify each question as needed. If a question asks about popular classes in general, for instance, you can adapt it to ask specifically about popular classes in, say, the Biology Department.

Questions to Ask Your Tour Guide or Other Current Students

Most college tour guides are big fans of their colleges and are enthusiastic to share why. They tend to know lots of history and fun facts about the school, but you shouldn’t necessarily expect them to rattle off specific data and statistics about graduation rates and financial aid packages (save those kinds of questions for administrative officers) along with the information you collected through the resources mentioned above.

Tour guides are usually current students, so they can also speak to their personal experience. Remember, they were in your shoes just a few years before!

The following questions are divided by academics, support resources, internships, study abroad programs, extracurricular activities, residential life, and general culture. Finally, we’ll suggest some personal questions for your tour guide. As you read, consider which questions you’d like answered, and how you might customize them to meet your specific interests and needs!

Questions about Academics

  • What majors are considered this universities signature programs (which colleges are ranked higher compared to similar colleges/universities)?
  • Which majors/programs are recognized by employers based on number of internships and offers upon graduation?
  • How large are the required classes? [These will be larger. Some universities will have as many as 75 – 150 in their larger classes. The more common core the subject, the more likely it will be large.]
  • What courses are you aware of that offer especially innovative or creative learning experiences? Which classes have been most interesting to you so far? [The student may not be in the major you are considering. This question is more for gaining insight into the types of class delivery that is at the college/university that you may not have experienced in high school.]
  • Are the professors accessible outside of class? What has been your strategy for accessing the professors. Do the professors hold office hours? How often can students interact with professors outside of class?
  • What kind of classes have smaller section meetings? What are they like?
  • Are there any especially popular classes or must-have professors? [either for core required classes or if the student you are talking to is in the major you are considering]
  • When did you choose your major?
  • How much freedom do freshmen have in choosing courses?
  • Are students usually able to take their first choice courses?
  • How’s the Wi-Fi? How’s the cell phone coverage? Which providers provide the most comprehensive coverage? [some college campuses don’t have the cell phone coverage you’d think they would have]
  • How are freshman advisors assigned?
  • How would you describe the freshman experience, in terms of advising or any classes that everyone has to take?
  • Can undergraduates work with professors on research?
  • Are there honors programs? If so, what are they like?
  • Declared Double MajorIs it easy to change your major? Can I enter as a freshman with a double major?
  • How many hours of class do students typically have each week? How many hours of homework outside of class per day/week?
  • Are finals more exam-based or project / essay-based?
  • Where are your favorite best places to study on campus?
  • What are the hours for the library? Do these change during reading periods or exam weeks?
  • Are there any research methods or online tools I should learn about for my classes?
    • Do any majors require seniors to write a thesis or complete a senior project?

Academic and Social-Emotional Support

  • Can you get help from professors outside of the classroom?
  • What free academic support or tutoring is available?
  • What kind of resources are there for international student support and orientation?
  • What kind of learning disability resources does the school offer?
  • Is there a writing center to help with essays and research papers?
  • Are academic advisers accessible and effective?
  • Do the librarians help with research?
  • Do students organize study groups or online discussion forums?
  • Are there computer labs available with the required software?
  • How accessible and helpful is health services?
  • Are there opportunities to participate in organized conversations about issues and events with administrators, deans, professors and other students?
  • Describe the social orientation programs for freshmen? Are they required/recommended/optional? What was the most valuable thing students talk about after attending an orientation program?
  • Is there career counseling available? Have you received career counseling? Was it helpful?

Research, Internship, and Study Abroad Opportunities

student volunteers

  • What kind of opportunities exist for undergraduates to work on research or academic projects with professors?
  • What kind of internships are available? Do a lot of students get internships? What is the typical strategy for getting an internship?
  • Are any departments known for obtaining internships for most or all of their students?
  • Do any majors prepare students to continue as researchers in a Master’s or doctoral program?
  • Are study abroad programs popular? Any ones in particular?
  • Do most students study abroad on a program through the school or an external program?
  • Do students of certain majors, like engineers, find it difficult to study abroad?
  • Are there internship opportunities abroad?
  • Are there opportunities through the school for summer internships or research?

