Tag Archives: choosing a vocation

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.

Before you choose a career, Choose to be a Linchpin


Linchpin by Seth GodinSeth Godin published a book in 2010 called Linchpin which quickly became popular. This article is dedicated to his teachings from the book – mostly quotes from the book. I encourage any high school student to buy the book and read it. If you are a parent of a student, read it. If you work in the home or outside the home, read it.

In the book, Godin positions work by first stating “The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed. Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can. The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it’s a job.

On the other hand, your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo of your own work, and influencing change in people and processes to achieve goals.

Godin shifts our perspective. He calls the process of doing your art ‘the work.’ It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin.  The job is not the work.”

Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.

What makes someone an artist? Godin states that he doesn’t think it has anything to do with a paintbrush. There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions. These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artist who works with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.

An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo of their work. And an artist takes personal responsibility.

That’s why Bob Dylan is an artist, but an anonymous corporate hack who dreams up Pop 40 hits on the other side of the glass is merely a marketer. That’s why Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, is an artist, while a boiler room of telemarketers is simply a scam.

Tom Peters, corporate gadfly and writer, is an artist, even though his readers are businesspeople. He’s an artist because he takes a stand, he takes the work personally, and he doesn’t care if someone disagrees. His art is part of him, and he feels compelled to share it with you because it’s important, not because he expects you to pay him for it.

Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.

Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.

The secret to being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong! The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.

Here’s the truth you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there would be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map.

The dimension of work that has a map isn’t where your art is applied. Your art is applied where the map stops.

Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen.

If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely.

At the age of four, you were an artist. And at seven, you were a poet.

The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny. The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe. The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry. The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks, because status in the tribe is essential to its survival.

A squirrel runs around looking for nuts, hiding from foxes, listening for predators, and watching for other squirrels. The squirrel does this because that’s all it can do. All the squirrel has is a lizard brain.

The only correct answer to ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ is ‘Because it’s lizard brain told it to.’ Wild animals are wild because the only brain they posses is a lizard brain.

The lizard brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.

The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.

Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone. When your uncomfortable actions lead to success, the organization rewards you and brings you back for more.

If you need to conceal your true nature to get in the door, understand that you’ll probably have to conceal your true nature to keep that job.

Transferring your passion to your job is far easier than finding a job that happens to match your passion.

…Treasure what it means to do a day’s work. It’s our one and only chance to do something productive today, and it’s certainly not available to someone merely because he is the high bidder.

A day’s work is your chance to do art, to create a gift, to do something that matters. As your work gets better and your art becomes more important, competition for your gifts will increase and you’ll discover that you can be choosier about whom you give them to.

The competitive advantages the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected, and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are and negotiating multiple priorities as she makes useful decisions without angst. Flexible in the face of change, resilient in the face of confusion. All of these attributes are choices, not talents, and all of them are available to you.

The tragedy is that society (your school, your boss, your government, your family) keeps drumming the genius part out. The problem is that our culture has engaged in a Faustian bargain, in which we trade our genius and artistry for apparent stability.

The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way.

As our society gets more complex and our people get more complacent, the role of the jester is more vital than ever before. Please stop sitting around. We need you to make a ruckus.

You cannot create a piece of art merely for money. Doing it as part of commerce so denudes art of wonder that it ceases to be art.

…the greatest shortage in our society is an instinct to produce. To create solutions and hustle them out the door. To touch the humanity inside and connect to the humans in the marketplace.

Not only must you be an artist, must you be generous, and must you be able to see where you can help but you must also be aware. Aware of where your skills are welcomed.

When you set down the path to create art, whatever sort of art it is, understand that the path is neither short nor easy. That means you must determine if the route is worth the effort. If it’s not, dream bigger.

I think art is the ability to change people with your work, to see things as they are and then create stories, images, and interactions that change the marketplace.

The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.

A brilliant author or businesswoman or senator or software engineer is brilliant only in tiny bursts. The rest of the time, they’re doing work that most any trained person could do.

