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Lori Nero Ghosal, Marcy Bullock, Courtney G. Jones, North Carolina State University

Marcy Bullock.jpgLori Nero Ghosal.jpgFirst-year programs support students in many ways throughout their transition to college.  They positively impact students’ sense of belonging, facilitate a smooth transition to college academics and social life, while increasing first year success.  With this encouragement and support, first-year students are buoyed up and usually progress to sophomore year—only to be met with new struggles.  Research shows that students make decisions in their sophomore year that include choosing a major and career path, decisions that significantly impact their future success.  While major and career exploration are significant academic goals during sophomore year (Graunke & Woosley, 2005), a fundamental building block in this decision is clarifying a sense of identity and a sense of purpose (Gahagan & Hunter, 2008; Lemons & Richmond, 1987; Tobolowsky, 2008).

Courtney Jones.jpgAt North Carolina State University, students are encouraged, with a few exceptions, to enter the University with a declared major.  The College of Engineering accepts approximately 1,500 first-year students each year.  Some students know exactly what they want to study.  Others are less directed and choose engineering because of a skill or interest in science and math.  After two semesters of gateway courses, students must apply to their preferred major.  As each engineering major is highly competitive, it is important for students to choose wisely, based on their abilities, interests, skills, and career goals.  As engineering majors’ coursework diverges during sophomore year, students know that if they do not declare their major by end of first year, they are likely to fall behind, pushing back their graduation date.

In the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, first-year students usually begin with their major program of study from their first semester.  However, understanding how to apply a subject interest to a career field is more difficult, and often, students change their majors as they progress through their coursework.

With students making major and career-related decisions earlier, students do not have the luxury to wait until sophomore year to declare a major but must commit to their major within their first year.  Yet, many first-year students have limited knowledge of the vast distinctions in career fields.  Additionally, their developing sense of identity, combined with oftentimes underdeveloped career goals and lack of career-related work experience, further complicates students’ ability to make informed decisions about their major.  Given this, it is not surprising that 30% of all college students change majors at least once within three years and in fact, nearly 10% of bachelor’s degree students change their major more than once over the course of their college career (Leu, 2017).  These students face serious consequences: increased time to degree, additional financial burden, anxiety and doubt about major and career choices, and the potential loss of relevant internship experience.

People are motivated by work that is personally meaningful and fulfilling.  Students, too, search for a sense of purpose and meaning and want to apply these attributes to their career.  However, developmental stages come into play and the 18-year-old is oftentimes lacking in experience, global awareness, and a sense of identity.  Tobolowsky (2008) states that it is critical that students become more self-aware and develop a sense of purpose and life direction that informs both their decisions on choice of major as well as their career path.  How do we, as higher education professionals, help these freshmen navigate their most important choice in college, find their purpose and passion, and apply it to a major and career path by the end of their first year?

In 2016, the Career Development Center at NC State University developed the Career Identity Program (CIP).  The Career Development Center initiated a collaboration with two academic units, The College of Engineering and The College of Humanities and Social Science.  These partners work together to help successfully navigate students toward their academic and career goals while also increasing the percentage of students who are confident in their choice of major, reducing numbers of major changes and time to degree and increasing career readiness upon graduation.

This program combines personal exploration along with career exploration to help students learn more about their interests, skills, passions, purpose, and values and shows students how to apply all of these components to their career pathway.  As shown in Figure 1, the Career Identity Program utilizes student development theory, along with a series of interconnected, activity-based workshops that build on each other to help students increase self-knowledge and gain knowledge on majors and careers.

Bullock et al, Fig1.jpgCareer Identity Coaching takes place in the intersection between all of these components of the program and moves the student forward through personalized, one-on-one coaching.  Through all of these activities, the CIP helps students design meaningful, values-driven careers.

The structure of the program is to introduce students to a concept through group workshops.  Students have an opportunity to interact with each other and participate in an activity based in self-exploration.  The workshops build one upon another to provide the students with a comprehensive experience of moving through different stages of self—academic—career—life exploration.

Fall and spring semesters include three core workshops each and one to three elective workshops from which students can choose.  Two of the electives are panel discussions with upperclassmen speaking from first-hand experience to students about high-impact experiences, student involvement, and pathways for exploring other majors and complementary minors.

