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T. Slowinski and W.
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).
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
- Students may use a variety of strategies
as they explore personal attributes, as well as major and career
information. Gordon (1992) lists four elements to classify these
- Self-Knowledge: assessing personal
interests, abilities and values. Goal-setting is also critical
in this area.
- Educational Knowledge: Information
about educational program, majors, academic skills development
- Occupational Knowledge: Job seeking
and job exploration activities as well as examining occupation
- Decision-Making Knowledge - Integrating
self-knowledge with educational and occupational information.
Various decision-making styles and how to apply goal-setting
strategies is important as well.
- Advisors must become competent in
using multiple strategies to help students in these processes.
- Advisors should be careful not to
think of the process as decision, then development. Students
should be encouraged to develop skills and have intentional experiences
as part of the exploration process (Mitchell,
Levin, and Krumboltz, 1999).
- Even with the best advisement effort,
some students will not be able to make concrete decisions regarding
their future. Although time and experience may be enough for
some students, there are certain students who will need to seek
professional counseling to be able to make these important decisions.
Advisors (when possible) should be active partners with therapists
in progressing students.
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:
- Written Exercises - opportunities
to reflect upon their interests, hopes, goals and life expectations
were extremely valuable in helping students clarify their decisions.
Writing may also help students understand where they are in
the process of deciding. Such clarification and definition
may be starting points in helping the advisor determine a continued
methodology of exploration.
- Individualized Interpretation of Formal
Assessment - advisors must become competent in interpreting formalized
assessments of abilities and interests. The responsibility to
extrapolate information in assessment instruments (SII, CISS,
Discover, SIGI, MBTI,) and help students make meaning rests on
the shoulders of the advisor. Advisors must receive the appropriate
training and development necessary to administer and interpret
- World of Work Information - Advisors
must be aware of current resources regarding job and career information.
Students need accurate, up-to-date, and detailed information
on a wide-range of career options. Familiarity with various
methods of categorizing jobs, interests and self-reported skills
will be helpful (e.g. Holland Codes).
- Modeling Opportunities - Opportunities
to job shadow and do information interviews are vital experiences
for students in the exploration of possible careers. Helping
students prepare and plan for these experiences is a crucial component
of the advising process. Many students need help in the logistics
of setting up these experiences.
- Building Support for Choices in Ones
Social Network - Encouraging students to talk about their choices
with family and friends is critical to helping them solidify and
feel good about their choices.
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.
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.
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.
T. Slowinski and W.
R.M. (1996). The irrational nature of choice: A new model for
advising undecided students? NACADA Journal, 16 (2),
V.N. (1984). The undecided college student: An academic
and career advising challenge. Springfield, Ill: Thomas.
V.N. & Steele, G.E. (1992). Advising major changers:
Students in transition. NACADA Journal, 12( 1).
V.N. (1995) The undecided college student: An academic
and career advising challenge (2 nd Ed.). Springfield,
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.
W.C. (1993). The impact of being 'undecided' on college student
persistence. Journal of College Student Development, 34, 103-112.
W.C. (1995). Students decided and undecided about career choice:
A comparison of college achievement and student involvement. NACADA Journal, 15 (1), 22-29.
K.E., Levin, A.S., & Krumboltz, J.D. (1999). Planned happenstance:
Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of
Counseling and Development, 77, 115-124.
N.E. (1999). Career counseling and career choice goal attainment:
A meta-analytically derived model for career counseling practice.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Loyola University, Chicago.
H.K., & Laff, N.S. (1997). Working with undecided students:
A hands-on strategy. NACADA Journal, 17 (1), 42-48.
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,
W., & Titley, B. (1980). The major-changers: Are only
the 'undecided' undecided? Journal of College Student Personnel,
- Read More About It! Bibliographies of print resources
this resource using APA style as:
Patrick T., and Hammock, W. Kerry (2003) Undecided/open students.Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: [insert url here]
looking for some general feedback about alternative names for
undecided students. Does anyone have any stats on that, or know
where I could find them? Does anyone know what is the second
most frequently used term for that group of students?
Commission on Undecided/Exploratory Students ( CUES )
conducted a study a few years back and the first and second
most used terms were 'Undecided' and 'Undeclared.'
The third most often mentioned term was 'Exploratory'
Other options are:
Discovery Program (CDP)
Education Student Program
Studies Program (USO)