If you can’t be remarkable, perhaps you should consider doing nothing until you can.

The reason you might choose to embrace the artist within you now is that this is the path to (cue the ironic music) security.


Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm serving businesses ranging from Fortune 100 multi-national corporations to small family-owned businesses. 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 really works. Professional-grade assessments and co-directed 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 or submit an inquiry here:

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.

State is Planning Career Education Overhaul


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: While this article starts out covering the focus on high school student career education in Louisiana, it is actually about how to reduce the dropout rate in high schools and increase average grade point averages, SAT/ACT scores and student morale – in any high school – in any state.

Career and college readiness The state of Louisiana, as part of a career education overhaul, is planning to end the practice of requiring students to declare a “career path” in the eighth grade, which Superintendent of Education John White said “is too early.” The main focus of the overhaul is to increase high school retention and graduation rates and place more effort into career and technical education, another name for “the vocational track”.

The revamp, which is called Jump Start, is touted as a way for school districts, colleges and businesses to re-energize career and technical education, and ensure that students have the technical skills to land what economic development officials call a wave of top-paying jobs in Louisiana, according to The Advocate.

First, “declaring a career” in the 8th grade was an incredibly bad idea. Dropping that is a good start but not exactly a “jump start”.

According to Jump Start’s own white paper, Blueprint for Public Comment, “While most Louisiana jobs do not require a four-year college degree, the majority of them do require education beyond high school. They require fundamental academic skills coupled with technical preparation for the workplace. Today, however, one quarter of Louisiana students do not graduate from high school in four years. Of those who do graduate from high school, 28 percent students end up achieving a university or two-year college degree.

“Simply put, too few young adults in Louisiana have the skills and credentials to assume the high-wage jobs offered in today’s Louisiana economy,” the blueprint documents say. So far, so good. The Blueprint then states, “Missing from this picture is a different choice for students and families; a state-of-the-art system of career and technical education.”

A Different Choice?

I’m all for choices. Jump Start will be an elective path for students pursuing a university-preparatory diploma, however, it will be a required path for students pursuing a Career Diploma starting in the Fall of 2014. Certainly, curriculum requirements are necessary to manage an education program.

The Real Problem

In most high schools across the USA, students are not provided the kind of career exploration and counseling that would enable them to make an informed decision about which diploma path to take. So if they aren’t provided that essential piece, career decision-making skills, to make such a big, life-impacting  decision, what can we expect to happen. Absolutely nothing.

Transfer Ownership – Understanding Self: How, Why and What

Once students are given the opportunity to receive a competently delivered debriefing of assessments that describe “how” they work, “why” they will work, and “what” kinds of tasks they enjoy along with a valid and “believable” method for narrowing the world of opportunity to career options that are truly a good fit to their personality,  they will be ready to make decisions about which career path to consider.

“But We’re Already Using Assessments”

If you work in a high school and whispered to yourself the above quote, please re-read the previous paragraph. I can’t say what level of quality of career counseling exists in every high school but I can say that 100% of all students that have participated in the Career Coaching for Students™ program stated  “nothing from the high school comes close to what this program has done” or “my high school isn’t doing anything to help me evaluate career options”.

The Main Thing is To Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

I’m all for advancing the ability to deliver state-of-the-art Career Diploma curriculum. Consider dropping the “required” wording in the Blueprint with one exception, to be discussed below. The main thing is to give a jump start to student engagement. To do that requires a strategy that truly engages the student in their freshman year – not a curriculum diploma requirement. If a teen feels in control and empowered, they will likely be engaged. Feeling incompetent about making career decisions does not provide the feeling of “in control” nor does it create a feeling of empowerment.

Instead of in control and empowered, the student feels alone, insecure, fearful of making a decision and generally apathetic.  Many studies have shown that adults in the work world that don’t feel in control and empowered are not engaged as much as those that are and generally perform at or below a minimally acceptable level. How can we expect teens to be different?