Extracurricular Activities

  • What are some of the most popular extracurriculars and why?
  • What are some of the larger campus-wide community service events?
  • What intramural sports or exercise classes are available?
  • Can you talk about the ____ club? (Examples might include the student newspaper, student magazine, international relations clubs, art groups, science clubs, musical performances, plays, bands, ensembles…whatever you’re interested in!)
  • In what ways do students connect with and volunteer in the surrounding community?

Residence Life

  • How many students do they really squeeze into those dorm rooms?
  • What are the dorms like? Are there lounges, laundry, and kitchens? Shared or private restrooms?
  • Do certain dorms have a focus or appeal to students with different interests, like a “healthy living” dorm or a dorm for pre-med and science majors?
  • Do most students live in the dorms? What about after sophomore or junior year? When do most students move off campus? How much cheaper is it to live off campus?
  • Are any students placed in dorm triples?
  • How are the resident counselors? What social events are planned for freshmen to get to know one another?
  • Do most students get along with their randomly assigned roommates? [Roommate assessment and guide]
  • What would I do in case of a conflict or need for a room switch? Is that possible?
  • What kind of food does the dining hall serve? Are there different options? How is it, really?
  • Does the dining hall accommodate special dietary restrictions?

Campus Culture and Surrounding Area

  • Where do students tend to hang out on and off campus? Friday/Saturday nights?
  • Are there movie theaters and concert venues? What about good cafes for getting work done or finding the perfect pumpkin spice latte?
  • Do a lot of students belong to fraternities or sororities?
  • How ethnically diverse is the campus?
  • What percent of international students are there? What countries do they come from? [this will likely be answered in the formal presentation]
  • Do students stick around or go home on weekends?
  • What’s the party scene like? (This might be a question to ask current students away from the group tour.)
  • Have there been any recent student protests? What were they protesting, and how did staff and faculty respond?
  • What are some big campus events, like homecoming or alumni weekend?
  • Is it easy to get around campus or get off campus without a car?
  • What transportation options are there around campus?
  • Is it a safe area to walk around at night? What kind of safety measures are in place?
  • Do many students work on or off campus? How easy is it to find a part-time job?

You don’t want to put your tour guide too much on the spot, but you should feel free to ask about her experience at college!

Personal Questions for Current Students

  • What’s your favorite class and why?
  • What’s it like to study in your major?
  • How helpful did you find your freshman year advisor?
  • What do you wish you had known going into freshman year?
  • What do you wish you had asked on a campus tour when you were in my place?
  • What’s a typical weekday like for you?
  • What surprised you about campus life here?
  • Is there anything you wish you had done differently to improve your experience here?
  • Are there any things you’d like to change about the school?
  • What would be your most important advice for freshman?
  • What’s your favorite spot you’ve discovered on campus since arriving?

For more technical information on admissions policies and financial aid offers, you might set up meetings with the relevant offices. Read on for questions to ask the administrative staff.

Questions to Ask an Admissions Officer

StudentSupportDirectionSignsMaking contact with the admissions office can not only get your questions answered, it can also get your “demonstrated interest” on file, which may help when it comes time to reviewing your application. Rather than appearing as an anonymous applicant, admissions officers may recognize you from a meeting, email, or other records of contact. Not all schools keep track of this, but for many, your visits are noted in a file and demonstrating interest by the number of visits may help show your enthusiasm for the school and thereby give you a an edge over applications that don’t show any visits.

If you want to meet with an admissions officer, make sure to set up a meeting via email or calling beforehand. If it’s application season, usually March and April, try to schedule this a few weeks early to make sure they’re not too busy to meet with prospective students. Then have your list of questions ready to show that you prepared and are ready to make the most of your conversation.

