5 Easy Ways to Incorporate Career Development into School Counseling
by Susan Marconi Harrell
A seemingly endless number of options for graduating high school students warrants a need for career counseling in the secondary school system. Many of our students are graduating from high school with exceptional grades and test scores, but lacking direction for their future. As a high school counselor I have found that, with the various duties required of me, little time remains to perform the necessary counseling activities, including career counseling. It is not the lack of available resources that leads to unsuccessful career counseling in the high schools. Rather, inadequate counselor time to acquire, disseminate and facilitate the abundant information is what places our students at a disadvantage. Therefore, following sometimes very brief, initial career consultations with each student, we must rely upon other faculty members, parents, and the students themselves to enable us to provide effective career counseling.
Act on Needs Assessment
The first key component of any career program is to assess the needs of our students. Engaging in this process has enabled our counseling department to focus on the specific needs of our student population. We can then share these results with the faculty in order to create a more comprehensive career counseling program. A recurring need for our students when doing the assessment has been for career counseling. Each year when the students come to the guidance office to be scheduled for the following year, we make a concentrated effort to discuss in detail graduation requirements, scholarship opportunities, community service, and various resources available to them for career planning.
Take Advantage of Human Resources
There are many ways that we try to help our seniors obtain their future goals whether they aspire to attend college, obtain vocational training, or enter the job market. In addition to school counselors, the resource most easily accessible to the students is their teachers. As a school, our teachers incorporate the correlation between their curriculum and potential occupations through the use of printed materials provided at workshops for teachers and counselors alike. Also, we have a career specialist whose job is to help students become familiar with their interests and jobs in which they may be valuable. Some duties of this specialist may include the following:
•Administer career interest surveys
•Organize the Great American Teach-In where local professionals speak to the students about their lines of work
•Educate students in the art of resume writing and job searching
•Arrange for students to visit vocational schools in the area
Along with the career specialist, the guidance resource specialist organizes college visits and financial aid workshops, assists with college applications, and administers college entrance examinations such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT). While not all schools have the luxury of having a career/occupational specialist, we have found that having someone dedicated to career issues strengthens the career services we can provide as a whole department.
Other members of our faculty play pivotal roles in the successful ambition of our seniors. For example, the Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps (JROTC) faculty administers the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), an exam that helps students link their academic abilities with suitable vocations. We also have a computer-based lab—funded by a grant—offering several programs that include personality tests, interest profiles, basic skills surveys, high school planners, scholarship searches, and other career-oriented activities.
Motivate Students to Be Well-Informed
Once we have provided our students with the necessary tools to begin their search, we implore them to use what they have learned to become more knowledgeable on their own in order to make well-informed career decisions. We’ve found the following websites to be useful aids in their educational pursuit:
•Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Department of Labor (www.bls.gov/oco/home.htm)
•The College Board (www.collegeboard.com)
•Free Application for Federal Student Aid (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov)
•Florida Academic Counseling and Tracking for Students (www.facts.org)
•Florida Bright Futures Scholarship (www.firn.edu/doe/brfuture)
Engage In Parental Collaboration
In conjunction with our efforts at school, we try to make parents aware of these resources. Some effective ways to inform parents are through newsletters, emails, and conference nights. Flyers, bulletin boards, and the morning news show broadcast in the school can serve as subtle reminders for the students as well. With this knowledge, parents can reiterate the importance of dedicating time to their child’s career search. Consistency between the messages from home and school fosters a mindset conducive to a successful career choice.
Above All, Listen!
At the end of the day, the most important thing I have learned with my students is to listen to their wants and needs. Once I have a clear understanding of their aspirations, their career journey becomes a coordinated effort involving the counseling department, teachers, other faculty members, parents, and, most importantly, the students themselves.
Career counseling is vital to our young people and we must take time to help them on their journey, or we will be doing them a grave injustice at a time in their lives that would otherwise be an exciting experience for them.
Susan Marconi Harrell, M.A., has a master’s degree in counselor education from the University of South Florida and a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in education from the University of Florida. She has been a high school guidance counselor at Armwood High School in Seffner, FL, for the last two years. She can be contacted at