How would the members of a school board feel if 100% of all students were shown to be engaged. Student engagement is the main thing. Which career direction to take will no longer be an issue if student engagement is high. So that solves a part of the problem – the risk of dropping out. Students who are engaged don’t typically drop out. The school board still has to ensure learning opportunities reflect the needs in the marketplace but also match up to what students want to pursue. Simply put, the world might need more wheel barrow movers but if students aren’t interested in that as a career direction, all the state-of-the-art classes and work experience opportunities for wheel barrow moving won’t increase course enrollment and won’t reduce drop out rates. In fact, make wheel barrow moving 101 as a required course for the Career Diploma and you will see an increase in the drop out rate.

What Should Be Required?

Let’s use our imagination for a minute (it doesn’t cost anything). Let’s say all incoming Freshmen students are required to complete the Career Coaching for Students™ program during the summer before their Fall freshmen semester. The program is provided at no cost to the student and is offered as a morning, afternoon or evening program. The program will include a total of 20 classroom hours (10 two hour classes) and four one-on-one coaching sessions. A coaching session is between 30 minutes and one hour.

We Can’t Afford That

I was having a conversation with a parent of a high school student that was participating in the Career coaching for Students™ program recently. This parent happened to be a senior’s Social Studies teacher in a prestigious high school in a very large public school district. I happen to know this school district has several millions of dollars invested annually in a Career Counseling Center at each of its high schools.

This teacher thought so much of the Career Counseling Services through the district that he paid for his daughter to participate in the Career Coaching for Students™ program out of his own pocket. During a break, he ask me about this program being designed for delivery within a high school. He then stated, “you know the school district pays for every freshman to take the PSAT at a cost of $60 per student”. He then stated, “It seems this program [Career Coaching for Students] would be a much better investment.”

The irony of that statement is that while the price to attend a group Career Coaching for Students 12-hour workshop starts at $399 and is higher in some parts of the country, it would be much less, and could even approach “under $100 per student” if a school district were to go “all in” for their Freshmen students.

How Could We Get This Started?

I love pilots. Most businesses don’t implement a big, expensive program or launch a new product without some testing in the form of a pilot. Businesses understand pilots.

To get started, either through the state education agency or through local efforts:

  1. Obtain school-business partnership funds to cover a first year Career Coaching for Students™ pilot that includes 25% of incoming freshmen students
  2. Create and approve an ongoing funding plan that is based on the success of the pilot. if the pilot isn’t successful, kill the program and move the money to other, proven programs. But don’t bother with the pilot if you have no way to fund the 2nd year.
  3. Second year, 100% of incoming freshmen students participate
  4. Track drop out rates, diploma option decisions, post-secondary direction, 2 and 4 year post-secondary follow-up (longer term outcomes)

My prediction

Based on feedback about the program from hundreds of students and parents, and my observations of these students decisions, directions and level of success after high school (not scientifically documented), the following predictions are offered:

  1. Drop out rates decrease substantially
  2. Choice of diploma direction is the right choice based on a low rate of transfers across diploma plans.
  3. Student engagement stays consistently high based on grades
  4. SAT/ACT scores for university-preparatory diploma students will average higher due to stronger interest in their future and the connection between their course of study and their desired career direction
  5. Certain types of students who in the past might have been directed toward the Career Diploma option based on subjective teacher evaluations may choose and succeed in a university-preparatory diploma program due to increased self-awareness, self-confidence and clarity around career desires
  6. Students no longer look at the Career Diploma option as being for the “slow” or “not-so-smart” kids and see it as another path worthy of pursuit and just as valuable as the university-preparatory diploma program
  7. High academic achievers will look at Career Diploma options with more objectivity and some will choose the Career Diploma path
  8. Graduation rates rise significantly
  9. Post-secondary follow-up shows colleges students not changing major, graduating college in four years and pursuing careers with passion – less (if any at all) will graduate college without a career plan (it is hard to believe but too many college students actually graduate without a plan for their career)

I know this was long. Thanks for reading.