NOTE: Students who have investigated career directions, have a good plan and have decided what major or double major they want to pursue in support of that career choice are very attractive to most universities. Share your career interest and choice of major with your admissions office. If you haven’t done the career exploration work just yet and are undecided about a major, we suggest engaging a professional career coach.  In a couple of weeks you can have clarity about your direction, a plan and feel confident about pursuing your interests.

  • What qualities and experiences are you looking for in applicants?
  • What do I need to know about the application evaluation process?
  • My SAT/ACT scores are ___. How large of a role will that play in the admissions evaluation?
  • I imagine you review hundreds of applications. What best advice or pet peeves do you have?
  • Is there any difference for early versus regular decision applications? Is early decision more advantageous.
  • What percentage of students graduate in four years? [see if this aligns with the information from the website resource listed above]
  • What sort of student attributes are most likely to lead to success here?
  • What sort of student might not be happy here?
  • Can you tell me about career placements?
  • Do graduating undergrads typically get accepted to the grad school?
  • What services are available to help students prepare for post-grad employment?
  • Who can I talk to that would have the most insight into employment options and support for the major/career I’m interested in.
  • Do you have an active alumni network?

Questions to Ask a Financial Aid Officer

College Financial Aid Game: How to Get Your Fair Share E-Book Offer

Get the E-Book

Just as the admissions office will have lots of facts and advice about the admissions process, the financial aid office can walk you through your financial application. The next section covers questions you might have for them.

Most schools offer a good deal of information about the cost of tuition, room and board, books, and other fees through online resources (see above resource), as well as the steps to take to apply for financial aid. If financial aid’s an important factor for you, it could be helpful to meet with an officer and make sure you’re doing everything you can to get your financial needs met. Also see Student Resource Central Financial Aid and Scholarships resources for valuable information and free e-book, The College Financial Aid Game: How to Get Your Fair Share.

Research available online resources first, so you’re not asking about info that’s readily available online. Then you can use that base knowledge as a stepping off point for other queries, like the ones below:

  • What kind of need-based financial aid do you offer?
  • Do you meet 100% of demonstrated financial need?
  • What information do you require besides the FAFSA?
  • How many students receive merit-based scholarships? How much is offered?
  • Are there other scholarships that students can apply for at the time of application?
  • How much loan debt does the average student owe after graduating?
  • Can I renegotiate my financial aid offer if it’s lower than I need?
  • What are some opportunities for work-study?

Questions to Ask a Professor or Dean

Finally, meeting with a professor could be a great way to make contact and learn about a department and class, especially if you have a strong sense of what you want to study. You can learn about their teaching style, the department’s approach, and any opportunities for independent projects or research. Contact the office of the Dean and ask the staff member how to arrange a prospective student meeting with the Dean or Professors. Also ask if there are any special days that the college will be holding special events that will be of value.

 

  • What are the general expectations for students in your class?
  • What is your advice for students to succeed in your class? What separates a grade of A vs a B from your perspective?
  • What are typical requirements, like exams, papers, or presentations in a semester?
  • What is the most important personal soft skills that you see in highly successful students?
  • What knowledge would you consider to be prerequisites?
  • Do you offer opportunities for undergraduate students to do research?
  • What other opportunities are you involved in or sponsor that are outside of the classroom to reinforce my learning, like cultural clubs or festivals?
  • Do you meet with or mentor students outside of class?
  • What are the signature strengths of your program? Department?
  • What’s your vision for the community of students who major in this program? Do they serve as peer mentors, collaborate on projects, form study groups, have a high rate of getting summer internships, etc.?
  • [If interested in grad school] What could I do to prepare for further research at the graduate level? Would I be required or able to write a senior thesis or do an honors program?
  • How much flexibility would I have in shaping my major or taking an interdisciplinary approach? If I want to double major, when can I declare and do I have the flexibility my freshman year to schedule courses to support my double major?

