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When considering students, who have not made concrete decisions regarding majors and career paths, even the words used to describe them may impact the advisor's work. Rather than focusing on a negative state of indecision (undecided) it may be valuable to focus on the students' openness to options (Open or Exploring students).
Exploring or Open students comprise a sizable part of most college and university student populations. Gordon (1995) defines this group as 'unwilling, unable or unready to make educational or vocational decisions,' (p. X). Open students come from various age groups, backgrounds, and educational experience. As a result, there is no one proven advisement panacea that works best with every open student (Steele & McDonald, 2000). Moreover, students enter higher education at various levels of undecidedness. In fact, these students may be in a cyclical process; they will make a decision and then return to undecidedness due to doubt, lack of information, peer influence, fear, parental pressure, etc. All students in the exploring phase must be assessed as individuals, which is a process, and probably not something that can be done in one 30-minute or less appointment with an advisor the student has just met. Advisors might consider these issues in helping students through decision-making processes:
Perhaps, the single area in which advisors have the most difficulty in working with exploring students is in the development of successful exploration strategies. Ryan's (1999) retrospective study of career counseling interventions gives advisors a strong sense of the effectiveness of general strategies. Advisors could develop the following major intervention components:
In addition to Ryan's components, advisors cannot afford to ignore the fact that the decision-making process belongs to the students. The temptation to revert to prescriptive strategies too quickly may be high for advisors when a student proposes a decision that does not seem reality-based. An advisor needs to be aware of an individual student's values or value-base and incorporate these values into the exploration process. Advisors may find the need to help the student ground decisions in a context of reality.
Students need to operate in a planned organized manner as they approach their exploration. Initial meetings with a student who is in the exploration process could include developing a written plan of action. Students who know where they are going and what they will be doing as they explore are more likely to continue in the process. Written plans can be adjusted and changed as students progress in development.
Finally, the urgency with which exploring students often approach the decision-making process can be alarming. Reiterating the term process may do more than initially put students at ease. Follow-up appointments with an advisor could involve setting and following up on goals, reviewing research that the student has done on particular majors and/or careers, and the utilization of intervention components. Clearly, and advisor must show that the decision-making process takes different amounts of time for different students. If advisors can be seen as empathetic, knowledgeable, and competent resources, the decision-making process may become less agonizing for their students and themselves
Patrick T. Slowinski and W. Kerry Hammock
Brigham Young University
Bertram, R.M. (1996). The irrational nature of choice: A new model for advising undecided students? NACADA Journal, 16 (2), 19-24.
Gordon, V.N. (1984). The undecided college student: An academic and career advising challenge. Springfield, Ill: Thomas.
Gordon, V.N. & Steele, G.E. (1992). Advising major changers: Students in transition. NACADA Journal, 12( 1).
Gordon, V.N. (1995) The undecided college student: An academic and career advising challenge (2 nd Ed.). Springfield, Ill: Thomas.
Korschgen, A.J., & Hageseth, J.A. (1997). Undecided students: How one college developed a collaborative approach to help student choose majors and careers. Journal of Career Planning & Employment, 57 (3), 49-51.
Lewallen, W.C. (1993). The impact of being 'undecided' on college student persistence. Journal of College Student Development, 34, 103-112.
Steele, G.E., & McDonald, M.L. (2000). Advising students in transition. In V.N. Gordon & W.R.Habley (Eds.), Academic advisement: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 144-161). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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Slowinski, Patrick T., and Hammock, W. Kerry (2003) Undecided/open students.Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:
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