For students seeking admissions to colleges and universities, career counselling has a specific meaning and a purpose. From my experience with students, I know that very few students – if any at all – actually understand what career counselling is and what it can do for them. Simply put, students do not know the role career counselling plays in their educational paths, in their lives and in their careers. Therefore, they do not value its importance, nor know how to use it to their advantage. It’s not their fault. It’s just that no one has ever told them what career counselling is and how it can help them.
In most cases, wherever career counselling services are available (in India this typically means urban upmarket schools), students are introduced to career counselling by their schools or by their parents. Usually, it happens after the students have completed their 10th standard (sometimes during the 10th standard as well) and enters the last two crucial years of their school life and high school education. That’s good timing because it’s then that students become somewhat conscious of their future and think about admissions to colleges and the fields of study they wish to pursue.
I say ‘somewhat conscious’ because, in India, most students leave their career and college admission decisions to the very last moment, creating panic situations for themselves and their parents as the school-leaving date approaches. So, the first benefit that career counselling offers is making students aware of the importance of choosing a career and pursuing an educational path that leads to that career. Although this benefit is made apparent to students usually in the last two years of their high school, it stays with them for the rest of their lives.
Contrary to expectations from students and their parents, career counsellors do not actually arrange college admissions for students. They help students choose careers, college courses/programmes and colleges/universities to meet student desires and career goals. When it comes to college admissions, there are three aspects or stages to career counselling: career coaching; college search; and counselling. What we normally perceive to be career counselling for high school students is really a combination of career coaching and college search. Counselling, though intricately connected to this combined process, is something else.
Career coaching is a process by which students identify possible career options by becoming aware of their strengths, weaknesses, skills, aptitudes, knowledge of what they have learnt so far and what they have gained from engaging in other extra-curricular activities, and matching these factors with their personal desires to arrive at a road map to meet their career goals. This is no easy task. Career counsellors handhold students through the entire process to make recommendations on, ultimately, a narrow set of career options. The recommendations are a combination of pin-pointing suitable careers and laying out educational paths which lead to those careers.
Career coaching is crucial to student careers and requires willingness and engagement from the students, their parents, school teachers and the counsellors to achieve a high level of satisfaction for all stakeholders. It normally requires several sessions or sittings – apart from those required for psychometric evaluations for the students – though most students and their parents are in a hurry to complete the process, thereby undermining the effectiveness of the career coaching process. Sadly, this process is often overlooked and neglected. I feel, at this stage, students are anxious and vulnerable – and career coaching can help boost their confidence as well.
College search is the easiest of the three aspects/stages of career counselling for students. Once students have arrived at a narrow set of career options and have focused on one, the next obvious step is to seek out colleges and universities which offer courses/programmes that follow the educational path for the students in order to lead them to their chosen careers and professions. Students can, and usually do, their own homework in identifying colleges/universities and various courses/programmes offered. However, counsellors, as they are better informed in this matter, can play an important role in guiding students to identify the right colleges/universities and recommending a few that would meet the needs of the students. This becomes especially important for students seeking admissions to foreign colleges/universities.
Counselling, the third aspect/stage of the entire career counselling process, is somewhat delicate and complicated. It deals with understanding the psychological, emotional and behavioural aspects of a student as an individual person and help him/her in achieving his/her full potential. It requires the student to open up and reveal his/her conscious, subconscious and unconscious parts of the mind and learn to deal with everything that can help him/her achieve the potential he/she has within to become a better student, a better person and a better performer at work (once employed) and in everything he/she attempts in life.
Although we all wish to achieve our full potential, not many of us are willing to open up and bring forth our problems which impede our overall growth as a person, or qualities which fuel our growth, some of which we may never even be conscious of. Naturally, this process requires specially-trained psychologists – and not all college admissions counsellors (in India) are qualified to handle this process wisely. Hence, in spite of being a critical part of the overall student career counselling process, psychological counselling is mostly ignored or neglected. The good thing is, it’s never too late to seek counselling of this nature and, therefore, it’s not limited only to the point of seeking college admissions for students.
If we all – students, teachers, school administrators, parents, college admissions officers and career counsellors – understand career counselling in all its potential (as I’ve described here) and apply it effectively, the careers and lives of students will improve substantially. Of course, students need to be willing to participate in the process wholeheartedly to reap the rewards.