Questions to Avoid on College Visits

You may want to avoid asking questions that are overly personal and not helpful to others in the group when you’re on your tours. While it’s fine to ask about certain departments, DO NOT share your life story and DO NOT ask any one to speculate about your admissions chances.

A final good rule of thumb to follow is to avoid asking basic questions that can be easily answered via Student Resource Central or a quick search of the school’s website. Be prepared. For instance, questions like the following fall into that category:

  • Do you have a psychology major?
  • When was the school founded?
  • How many students are in the freshman class?
  • What was last year’s rate of acceptance?

If you ask questions that are readily answered online, you are losing impression points. All of the official representatives you meet are very aware of what information is available to you. Think about it from the admissions perspective. Do they want students who are self-directed, self-starters and inquisitive or do they want students who depend on everyone else as if they are royalty?

How to Prepare for Your College Tours

collegecampusaerialYour first step is scheduling and signing up online for your college tours, as well as any other meetings or overnight stays. The best time to tour is when classes are in session so you can get the truest sense of the college in action.

Since you should prepare questions and take notes on the answers, I recommend writing them down and bringing a notebook (paper or electronic) to take notes. You’ll be getting a lot of information, along with walking around and seeing everything, so it will be useful to have a record to which you can refer at the end of the day.

You certainly don’t need to go overboard with the college tour questions. I would suggest preparing five to ten of your most important questions for each person (student, admissions officer, professor, etc). You may find you should choose about three during your tour, while you may be able to ask a lot more during a one on one conversation or meeting. Better to over-prepare than under-prepare, and you could list your highest priority questions at the top to make sure you get to them first.

In addition to asking questions and jotting down notes on the responses, you should take the time to observe everything going on around you. Beyond viewing the facilities, try to notice how the staff responds to you or how students interact with one another. Perhaps most importantly, is it a place where you’d feel comfortable?

Finally, spend some time writing, discussing with parents and/or reflecting after your visit. Does the school seem like a good fit with your personality, interests, and goals? Do you feel excited about the prospect of attending? At the end of the day, you must save the final questions for yourself.

Happy hunting.

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.

Are you using the Myers Briggs or MBTI for career exploration, career choice or hiring? I Hope Not


Many high schools and colleges use the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI to help students in career exploration and career choices. CPP, Inc, the developer and publisher of the MBTI recently posted an article entitled Just What Is the Myers Briggs Assessment Good For? that makes it very clear this is not appropriate and needs to stop.

MyersBriggs

Some Human Resources professionals use the MBTI for hiring and selection. While it is a less frequent use of the MBTI, the use of the MBTI in hiring and selection is putting those companies at high risk for fines and lawsuits. To explain, employers are held to a high standard when it comes to using assessments in the hiring and selection process. The government actually likes companies to use assessment tools – if they are valid and reliable. But companies must use tools and processes that ensure no biases against protected classes. The company must also be able to show a connection between an assessment and predictive correlation for performance in the job. The article states that employers should note that using the MBTI as a selection tool can have dire legal consequences for them. “If a tool is designed for selection, it should meet a certain standard that is held up in a court of law,” according to Sherrie Haynie, a consultant for CPP who teaches MBTI certification programs . “Whereas with the MBTI, we are very clear, that because it’s not a selection tool, you could be held liable as an employer if you use the tool in such a way.”

“The MBTI does not evaluate candidates. It does not predict performance or cultural fit or any of the other criteria by which employers hire candidates” states Haynei. According to the article, “CPP is unhappy with recruiters and HR departments who use the MBTI as a selection tool.” The article goes on to say “Used as a selection tool, the MBTI can be harmful to individuals.”

So if it doesn’t predict performance or cultural fit, should high schools and college career centers use it to help students choose a career or choose a major that is a “good fit”? Can a school be held liable for misuse of the MBTI as a career guidance tool for students?

