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Donna J. Menke, University of Memphis

Donna Menke.jpgRecent calls for reform in higher education and budget issues on college campuses have required staff in higher education to do more with less, leaving academic advisors feeling overworked.  In between advising on course selection, academic probation, and other campus policies, academic advisors deal with the personal issues that their students experience.  Where and how does an academic advisor add “career advising”? And should they? Implementing career advising can be a shrewd move as higher education moves to an accountability model.  Funding is increasingly dependent on student outcomes.  Policy makers are focusing not only on enrollment numbers and graduation rates, but as one policy maker claimed, how many college students “can get jobs” (Cohen, 2016).  In this culture of evidence, the career development of college students becomes critical for academic advisors. Providing opportunities for college students to develop their career interests while in college can have a positive impact on college outcomes.

By graduating students and sending them out into the world with a credential, the expectation among graduates and their families is that these graduates have the means to get a job.  For the most part this is true, though fluctuations in job market trends can cause problems.  Even when college graduates can easily get jobs, academic advisors enhance the experiences of their students when they help students find a vocation, a way of life that is congruent with their education, skills, interests, and values.  Academic advisors are in a unique position to encourage students to find what Chickering and Reisser (1993) describe as "purpose."  Career advising is one way to help students achieve this purpose.  As defined by Burton Nelson, Alexander, Martin, and Cunningham (2012), career advising helps students clarify, specify, and create a career plan and helps students identify barriers to choosing or moving forward in a major or career path.  Effective career advising guides students in using resources that aid in career exploration.  When advisors practice career advising, they provide information on the nature of the workforce and realistic preparation for career fields and help students make sound decisions that further their goals.  Some academic advisors might recognize that they already do this on a daily basis.  Other advisors may see how they can easily weave career advising into their work.

Another benefit to developing career advising strategies is to meet what recent policy makers are calling for: "on time graduations"—typically defined as graduation within four and sometimes up to six years for four-year degree programs.  This recent push, along with concerns about retention, is also tied to funding and puts pressure on students to complete degrees in a timely manner.  Studies on retention indicate that sound education and career goals can improve motivation and positively impact academic performance (Robinson & Glanzer, 2016).  Career advising can increase students’ motivation to complete degree requirements.  In a large-scale survey of students who left college, Higgerson (1985) found that students leave institutions for one of three major reasons: dissatisfaction with the academic program, unclear career objectives, and unclear educational goals.  Career advising specifically aims to help students solidify future career objectives and educational goals.

Here are three simple strategies academic advisors can develop to weave career advising into their work.

First, brush up on career development knowledge.  This does not mean advisors must become career development scholars; however, some background in how career development occurs provides a solid foundation for career advising.  Campus libraries likely have student development theory textbooks available for academic advisors to peruse. Utilize campus database resources to read up on career development theories such as Holland’s Career Typology, or Super’s Theory of Vocational Choice or career advising strategies by Gordon.  NACADA also has good resources for this purpose, including the Pocket Guide Academic and Career Advising for the Undecided, Exploring and Major-Changing Students (2012) and The Handbook of Career Advising (2009).  Either of these resources can provide the basics of career advising.  The Handbook in particular includes information about career development theory along with strategies for career advising. 

Second, get to know all of the career resources available on campus.  While most college campuses have a career center, some campuses also have a separate major and career exploration center.  Counseling services may also offer career counseling for students.  Find out:

  • What resources are available on campus and where? Are all career development needs met at the campus career center? Is there a separate major/career exploration office?
  • What can the student expect of their appointment with any of the campus career resource offices?
  • Are career assessments available? Are all students given a career assessment, or do students have to ask for one? Is there a cost for the assessment?
  • Does someone sit with the student for an interpretation of the assessment results?

Helping students understand what will happen when they visit the career center, or any other campus resources, creates a realistic expectation in the mind of the student.  When students go in blind, they may develop their own expectations for what will occur, expectations that can be far from reality.  Providing a realistic expectation can make the visit seem more successful.  Also, be sure to follow up with their visit.  Ask the student about their experience.  What did they find out? Has this clarified things for them? Has it changed some of their future goals? What resources did they use? Do they understand the results of assessments, resources, etc.? What courses can students take to further their career goals or explore their interests?

Last, weave career advising into preferred academic advising approaches.  In Appreciative Advising (Bloom, Hutson & Ye, 2013), for example, discovery about self and dreaming, or making future plans, are already part of the approach.  Adding career advising is as simple as having students design a career plan much like their academic plan.  This is appropriate for deciding and decided students alike and has the advantage of identifying career obstacles and developing strategies to meet those obstacles.

Coaching models are also well suited to career advising.  As described by Griffiths (2005), coaching offers personal transformation through a "goal directed framework of focused, planned action and facilitates both learning and results through a precise orchestration of self-regulated accountability, powerful questioning and active-listening" (p. 57).  Whether a student is decided or deciding, encouraging them to establish career goals along with academic goals can uncover some of the potential career planning issues before they become obstacles.  Perhaps the student has chosen a career field that does not match their academic interests.  Have the student brainstorm resolutions to this problem and set goals to resolve their career problem.  Brainstorms might include a referral to one of the career resources on campus or to faculty in areas of interests to gather more information about career fields in the area.

Another career advising model is the 3-I method of career advising (Gordon, 2006).  This is an efficient method to set students on the path toward their career goals.  The 3-I's are Inquire, Inform, and Integrate.  In the Inquiry phase, the advisor gathers information from the student: where are they in the career development process?  The Inform phase answers questions from the Inquire phase and fills in the career knowledge gaps.  These gaps might include an explanation of the relationship between majors and careers or where to get career information on campus.  Then Integrate this information:  help the student make connections between their major/career goals and the information they have gathered or determine what career resource can best address their career development needs and refer the student.  This process is often circular.  Answering one question frequently raises other questions, and so the process begins again.

Career advising is a process, often an ongoing one.  Career advising involves helping students understand themselves, their interests, their values and then tie that to their future goals.  When academic advisors can weave career advising into their repertoire, they can help students achieve their educational and career goals.  It can have the added benefit of improving retention and graduation rates for the institution. By solidifying that association between college and career, students set realistic career goals preventing and overcoming barriers to their chosen careers keeping them in school and on their way to earning their degree.

Donna J. Menke
Assistant Professor
College of Education/Department of Leadership
University of Memphis
[email protected]


Bloom, J. L., Hutson, B. L., & Ye, H. (2013). Appreciative advising. In J. K. Drake, P. Jordan, & M. A. Miller (Eds.), Academic advising approaches: Strategies that teach students to take the most of college (pp. 83-99). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Burton Nelson, D., Martin, H. E., Alexander, R. A., Cunningham, B. L. (2012). Academic and career advising for undecided, exploring and major-changing students [Pocket guide series PG13].San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Cohen, P. (2016, February 21). A rising call to promote STEM education and cut liberal arts funding. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com

Griffiths, K. (2005). Personal coaching: A model for effective learning. Journal of Learning Design, 1(2), 55-65.

Chickering, A. W. & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Gordon, V. N. (2006). Career advising: An academic advisor’s guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Higgerson, M. L. (1985). Understanding why students voluntarily withdraw from college. NASPA Journal, 22(3), 15-21.

Hughey, K. F., Burton Nelson, D., Damminger, J. K., & McCalla-Wriggins, B. (2009). The handbook of career advising. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Robinson, J. A. & Glanzer, P. L. (2016). How students’ expectations shape their quest for purpose in college. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 53(1), 1-12.

Cite this article using APA style as: Menke, D. (2016, September). Weaving career advising into academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 39(3). Retrieved from [insert url here] 


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