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Kyle Bures and Sally Sudja, Neosho County Community College–Ottawa Campus

Sally Sudja.jpgKyle Bures.jpgWhen we originally began brainstorming ideas for conference proposals over a year ago, ‘Dual-Path Planning’ came to mind as a result of the countless students we encounter each semester who discover their original plan, for whatever reason, is no longer appropriate.  Elated at the turnout to our session at the statewide 2014 Kansas Academic Advising Network (KAAN) conference, we decided to convert the presentation for publication in hopes to reach more advisors about the importance of working with students to develop an alternate plan adjacent to their formulation of their initial plan.

Inevitably, the bulletproof mentality present in many students as they enroll for their first semester has faded or transformed to shock when they return as little as a month later because their name has appeared on the Early Academic Warning list or a situation in their life has forced them into a new direction.  For many, a dose of reality has set in. If their original goal is no longer appropriate, the discussion soon centers on possible alternate paths. 

Unfortunately, students who wait until they are faced with an obstacle to generate alternative opportunities in career development can experience a shock that they are not prepared to deal with.  Their initial plan is the only direction they have considered, and when the road blocks appear, students cannot see beyond them.  Consequently, creating an alternate plan is a concept driven in part by Planned Happenstance Theory, an intervention in which advisors can assist students to “generate, recognize, and incorporate chance events into their career development” and turn them into opportunities for learning (Mitchell, Levin, & Krumboltz, 1999).  What, when, and how the intervention strategy is implemented ultimately depends upon the context of a student’s situation. 

While not all students will find themselves in situational trauma with their career plans, those who do tend to find themselves on one of three tracks in their academic or career development crisis:

  • One-track: students ultra-focused on one goal but not accepted (or waitlisted) into a competitive program
  • Off-track: students with goals inconsistent with interests, abilities, or values
  • Which-track?: students with multiple interests


A one-track student may be someone applying to a competitive program such as nursing.  Well into his/her initial plan, this student has often researched and completed all the requirements necessary, performed admirably in coursework, and completed all of the necessary steps, but due to the volume of quality applicants is not accepted into the program or is waitlisted.  Schlossberg, Waters, and Goodman (1995) define such a “non-event” (something expected that did not occur) as a transition that may either foster growth or alternatively be an impetus for decline.  The outcome is dependent upon the individual’s resources in four areas: situation, self, support, and strategies.  Too often, this student comes to this juncture without ever giving thought to possible alternatives, which can compound the stress.  For this particular student, what alternate plan or intervention strategies can be introduced earlier to help the student cope better with this transition?

Because our community college is home to a number of competitive associate level healthcare fields, students have several attractive options; however, students often have blinders on to these other programs.  What students overlook is that most of these other programs have similar pre-requisites and co-requisites that can apply to several programs, killing the proverbial two (or in some cases three or four) birds with one stone.  As a result, an advising grid was designed to lay these programs out side-by-side and visually demonstrate this to students who declare interest in any of the four associate level programs.  This advising guide then serves as a visual cue to advisors to prompt a brief discussion about the students’ interest and awareness in the other programs.  Students can also be encouraged to apply to more than one of the college’s programs, as opposed to putting all their hopes into one application. 


Students who are off-track usually present their initial plan as an interest in a particular program while simultaneously disclosing details or information that suggests their interests, abilities, or values may be incongruent with their goals.  A classic example might be students who reveal that their parents own a business and will pay for school if they major in accounting.  They may share that their preference is to work with people and that numbers and math are confusing and, as such, uninteresting to them.  Yet, as long as they can make good money after graduation, they will be content.

One alternate intervention strategy for off-track students might be a technique known as challenging, pointing out discrepancies in the information provided.   As evident in the case presented above, inconsistencies can be identified within the student’s disclosure.  It is a matter of human tendency to sometimes provide discrepancies in information  (ex., a major in accounting with a genuine disgust toward math), but when “challenging skills are used, the aura of safety and support, so carefully constructed by the helper, is at risk” (Young, 2013).  Thus, identifying the appropriate time to challenge can be a delicate skill to practice and should be considered cautiously.  If done too soon, rapport can be damaged, and if never approached at all, an entire host of problems may emerge.  Off-track students may also benefit by participating in career exploration activities to identify other degree programs of interest that they can potentially work toward or explore simultaneously.

Which Track?

The third type of student, the individual with multiple interests—consequently known as the which-track student—might typically be higher achieving than some other students and, as such, may have more of a challenge narrowing down his/her choices.  These which-track students may want to change majors frequently or to take courses that do not necessarily correspond to the stated degree focus.  The initial plan for this group of students may be an attempt to pursue a particular major because of pressure or expectations from parents or peers rather than because the students themselves are interested in that area of study, which can cause a lack of enthusiasm when choosing classes.  One strategy that advisors have found to be successful with these students is to encourage them to identify themes among the courses they have completed successfully.  Through the identification of a theme, students may find they relate to one content area more than another.  Guiding students toward general education classes is another alternate plan approach.  By working through general education courses during the first semester or two, students often find areas of study that they do well in naturally, giving them a direction without as much decision-making stress.  If students still seem bent toward an unmatched direction, career exploration activities such as computerized career surveys that match skills, abilities, and interests with suitable careers are an excellent option.

By using theories such as transition theory and planned happenstance and by implementing techniques like challenging, advisors and students alike are better equipped to effectively anticipate and manage rejections and roadblocks and to incorporate them into the student’s academic and career development.  These categories were generated as a result of the interactions with students in the context of our college and may not include factors or scenarios present at other institutions.  Thus, the challenge to individual advisors on their own campuses is to identify their unique types of students who may benefit from an alternate plan, and use such theories as a guide.

Kyle Bures
Teaching & Learning Center Coordinator
Neosho County Community CollegeOttawa Campus
[email protected]

Sally Sudja
Teaching & Learning Center Assistant
Neosho County Community CollegeOttawa Campus
[email protected]


Mitchell, K. E., Levin, A. S., & Krumboltz, J. D. (1999). Planned happenstance: Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of Counseling & Development, 77(2), 115-124. DOI: 10.1002/j.1556-6676.1999.tb02431.x

Schlossberg, N. K., Waters, E. B., & Goodman, J. (1995). Counseling adults in transition (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Springer.

Young, M. E. (2013). Learning the art of helping: Building blocks and techniques. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Cite this article using APA style as: Bures, K. & Sudja, S. (2015, December). Students benefit from early dual-path intervention. Academic Advising Today, 38(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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