Haynie says, “CPP has seen a number of employers improperly use the MBTI as a selection tool. Assessment tools for hiring and selection are the kinds of tools that evaluate particular skills or knowledge or abilities, but the MBTI was not designed to judge or evaluate skills or knowledge or abilities (referred to as job matching). ”

CONNECTING AND RESTATING THE ISSUE
As Haynie says, “the MBTI is a development tool, not a selection tool. Interested employers should use the MBTI to identify employee strengths and blind spots, so that they might help these employees further leverage their strengths and compensate for their blind spots.”

“The MBTI is a development tool, not a selection tool. Interested COUNSELORS AND CAREER CENTERS should use the MBTI to identify STUDENT strengths and blind spots, so that they might help these STUDENTS further leverage their strengths and compensate for their blind spots.”

THE CONUNDRUM

Students certainly need development. Schools and colleges have limited financial resources for things like assessments. In an attempt to stretch the investment value, counselors have tried to use one tool for many uses. CPP is stating this is not their desire. Yet, there are assessment tools that are certified for use by employers for hiring and selection that are excellent for development as well. And those same assessments are used for career counseling and career exploration. In other words, what schools want and need exists but first, the counselors must let go of the MBTI.

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

Posted on the social media site VOX, Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless is an excellent article among many. You’ll also find there are many academic articles about the questionable validity and reliability of the Myers-Briggs personality assessment.

Watch the video: Why the Myers-Briggs Test is Totally Meaningless.

A BETTER SOLUTION

The Career Coaching for Students program uses two assessments for high school students that does an excellent job of helping the student narrow the world of opportunity into a more manageable and relate-able short list of career options in a way that engages the student while developing the student at the same time. The Career Coaching for Students program helps the student from a personal development standpoint, much like the MBTI narrowly does. Parent company, The Nielson Group, uses the same assessment tools with large and small employer clients specifically for hiring and selection (job-candidate matching), adult career coaching, leadership development and team development. All of these assessments adhere to an 8th grade reading level standard.

The particular assessments used for high school students in the Career Coaching for Students program is both comprehensive for development and provides an easy-to-follow proprietary method for connecting career options to personal talent (job fit analysis).

IS IT COST-EFFECTIVE COMPARED TO THE MBTI?

The simple and quick answer is yes. Schools that go all in by using “any” assessment for school-wide use will enjoy a “volume discount”. The Career Coaching for Students program is provided under the umbrella of Success Discoveries LLC, a division of The Nielson Group. “We utilize all of our expertise and tools to provide a one-stop offering for staff development, leader development and student development”, states Carl Nielson, Chief Discovery Officer and founder of Success Discoveries. “We provide state-of-the-art tools for student career exploration and student development and development offerings for staff and administration, all the way up to the school board. ”

This ability to bundle solutions for different constituencies allows Success Discoveries to price all of these services very cost-effectively.

Can Our In-House Staff Easily Learn How to Use a Different Assessment?

The Career Coaching for Students program offers a train-the-trainer and certification program. Administering the student programs in-house with your own staff is very doable. Staff will likely enjoy this and receive much greater positive feedback from students (and parents).

So, if your school is using the MBTI with students, you need to realize it can only be as a personal development tool – not as a career counseling and career selection guidance tool. As with many clients that have gone through the Career Coaching for Students program have stated to me, your student may be frustrated and feel like they are at fault when actually the wrong tool has been applied to the right focus.

Families can purchase the self-directed version of Career Coaching for Students which includes the career guidance binder, Student Resource Central and a personal one-on-one debriefing of the assessments (using telephony webinar tools or Skype). Career Coaching for Students has been enjoyed in most of the United States including Alaska, across Canada and China. The assessments are able to be administered in 42 languages.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm serving Fortune 100 company clients. As creator and master trainer of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a career exploration process that works. Self-directed assessment and career exploration coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at .

Do I Need to Have A Career Plan in High School?


dream-job-nextexitThe old saying “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” means if you do not know about a problem, you will not be able to make yourself unhappy by worrying about it. That belief is supported by the belief “ignorance is bliss“.