Students meet with their Career Identity Coach individually, twice per semester, for customized, intensive career coaching.  Coaches review students’ progress and discuss students’ thoughts, concerns, and decisions.  Students review and extend their workshop materials with their coach, allowing the student four opportunities to have a personalized, in-depth exploratory conversation.  Coaches also serve as supplemental advisors and are able to help guide students in coursework selection and supplementary classes.  Coaches help students in

  1. self-exploration (interests, skills, and motivations);
  2. career exploration (understanding of career pathways and related majors); and
  3. high-impact activities (career-related activities and experiences and how to maximize those experiences in becoming career ready).

Workshop topics include:

  • Personal & Professional Values Exploration
  • Focus2 Assessment
  • Visioning Your Future
  • High Impact Experiences to Support Your Vision (Panel Discussion)
  • Developing Your Master Academic Plan (MAP)
  • Complementary Majors & Minors (Panel Discussion)
  • The Career Competencies
  • Roadmap to Your Career (Re-visioning Your Future)
  • Plus Diversity & Inclusion and Communication Styles

All students are invited to an end-of-year celebration and those students completing seven workshops and four meetings with their coach will receive a certificate signed by their coach and college dean.

Workshops progress students through an academic-to-career pathway that begins with self-exploration and builds upon that foundation.  The last workshop is a culminating activity where students integrate all the core workshops together to finalize their career plan, write their mission statement, and set their career goals.

Bullock et al, Fig2.jpg


Prior to their participation in the program, students took a pre-assessment survey on their confidence in major and career choices and other metrics.  Upon completion of the program, students were given a post-assessment, with the same questions and additional questions.  The results show an overwhelming support and satisfaction for the program.  Students related that participation in the program helped them to find answers sooner, relieve anxiety around not knowing, and make better informed decisions regarding their choice of major and career path.

The CIP served 93 engineering students and 66 humanities and social science students in the first year (2016–17).  With overwhelming support from students and advisors alike, the Career Development Center sought ways to increase reach to more students.  The second year (2017–18) saw an increase of engineering students to 124 and a continuation of 66 humanities and social science students a pilot group of 8 sciences and 2 natural resources students.  In August 2017, the first Career Identity Coach Training Program was launched and a group of 9 advisor/staff partners were trained as coaches and program advocates to help accommodate the increased student interest.

Assessment Results

At the conclusion of each year, CIP participants were asked to complete a post-assessment survey to determine their level of satisfaction in the program and their sense of confidence in their major and career plan.  Results indicate an overwhelming positive response from students over the first two years.  Students’ responses from pre-assessment to post-assessment showed the following results:

  • 97% felt confident or extremely confident in their choice of major
  • 94% said the CIP helped them create a comprehensive academic plan to prepare for their career pathway
  • 94% said CIP helped them identify and choose a major that reflects their interests, skills, abilities and passions and relate them to a meaningful career path
  • 98% said CIP helped them connect their values, interests, talents, purpose, and passions into their work
  • 100% would recommend this program to other students

Lori Nero Ghosal, Ed.D., ACC
Career Identity Coach - Engineering
Career Development Center
NC State University
[email protected]

Marcy Bullock, M.S.
Director of Professional Development
Career Development Center
NC State University
[email protected]

Courtney G. Jones, M.S., NCC, LPC-A
Career Identity Coach - Humanities & Social Science
Career Development Center
NC State University
[email protected]


Gahagan, J., & Hunter, M. S. (2008). Engaging sophomores: Attending to the needs of second-year students. College and University, 83(3), 45–49.

Graunke, S. S., & Woosley, S. A. (2005). An exploration of the factors that affect the academic success of college sophomores. College Student Journal39(2), 367–376.

Lemons, L. J., & Richmond, D. R. (1987). A developmental perspective on the sophomore slump. NASPA Journal, 24(3), 15–19.

Leu, K. (2017, December). Beginning college students who change their majors within 3 years of enrollment.  National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2018-434. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018434.pdf

Tobolowsky, B. F. (2008). Sophomores in transition:  The forgotten year. New Directions for Higher Education144(Winter), 59–67. doi:10.1002/he.326


Cite this article using APA style as: Nero Ghosal, L., Bullock, M., & Jones, C. (2018, September). The career identity program: Helping students successfully choose their major and create a purposeful career pathway. Academic Advising Today, 41(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]



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