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.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

11 Pieces of Career Advice That go 95% Ignored


Originally posted on July 21, 2013 by  Mark Babbitt, founder of YouTern, a site for student internships.

Take the AdviceNo matter how many times mentors say them, there are pieces of advice – golden nuggets of been-there-done-that wisdom – that no one (okay, almost no one) ever follows.

Not the clichés you see every day like “Become a morning person”. Or the false-positive, affirmation-ridden stuff like “Make someone happy… with a smile!” Nor are these the really bad bits of advice dispensed so often we accept them as fact, like “Follow Your Passion”.

These never-fail insights would make a significant impact on the lives and careers of many… if (sigh) anyone would actually follow the advice:

1.  Follow Up

As a society, we suck at following up. I have no idea why… laziness; fear of success; a failure to prioritize, perhaps. I just know that about 2% of those who take a business card, or say they will follow up – after a tweet, phone call, one-on-one meeting, networking function, etc. – actually do.

Want to stand out among all your competition – no matter what you hope to achieve? Follow up.

2.  Personalize Everything

Think those generic connection requests on LinkedIn and auto-DMs on Twitter will get you noticed in a positive way? Think that generic cover letter and resume will get you an interview? Think that email template you send to potential mentors will be the beginning of a valuable relationship?

Your thinking… is wrong. In today’s world, every communication you send must be personalized. Period.

3.  Make a To-Do List

“I don’t do to-do lists” is one of the biggest red flags in the professional world. No matter how you keep track – pen and paper, smartphone, laptop, iPad – a to-do list is a mandatory element of staying organized and being able to properly prioritize your next activity.

Don’t come by list-making naturally? Try the “CNN” method of listing tasks, which by default helps you prioritize: C = “Critical”. N = “Need to do”. N = “Nice to do”. Works, every time.

4.  Find a Mentor (Lots of Mentors!)

One of the key traits of crazy-successful young careerists comes down to one thing: the existence of professional mentors. Perhaps a stable of them, or a “Personal Board of Advisors”.

Not sure where to find mentors? LinkedIn Groups are a place to start. Or visit #InternPro chat and/or #jobhuntchat on Twitter, each Monday evening starting at 9pm and 10pm ET, respectively. Those chats are mentor goldmines… you just have to do some digging.

5.  Read, Read and Read Some More

Check out the autobiography of just about any major innovator in modern times… insatiable reading is near the top of everyone’s “never fails advice” list. Blogs, books, white papers, best practices, rants… it doesn’t matter what you read. Just read. And get your brain moving in a direction different than it might be used to going.

Don’t think you have time for a lot of reading? Next time you’re tempted to download a game to your smartphone, download a book or blog post by someone like Seth Godin or Ted Coine instead.

6.  Know that No Soft Skill is More Important than Hustle

I’m at the point now that if I hear one more person talking about establishing their personal brand – but never really see that person actually DO anything – I’m probably going to go ape sh*t.

Present all the soft skills you want. Create the most polished profiles possible. But if I can’t clearly see that you are a “do-er” and not just a “dream-er”… that you are not willing to bust your ass, old-school style… it is all just talk. And I am not interested.

7.  Present Yourself as a Problem Solver

In our current economy, every organization is trying to do more with less. There is just no room for automatons who simply “do their job”. Those companies seek innovative thinkers who provide solutions… or at least ideas that contribute to solutions. They want those who will generate impact.

How to do that? So simple:

  1. Identify a challenge.
  2. Think – or build a team to think – of a solution.
  3. Present the solution.
  4. Actively listen to the feedback.
  5. Improve the solution.

8.  Own “It”

It doesn’t matter what “it” is. It could be that challenge that needs a solution. Or maybe a big project that gives you a chance to shine. Perhaps it’s the garbage that needs taking out, or a bathroom that needs cleaning before a client comes to the office. Or, just maybe its a mistake you made. No matter what is thrown at you, or to you… own it.