When it comes to creating/having a career plan, focusing on it (worrying about it) will actually create a great deal of happiness, help you avoid major stress and save you (and/or your parents) thousands of dollars. Based on almost daily news, the amount of college loan debt has escalated to levels considered very dangerous for our economy and for individuals. Having excessive education loan debt is a personal accountability issue – not a national economy issue.

How much debt do you want or plan to have when you graduate college? According to an article in the Huffington Post, “the average college graduate obtained a degree in 2012 with $29,400 in student debt, up from $18,750 less than a decade before in 2004, according to a new report.” To avoid unnecessary costs (which frequently ends up becoming debt) during college, avoid changing majors and choose the right college or university for you. If you are unsure about a career direction and go into college as an “undeclared major” you are likely to not have any revelations about a career direction by the end of your Freshman year. Whether you put it off or tackle career planning in high school, the only way to avoid unnecessary expense and find true happiness is to do the career planning work.

So, the short answer to the question, Do I Need to Have a Career Plan in High School?, is that you need to be doing the work of creating a career plan. The Career Coaching for Students program looks at this work as developing Decision Making skills. Decision making is a recognized skill of highly successful people and happens to be one of the weakest skills for incoming Freshman in college. You don’t necessarily need to have made a career decision but you need to be well on your way to identifying and understanding your career interests and the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with your career interests.

A career plan is the reward for the work you’ll do to determine your skills and interests, what career best suits your talents, and what skills and training you need for your chosen career.

By developing a career plan, you can focus on what you want to do and how to get there without worrying and without unnecessary expense. To do this well, you must start with a “professional-grade assessment” that helps you understand your personality strengths. Career planning is only one benefit of using assessments to become much more self-aware.  You’ll also find you will have a better understanding of your skills and experiences to discuss with potential employers (on your resume and in future interviews).

To eventually have a defined career goal, get started now.

A career goal can be a specific job you want to do — such as doctor or teacher — or be a particular field you want to work in, such as medicine or education.

Rather than limiting your future, a career goal may help you discover career possibilities you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. There are several job possibilities with any chosen career. For instance, if you choose a medical career, you may want to be a scientist, a nurse, or a doctor.

A career goal can also guide you into doing what you want with your life.

  1. Become Self-Aware.
  2. Identify Career Interests.
  3. Narrow your career interests to a top two or three.
  4. Determine what you need to do to prepare for your chosen career.
  5. Besides the right college major, do you need special training? Some careers need the specialized training but don’t require a college degree. If so, find out what schools offer the training you need. Also, determine what kind of experience will you need to be successful in the career. Consider an internship as a way to get work experience in the career field.
  6. Write your career plan.  Use online tools to help you create a visual career plan.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm serving Fortune 100 company clients. 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 and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a career exploration process that works.  Self-directed assessment and career exploration coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

Is Choice of College Setting Your Destiny?


Your destiny based on college choiceThe article in the Washington Post, The Resume That Makes for a Top Executive, by Gena McGregor, references a new study published this week in the Harvard Business Review, which provides a snapshot over time of the demographics and career trajectories of Fortune 100 executives. The study shows how much the boardroom is changing. Not all students are interested in becoming the next CEO of Google, but choosing a college continues to be riddled with anxiety for those that have choices. The study’s data reveals some changes that are worthy of noting for any high school student (or parent) struggling over which college/university will be best – regardless of career direction.

The study states the majority of top executives now have undergraduate degrees from state universities, with only a fraction going to college at one of the Ivies. Nearly 11 percent of the top executives are foreign-educated, up from just 2 percent in 1980. And however few women there may be in leadership positions, they actually climbed the corporate ladder faster than men, spending fewer years, on average, in each job and taking a shorter time to get to the top.

The research, an effort by professors from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and IE Business School in Madrid, compiled the backgrounds of the top 10 executives at each Fortune 100 company in 2011 — those who might be called the most powerful 1,000 people in corporate jobs. They conducted the same study in 1980 and 2001.

