AAT banner

Voices of the Global Community


Janis S. Albright, Karen M. Martel, and Brenda D. Webster, University of Southern Maine

Albright, Martel, Webster.jpgIntroduction

Like many professional-track careers, nursing is one which often attracts foreclosure students. This may have both long- and short-term implications for the student. Understanding the characteristics of foreclosure students can help advisors identify them and develop strategies to guide these students through the decision-making process as they choose a major and career. According to Shaffer and Zalewski (2011), foreclosure means students that have “prematurely committed themselves to academic majors and future careers, but present themselves…as very decided” and “refers to students with unexplored yet confident and committed future plans…”(p. 62).  

According to Erickson’s theory of personality development across the lifespan, young adults question and struggle to develop their sense of personal identity. This is defined as their “identity crisis.”  In psychologist James Marcia’s research on identity development, individuals were classified as vocational foreclosures if they have not experienced a crisis but were still committed to one occupational choice (Shaffer & Zalewski, 2011).

Nursing and the Foreclosure Student

The competitive nature of nursing programs may cause foreclosure students to ‘put on blinders’ as they pursue acceptance to a school, while overlooking the rigors of a nursing program and the realities of a career in nursing. In the short term, this can cause problems for students as they pursue admission to a nursing program. Some students perceive themselves as being good ‘hands-on,’ but fail academically.  If they are accepted to a nursing program, they will encounter much stress as they socialize into the nursing role (Bosley, Miller, and Novak, 2011). Developing critical thinking skills, adapting to multiple clinical settings, and taking responsibility for patient care all require self-confidence, self-awareness, and flexibility. These skills are especially challenging for foreclosure students, who may function well in controlled situations, but who have difficulty making independent decisions (Shaffer & Zalewski, 2011). Sometimes an identity crisis develops during the first lab or clinical experience. The student may suddenly realize that ‘my heart isn’t in it.’ They may dread going to, or be overwhelmed in clinical experiences. In the long term, the foreclosure student may become a nurse, but discover that the reality is not as satisfying as anticipated. At that point, they may stay in the field, or they may find themselves ‘starting over’ in another career.

Identifying the Foreclosure Nursing Student

Applicants to nursing programs may have made firm career decisions as young children. They may have been attracted by portrayals of medical professionals in the media or by their own experiences in a health care setting. There may be a number of nurses in the family. Parental pressure, because of perceived financial and job stability, may result in an early decision. When pre-nursing students at the University of Southern Maine (USM) were asked in a recent survey why they chose nursing, many students didn’t have a clear answer (Albright, Martel, and Webster, 2012). They replied that they ‘always wanted to be a nurse,’ or they ‘wanted to help people,’ or they ‘want to give back to society.’ This type of answer can alert an advisor to probe the decision more deeply. These students may have been denied admission to multiple programs but keep reapplying, persistently clinging to their goal, rather than looking at alternatives. They may do poorly in science courses, but excel in the humanities. When denied admission to a nursing program, they may become angry about the requirements or the perceived ‘unfairness’ of the admissions process.

Advising the Foreclosure Nursing Student

How can we as advisors help these students? Advisors might initiate an identity crisis with foreclosure students, because students who have taken the time to explore vocations outperform foreclosures academically (Shaffer & Zalewski, 2011).  Specifically, through thoughtful questions, we can try to help students explore missed opportunities. Here are two scenarios, with possible questions that could be asked by advisors for each situation. (Students’ names are fictitious.)

Scenario One. Susan, a transfer student in her late 30s, is denied several times to nursing programs. She says that she only wants to be a nurse. Susan has failed multiple nursing entrance exams.  She is a poor science student, but does well in the humanities, which raises her GPA to the minimum to be considered in these programs.  It is unlikely that she will ever be admitted to nursing, but she doesn’t want to give up “her dream.”  She and her advisor explore her motivation for wanting to become a nurse, which is to “help people.”  They discuss what this means to Susan, and if there are other ways for Susan to feel fulfilled in other careers that may be more suited to her skill set.  The advisor is careful to not pull Susan away from her original career choice until she is ready.  The advisor also speaks from her own college experience when she had given up some of her own career “dreams.”  In addition, she helps Susan recognize that she may find herself going through a grieving process and offers a counseling referral (Bosley, Miller, & Novak, 2011). Over time, when Susan begins to accept the idea that nursing isn’t going to work out, the advisor introduces her to students from other majors to talk about why they chose their pathway.

Possible questions/statements:

  1. How can you feel in control here?  How long are you comfortable waiting?
  2. Let’s look at the classes that you’ve taken where you have been more successful.
  3. For now, let’s hold onto the idea of you “wanting” to become a nurse, but let’s also look at other options.

Scenario Two. Hassan, an international first year student in his early 20s, states that his family wants him to be a nurse, because they say that it provides prestige and future earning power.  He confides that he doubts his direction, but is afraid to challenge his parents. Through several meetings the advisor helps Hassan explore his interests and skills, connecting them with career alternatives. Together they research careers, including salary ranges and outlook data. After a role-playing exercise, the student gains enough confidence to present his findings to his family. In time, he dispels the “myth” that nursing is the only option to consider (J. Kerrigan and R. Mondor, personal interview, July 20, 2012, University of Southern Maine).

Possible questions:

  1. What can you do to discover what a typical day would look like If you were a nurse, or if you were pursuing another career?
  2. Who in your family would be disappointed if you didn’t become a nurse?
  3. How can we find out what other jobs would bring in a good living wage?


Recognizing nursing foreclosure students can help us identify effective strategies in advising them. We cannot change people’s feelings about a choice, but we can challenge what they think and why. We can help these students explore the opportunities that they may be missing in their single-minded pursuit of nursing as a career choice. Individual or group advising sessions, career fairs, community service learning, peer advising, and web-based career tools can guide them as they identify other options.  By applying the foreclosure lens to our practice, we can help these students explore and develop fulfilling career pathways that they may not have previously considered.

Janis S. Albright
Student Success Advisor, Office of Student Success
University of Southern Maine
[email protected]

Karen M. Martel
Academic Advisor, School of Nursing
University of Southern Maine
[email protected]

Brenda D. Webster
Coordinator of Nursing Student Services, School of Nursing
University of Southern Maine
[email protected]


Albright, J., Martel, K., & Webster, B. “Pre-Nursing Survey.” Unpublished Survey (2012), University of Southern Maine.

Bosley, C., Miller, S, & Novak, A.  (2011, December). Anticipatory guidance as an advising strategy for pre-nursing students. Academic Advising Today, 34(4).  Retrieved from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/ePub/AAT34-4.htm#7.

Farrell, M. (2008). When students get bad news: How understanding the grieving process can help advisors handle difficult situations. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal.  Retrieved from http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/old/articles/010806mf.htm.

Shaffer, L., and Zalewski, J. (2011). It’s what I have always wanted to do. Advising the foreclosure student. The NACADA Journal, 31 (2), 62-77.


Cite this article using APA style as:

Albright, J.S, Martel, K.M., & Webster, B.D. (2012, December). No more missed opportunities: Using the foreclosure model to advise pre-nursing and nursing students. Academic Advising Today, 35(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


There are currently no comments, be the first to post one!

Post Comment

Only registered users may post comments.
Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.