Career Counseling in Higher Education

views updated May 08 2018


The career services office supports the educational mission of a college or university by helping students to develop, evaluate, and pursue career goals. In the process, students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to make lifelong career decisions. Career services offices accomplish these goals through career counseling and a range of programs and services designed to help students make the connection between the academic program and the workplace.

Career Counseling

Ideally, the career services office assists students throughout their stay at the institution, providing appropriate assistance at each stage of the student's career development. This process often begins with career counseling designed to help students develop the self-knowledge and awareness of options needed to select an academic major or a tentative career direction. Students are guided in thinking about their interests, values, competencies, and personal characteristics. Through conversation and exercises, students often discover previously unidentified interests.

Career counseling is frequently offered on a one-on-one basis, but at times this service is provided through group workshops, classes, or computerized guidance systems. When a student is asked to begin the exploration on a computer, an individual follow-up session with a counselor is generally encouraged. Career counseling often includes the use of standardized assessment instruments such as the Strong Interest Inventory, the Self-Directed Search, or other instruments designed to clarify career interests, values, personality, or self-identified skills.

As part of the career counseling process, students may be asked to research careers through either reading or interviews with professionals. Thus, a career resource library is an essential component of the career services office. These libraries generally include books on a wide range of career options as well as job search manuals and information on employers. Some information formerly provided in book form, such as directories of employers, is increasingly being delivered through the Internet.

New Trends

In the last decades of the twentieth century, the career services field began to place an increasing emphasis on experiential learning, the mixed bag of ways that students can connect classroom learning with experience in the world around them. The forms of experiential learning that most commonly fall under the career services umbrella are internships and cooperative education. Cooperative education is a full-time, paid work experience that generally occurs during a regular semester. Students receive credit for the work and do not take classes during that time. Internships are usually served part-time, concurrent with classes or during the summer or other school breaks, and may or may not be paid. In some institutions, internships and cooperative education are part of the academic program and may be handled by faculty departments. However, career services offices are becoming increasingly involved at a variety of levels. Some simply provide resources such as internship directories or online databases of available experiences; others develop internships, place students at the sites, and monitor their progress.

Another trend in career services is for colleges to engage alumni as career resources for students, thereby teaching students the skill of networking. Many colleges make alumni career resource databases available to interested students. These databases include employment and contact information on alumni who have volunteered to serve as mentors or otherwise assist students with career-related questions. Some colleges also coordinate events designed to connect students with alumni. These can include panels of alumni who speak at student events, dinners at which students are seated with alumni in relevant fields, or field trips through which students spend time shadowing relevant alumni.

The Job Search

A traditional function that remains an essential part of the career services role is helping students to develop job search skills. Career services counselors critique students' résumés and letters, provide booklets on résumé and employment letter writing, and teach résumé writing, job interviewing skills, and job search strategies in group sessions. In practice job interviews, students are videotaped so they can see themselves in action. Some career services offices involve alumni or employers in critiquing résumés, conducting practice interviews, or leading workshops. Many also offer sessions on related topics such as networking, professional dress, or the transition to the work place. Etiquette dinners, designed to train students in the etiquette needed for job interviews and professional dinners, have become popular events on many campuses.

Nearly all career services offices also help students connect with potential employers for postgraduate positions. This is handled through a variety of methods. In on-campus interview programs, employers are invited to spend a day or more on campus, interviewing student candidates. Students who make a positive impression are later invited to the employment site for more extensive interviews. Some campuses give students access to a large number of employers in one day by coordinating career fairs, at which employers are stationed at tables to screen candidates and give information about their job openings. A trend that became popular in the 1990s and continues to be widely used is the consortium job fair, in which a number of colleges collaborate to coordinate a large event for the students at all participating schools.

Additional strategies designed to connect students with employers are résumé mailing services, in which career services offices send batches of applicable résumés to requesting employers, and candidate matching databases, which do the same thing electronically. Some colleges disseminate booklets of student résumés or offer credential services, in which student's résumés, letters of recommendation, and other application documents are mailed to employers at the student's request. For students who choose to go to graduate school rather than enter the workforce, career services offices often offer services such as graduate school fairs and databases to assist students in identifying programs that meet their criteria.

The Impact Of Technology

The career services field has been strongly affected by the rise of the Internet in the 1990s. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, most career services offices had websites through which they offered career information and links to outside sites applicable to their student populations. Many also provided students with the option of scheduling appointments or campus interviews via the World Wide Web. Web-based databases, including employer databases, candidate résumé databases, internship databases, and job listing databases, are becoming increasingly common. In many cases, career services offices are forming partnerships with outside vendors to offer these services.

Many of the services named above are made available to alumni as well as current students, sometimes for a fee and sometimes at no charge. Some offices also offer fee-based services to community members.

See also: Academic Advising in Higher Education; Adjustment to College; College Student Retention; Internships in Higher Education; Student Services, subentries on Colleges and Universities, Community Colleges.


Boles, Richard N., and Figler, Howard. 1999. The Career Counselor's Handbook. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Brown, Duane, and Brooks, Linda. 1996. Career Choice and Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hoeflin, Nancy M.; Anderson, Thad D.; and Timmins, Susan F., eds. 1998. Choices and Challenges: Job Search Strategies for Liberal Arts Students. Bloomington: Indiana University Custom Publishing and the Indiana University Career Development Center.

Kummerow, Jean, ed. 2000. New Directions in Career Planning and the Workplace. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.

Luzzo, Darrell Anthony, ed. 2000. Career-Counseling of College Students: An Empirical Guide to Strategies that Work. Washington, DC: American Psychological Institute.

McDaniels, Carl, and Gysbers, Norman C. 1992. Counseling for Career Development: Theories, Resources and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

National Association of Colleges and Employers. 1998. Professional Standards for College and University Career Services, May 1998. Bethlehem, PA: National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Melissa K. Barnes

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Career development