What has interested people most about their study has been the details about where executives got their education. “I was surprised that’s been such a remarkably big deal for most folks,” Cappelli says. “I guess it’s something that makes people think about their children. Anyone with kids is thinking about these roles, and it’s an aspect of inequality that’s very noticeable to people.”

The study shows the education backgrounds of top corporate leaders are becoming much more equal over time. In 1980, just 32 percent of leaders went to a public university. By 2001 that had grown to 48 percent, and in 2011 the number reached a majority, with 55 percent of corporate leaders going to state colleges. While the percent of Ivy Leaguers has dropped slightly, from 14 percent in 1980 to 10 percent in both 2001 and 2011, those with degrees from private non-Ivies has plummeted, falling from 54 percent in 1980 to just 35 percent in 2011.

Why are we seeing so many more corporate executives from public universities? More meritocratic corporate cultures could be playing a role, Cappelli notes, but he thinks it’s mainly due to history. “It’s a bit of an archaeological story,” he says. “If you think back to when the executives now went to school, around 30 years ago, it was sort of the…golden era of state universities, which really boomed in the late ’60s and ’70s. Schools like Michigan and Berkeley — they were building these fabulous campuses, and pulling people in who would have otherwise gone to Ivy League schools.”

That’s not to say elite schools don’t still hold sway among MBA-holders and the very top leaders. If you look at the three most senior executives in each organization (say, the CEO, CFO and Chairman), 21 percent have an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school, compared with 10 percent overall. Additionally, 40 percent of all the executives who hold MBAs got them at one of the top 20 ranked business schools in the country, many of which are at Ivy League universities.

Another way the makeup of the boardroom is changing, of course, is in the number of women. Like other studies before it, the Wharton/IE Business School professors counted the number of women at the top, finding that almost 18 percent of the top jobs were held by women in 2011. That’s a massive swing from 1980, when they reported finding no women among the top 1,000 corporate leaders.

More interesting than the stubbornly few number of women at the top, however, was the finding that women are managing to reach the top faster. It took women an average of 28 years to reach the “top-tier positions” (CEOs, vice chairs, presidents and the like), compared with 29 years for men. Women reached “middle-tier” jobs (executive VPs, general counsels, chief marketing officers) in 23 years, compared with 26 years for men. In addition, women were promoted quicker in each of their jobs, at an average rate of every four years, while it took men five.

Cappelli offers three explanations for why this might be. One, he says, could be an explicit effort by companies to get women into top jobs faster. “It’s possible that a type of affirmative action is going on,” he says. Another could be that the talent pool of women in these executive jobs is simply better. Because we see more women than men change work paths or drop out of the workforce in the middle rungs of their career, he says, it’s possible “the women are actually better because they’re self-selecting.”

Finally, Cappelli suggests, the difference may be due to the fact that there are more women in functional jobs — such as human resources, legal or marketing — for which the technical expertise needed means they’re promoted more quickly. In the report, the researchers call it “riding a different elevator.”

“If you’re going up through a functional track,” Cappelli says, “you could be advancing at a very different pace than the folks who are going up through operations jobs” that may require more rotations or longer tenures at each stop along the way.

Quirks about the leadership ranks at different companies, and what they might reveal about the different corporate cultures, may be even more interesting than the broad-based trends the study found. For instance, the average length of a top Google executive’s career is just 14 years (the shortest in the Fortune 100) while at Hewlett Packard and ConocoPhillips, it’s 32 years (the longest). Meanwhile, some companies have outstanding male-to-female ratios among the top 10 execs — at Target, Lockheed Martin and PepsiCo, women hold half the senior management jobs — while as of 2011, there were still 17 companies in the Fortune 100 with no women at all among their top 10 leaders.