How do you project this in-demand trait? Take on this mindset: “This is my job to do. I will do it to the best of my ability. Once done, I will ask for more responsibility.” Not a bad way to go through a career.

9.  Be a Stalker

Yep, a stalker. Just short of the restraining order… stalk. Stalk recruiters. Stalk potential mentors and influencers. Stalk potential business partners, collaborators and innovators. Yes, you’ll eventually run into someone who thinks you’ve crossed the line into creepy; that comes with the territory… (just know THAT is the time to back off).

Tom Bolt, recruiter extraordinaire, puts this best: “If anyone wants to get my attention as a recruiter, they will approach me on social media, email me, apply to my jobs online, call me… literally stalk me.”

10.  Be THE Expert (at least more knowledgeable and desiring to learn than the other candidates)

Here’s the aspect of career development that falls on deaf ears more than anything else…

Perhaps it is because many young careerists have been in academic-theory-hell for too long. Maybe it’s because we think being everything to everybody is the best way to get that job. Or maybe it is because we don’t yet have a narrow point of focus.

Whatever the reason, trust me on this: if you want to get noticed, become THE expert on whatever marketable subject works best for you. Candidates get passed over, all the time. Experts (real subject experts, not the self-promotional variety) get recruited, all the time.

11.  All Anyone Cares About: Results

My personal favorite, especially when someone says: “But I worked really hard on that!”

In the real world, it does not matter one little bit how much effort you put into a project. The only thing that matters is… results. How does your work measure up against milestones? Did you meet the goals of the project? Did you exceed expectations?

If not… the last thing you want to talk about to a boss, mentor or potential employer is how hard you worked… to achieve nothing.

success-really-looks-likeAs you build your career, be the 5% who will follow this worthy, career-changing advice. And don’t be afraid to pass it along to others. Just don’t be surprised when they don’t listen (but be incredibly grateful for those who do… that’s when the magic happens!)

Thanks to Mark Babbitt, CEO and Founder of Youtern for this post! Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO.com regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. Contact Mark on Twitter!

If you know what you want to do for a career, and are wanting to find an internship, check out Youtern. If you aren’t sure about what career to pursue, check out Career Coaching for Students, a program for college students or high school students or recent grads. Developed by corporate talent management career coaching experts – not academic counselors.

How to Have an Effect on Student Achievement


visible-learning-infographic-whatworksinschoolsFirst, let’s put this in context. I am a career coach. I designed a career coaching program, Career Coaching for Students, that I hope is provided to every high school freshmen or sophomore student in the future (I’m not over shooting here am I?).  I am not one to think my hammer is the tool needed for all situations. Student academic achievement is a very complex issue. And ironically, many students would excel if everyone and everything got out of their way.

This article is trying to find why Career Coaching for Students is more effective than what is now offered in high schools and why it has a positive impact on student engagement and achievement.

A very high percentage of students that go through the Career Coaching for Students increase their academic achievement after completing the program. Besides the anecdotal evidence (common sense) that a person who really understands themselves, has identified a potential career that matches their talent design (found a passion) and has developed their own plan for their future tends to be much more engaged – are there more predictive specifics related to why this program works better than other programs?

Osiris Educational in the UK produced an info graphic that reports many statistical findings about what has a positive and negative effect on student achievement. As I examined their data, I became very excited to see many of the strategic pieces in the structure of the Career Coaching for Students program were matching up to the top effects. The authors of the info graphic gave their short explanation of why the top effects work to increase student achievement. I will use their explanations (posted in italics) to form the basis for my comments here.

Top Effects and Why They Work for Career Coaching for Students

1. Self-reported grades/student expectations. This means they are more likely to be successful than other learners as they will be the active element in their learning. Students experience the Career Coaching for Students program like a journey. A coach is not a teacher or parent. We co-create success in examining post-secondary education and career options based on the student’s personal interests. The coach has the methods and tools for the student to quickly identify and learn about high-potential career ideas and engage in research. We don’t leave it to a career assessment listing of job titles found in many assessments. We find the student quickly feels in control and is able to set their own expectations at every step. We just make it easy – it’s all about the student.

2. Teacher credibility. Students are perceptive to which teachers can make a difference to their learning. Teachers who command this credibility are more likely to make a difference. There are two areas of credibility that are crucial to student career coaching. First is the coach’s credibility. It is very difficult for a teacher or counselor whose career has been entirely in the academic world to have a full perspective. Those career coaches that have the greatest credibility tend to have experience in human resource management and/or business management across diverse industries. The second is the assessment’s credibility. Students are perceptive when it comes to reading the different assessments offered through schools. If the assessment produces garbage – or the student perceives the information as less than helpful, you’ve lost the student. Our assessments provide over 40 pages of insights about the student. Our most common comment from students – “This is incredibly accurate.

3. Feedback. Speed of learning doubles following effective feedback. Praise, punishment and rewards are the least effective forms of feedback. Feedback should be just in time, ‘just for me’ information and delivered when and where it has the best benefit. I couldn’t write a better statement to describe the design of the Career Coaching for Students program. Our feedback comes in many forms. First there are the assessment reports (about 40 pages of feedback about who you are). Then there is how to use that information. We unfold the information and integrate it strategically so that the student can connect the dots quickly and easily. ‘Just for me’ is a perfect description of the feedback at every step.

4. Classroom management. Teachers who have well managed classrooms can identify and respond quickly to potential issues and are emotionally objective. Whether we are delivering the Career Coaching for Students program in a classroom or workshop environment or in a more personalized one-on-one setting, the structured approach to “peeling the career exploration onion” with the student enables us as coaches to identify and respond quickly to questions and issues. Remaining emotionally objective has more to do with being non-judgmental about the student’s aspirations. Our approach leaves very little room for subjective reactions to career ideas. We ask great questions that make the student think for themselves. We don’t tell them anything.

5. Parental involvement. Active and positive parents who help students to have high expectations have a positive impact on student achievement. Surveillance or supervision can have a detrimental effect. The Career Coaching for Students program encourages the student to welcome parental involvement and encourages parents to be involved at the right level. Parental involvement is a two-way street that can be more like a slippery climb up an icy road sometimes. Parents who quickly react negatively to career ideas will kill the student’s engagement. We’ve seen it happen more than a few times. Helping the student recover from that slows down their progress. Career exploration is a journey. The student needs to know they are free to explore and will be encouraged throughout the process. With that said, parents have a huge impact on student self esteem and healthy development of responsible independent thinking. We refer often to the program as a “How to make big Decisions” skill development program. It just happens to be focused on career exploration. Parents play a big role here.

6. Cooperative Learning. Students learn better cooperatively than alone or competitively. This form of learning also increases interest and the ability to problem solve through interacting with peers. This one explains why I like the workshop venue. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The student-coach relationship exists to co-create success for the student. Alone doesn’t work – we’ve seen that with the web portal (XAP, Naviance, others) solutions that many high schools subscribe to (see earlier blog article for more about this). In the workshop venue, we see many students with friends in the same workshop. They sit next to each other. Given that career exploration is a very personal exercise, the relationships with fellow attendees in the workshop is very supportive.

The six effects above help to explain why the Career Coaching for Students program is highly effective with all types of students. When it comes to improving academic achievement, I still think the anecdotal evidence is the most valid – that a person who really understands themselves, has identified a potential career that matches their talent design (found a passion) and has a plan for their future tends to be much more engaged – and therefore, much more interested in their own academic achievement.

One of the most frequent comments we hear from parents is “Wow! I wish I had this when I was in high school.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Career Coaching for Students. He is also an organizational development consultant, executive development coach, and creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer – 30-days coaching support with the Home Study coaching package.

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.