Posted by: Tom Ross | June 29, 2012

Why Career Counselors Make All the Difference in the World

No one ever forgets a good teacher. He or she makes a class fun and interesting–and rewarding. (We gave my botany teacher in college a standing ovation at the end of her last lecture. Botany!) I came away from such teachers inspired by newfound interests…but without a plan. As many as 60 percent of students are just like me, entering college “undecided.”

I wished I had started thinking about this earlier. I needed help.

Career development is all about helping young people make informed decisions. With their skills and tools, the career counselor can help students map out where their strengths and interests lie so that they can see a possible pathway…or several. And based on these evaluations, they can begin to consider the possibilities and make choices that make sense for them. There are resulting benefits to this process: the student feels motivated to stay in school and get better grades because he can see at least one realistic possibility of where he can go. And because of the career development plan he has worked out with the counselor, he knows the minimum of what he has to do.

And if he is excited about the possibilities, he can embrace and be inspired by the prospect of life-long learning. All the skills he learns and the certificates he earns have a purpose: they can take him to a better life. This journey, as it unfolds before him, gives relevance to what he is learning in school—both academics and career technical education—and motivates him to persevere.

What is a better life? One of the jobs of a career counselor is to open that up to the student and let him find his own answers. And to let him know that the decisions he makes today can have a huge impact on his present as well as his future. But also that the road branches constantly, and with the knowledge and skills he learns, he can veer onto another path if he chooses—the road that took him this far has prepared him to meet the new challenges of whatever is around the next bend. (Or to quote Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”)

The Theories

But career counselors don’t work in a vacuum; their tools are well-considered plans that have been decades in the making.

There are theories–what one researcher calls the “conceptual glue” that “describe where, when and for what purpose career counseling, career education, career guidance and other career interventions should be implemented”—that hold the process together.

It all began with Frank Parson in the early 20th century and who is considered to be the father of vocational guidance. He had a three-step model:

  • an accurate understanding of their individual traits (aptitudes, interests, personal abilities)
  • a knowledge of jobs and the labor market
  • rational and objective judgment about the relationship between their individual traits, and the labor market.

Since then there has grown a body of theory related to career intervention. You’ve probably heard of some of them: the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, the Holland Theory of Vocational Types, Bandura’s Social Cognitive (self-efficacy) Theory, and Super’s Developmental Self-Concept Theory, some of which you can explore here and in more detail here. And there is the Ginzberg, Ginsburg, Axelrad and Herma Theory that offers that career decision making occurs in three phases: fantasy, tentative, and reality. And there are more recent theories that you can explore here.It’s clear career development has been researched long and hard, and its foundation is solid. And, of course, there are standards.

The Standards

Remember the ASCA national career development standards?  In brief, they are:

  • Standard A: Students will acquire the skills to investigate the world of work in relation to knowledge of self and to make informed career decisions.
  • Standard B: Students will employ strategies to achieve future career goals with success and satisfaction.
  • Standard C: Students will understand the relationship between personal qualities, education, training and the world of work.

So a career counselor needs to give students the tools to explore their own interests and skills and career options and then help them plan their next steps.

Ok, you get it. Career development intervention can theoretically have a huge impact on students’ lives.  But once again you are wondering, can you prove it? What are the facts? How do you make the case for career development for those who are not a part of the CTE community?

And more importantly, how can you convince students to take advantage of career development and counselors while they are still in school? How can you show them that career counselors and career development really make a difference?

Image source: Educational and Industrial Testing Service (EdITS)

The Facts

Unlike the ‘fact sheets” that are available for CTE in general, numbers for the impact of career intervention are hard to come by. One great source is “The Educational, Social, and Economic Value of Informed and Considered Decisions by Scott and Meegan Gillie (Isenhour) from America’s Career Resource Network Association. I have pulled a few from this report as well as other. I recommend you give it a look.

1. The earlier students enter a program of study, the more likely they will complete a degree. Students who enter college on a clear subject pathway in the first year are twice as likely to complete their degree than those who did not. Sense of Direction, Cal State, Sacramento, 2011.

2. More than 90% of middle school students in a career planning program reported agreeing or strongly agreeing that they “will be able to overcome barriers that stand in the way of achieving my career goals.” Road to Success, MATHEMATICA, 2010.

3. Students who understand the connection between school and their career goals are more motivated, get better grades, and are more likely to go to college. Career interventions lead to increased academic efficacy and motivation, two variables that are known to be related to improved academic achievement. Career Development Interventions, 2003.

4. The combination of participating in a career planning process and receiving supportive guidance as well as receiving information about postsecondary institutions (majors, financial aid, the application process, and support services) increases the likelihood of postsecondary participation and success. Value of Informed Career Decisions, 2003.

5. Having a career plan is associated with better grades, participation in more academically rigorous curricula, and a greater likelihood of expecting to complete four or more years of postsecondary education. Value of Informed Career Decisions, 2003.

6. Indiana’s investment in educational and career planning information over a period of twelve years contributed to a 61 percent increase in student movement from high school to college, an improvement in the state’s national ranking on the high-school-to-college continuation rate from 40th to 17th. Value of Informed Career Decisions,

7. Students who take a college career course execute fewer course withdrawals and take fewer courses in order to graduate. Impact of Career Course, 2002.

8. Girls who took a career course graduated in an average of 50 months, compared to 61 months for non-participants. Impact of Career Course, 2002.

9. Students in schools with fully-implemented career guidance programs have higher grades and find feel the school has a more positive climate . Statewide Evaluation Study, 1997 and Helping 7th Graders Feel Safe, 2001.

10. And students who have been set on a pathway to a career and higher education are less likely to drop out. Consistently, schools are finding that when curriculum is based on career education and linked to core academic subjects, their dropout rate declines. EDITS

The Future

There is a lot of research out there on the far-reaching impact of career development and counseling on adults and careers. Workers report higher levels of satisfaction, less depression and stress—and unemployment–and, of course, higher salaries. And employers report lower worker turnover, lower health care costs, and increased worker productivity. Social benefits for the community include lower poverty rates, healthier families, more continuing education, greater community leadership, and less criminal activity, among other things. But that’s more the impact of the result of higher education and career success, so it’s one step farther up the ladder, and fodder for future blogs.

We remember a good teacher fondly. And if we were lucky enough to have had a good career counselor–who helped us discover our strengths and interests and the possibilities early on–we will remember him or her with gratitude as someone who changed our life for the better.


  1. Tom, you made some good points in support of students meeting with a counselor, and backed up your points with research, which moves your comments from opinion to fact.

    A couple of other suggestions I would like to add:

    1. when students begin to consider a particular job or career, the best way to determine whether or not it is a good “fit” is to “try on” the job by doing an informational job interview or a job shadow. This provides an opportunity for the student to cross the career off their list or commit to further research, and, in some cases, ignites a real passion and determination to pursue the career.

    2. if there is a local professional organization in their area, such as the AIA (American Institute of Architects), which has an office in Newport Beach, contacting the organization to find out if students may attend a meeting is a good method of learning more about a career. Many of these organizations offer student memberships, at a very minimal cost, which provides the student with access to college and career advice from experts , mentors, networking for internships and future jobs, and eligibility to apply for the organization’s scholarships.

    Tom is on the mark relative to students acknowledging a teacher or a counselor as the person who put them on their career path.

    Great blog, Tom, I enjoyed your insights and the links to the research.

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