To Cappelli, this is among the most interesting of the study’s results. “They’re all just so different,” he says. “There’s a UPS model, there’s a Google model and there’s an Exxon model. The idea that there is a corporate model of leadership just doesn’t seem to resonate any more.”

The take-away – Strategically narrow your college choice

Many high school students choose a college mainly on emotional criteria. The following is based on a study by the University of California—Los Angeles‘s released in January 2013, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012.” The 2012 study is based on the responses of 192,912 first-year students at 238 U.S. four-year colleges and universities who entered college in fall 2012.

Strategic Reasons Emotional Reasons
1. College has very good academic reputation (63.8 percent) 5. A visit to this campus (41.8 percent)
2. This college’s graduates get good jobs (55.9 percent) 6. College has a good reputation for its social activities (40.2 percent)
3. I was offered financial assistance (45.6 percent) 10. I wanted to live near home (20.1 percent)
4. The cost of attending this college (43.3 percent) 11. Information from a website (18.7 percent)
7. Wanted to go to a college about this size (38.8 percent) 12. Rankings in national magazines (18.2 percent)
8. College’s grads get into top grad/professional schools (32.8 percent) 13. Parents wanted me to go to this school (15.1 percent)
9. The percentage of students that graduate from this college (30.4 percent) 16. High school counselor advised me (10.3 percent)
  18. Athletic department recruited me (8.9 percent)
  19. Attracted by the religious affiliation/orientation of college (7.4 percent)
  20. My relatives wanted me to come here (6.8 percent)
  20. My teacher advised me (6.8 percent)
  22. Private college counselor advised me (3.8 percent)

To make the best choice, identify your personal preferences for industry and career direction first (you can still be somewhat general but the more clarity the better at this stage). Then research which universities are tied into those industries and are academically highly ranked for the major you are wanting. Look for major corporate donors to a university to see the connection. As they say, follow the money trail. Another way is to call the placement office and ask which companies consistently hire interns (in your major) from the university’s student population.

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 and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a career exploration process that works.  Self-directed assessment and career exploration coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

Survey Identifies How Students Choose Their College or University


Infographic_TrendsinHigherEd204 university counselors in 33 countries took part in an IE University survey designed to pinpoint the interests and preferences of the upcoming generation of university students with regard to study abroad and most popular degree programs.

The survey shows students choose a university mainly to gain training and skills for a future job, and choose a specialization because they feel there is job market growth in that field. When asked about the main reasons for choosing a university, counselors cited:

Main drivers

  • Prestige
  • Location

Secondary consideration

  • Scholarships
  • Content

These findings suggest there is either a lack of appropriate guidance at the high school level or students are dismissing better advice for how to choose a college or university.

With the percent of students changing majors 2, 3 or 4 times, taking 5 years to complete a 4-year degree and student retention and graduation rates dropping, students need to take a smarter approach to choosing a college or university.

The fact that students list prestige as the #1 consideration creates immediate risk for the student. By not considering newer institutions, that may actually be way ahead of their more traditional and prestigious counterparts, students are missing out on some possibly better choices. But even if your needs are best served in one of the more traditional universities, the most prestigious option may not have the best program for your area of study. Prestige alone is not a good reason to choose a college or university.

The best order of consideration and prioritizing that has been shown to produce the best choice (high satisfaction with choice, retention, graduation in expected time frame) for the student is:

  • Determine career interest(s)
  • Determine education requirements for the career interest(s)
  • Create an education strategy (choice of majors, field of study)
  • Research and identify colleges/universities or vocational learning institutions that are leading in the chosen field(s) of study (a high level of prestige for the specific subject area)
  • Rank findings to create a short list of institutional choices
  • Conduct on-campus visits to all short-listed choices
  • Make the choice

With the cost of higher education so high, a one-semester course correction costs thousands of dollars. By following a smart strategy for decision-making, students can avoid that unnecessary added expense and be much happier with their choice. But it requires students to change the way they think about school choices.

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, executive development coach, career coach and author of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and the  Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads. Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer.