Book by: Virginia N. Gordon and George E. Steele
Review by: Chris Venable
College of Communication and Information
Kent State University
Working with undecided students can be one of the most daunting tasks an academic advisor faces. However, Gordon and Steele’s (2015) updated text, The Undecided College Student: An Academic and Career Advising Challenge (4th ed.), is a useful resource that empowers advisors to dispel any myths and serve this population of students with confidence. The authors discuss knowledge, skills, and resources that advisors will find relevant to their work with undecided students, particularly for academic advisors who do not have a broad knowledge of career development. This is where Gordon and Steele shine, sharing essential theories and strategies for connecting the values, skills, interests, and identities of students with potential academic paths. While the theories are not generally discussed in-depth, the overviews provided offer a starting point for advisors to explore their own theoretical orientations and consider what career development paradigms they might use with undecided students. For example, Gordon and Steele (2015) cover Social Cognitive Career theory, a theory that links self-efficacy, expectations, and goals to help students overcome negative self-concept and set achievable goals for themselves (pp. 84-87). Throughout the text, the authors emphasize that individualized advising is essential for success and advisors should be trained as generalists, skilled in working with a variety of theories for a variety of students.
Gordon and Steele have updated this fourth edition to include recent studies, some published as recently as last year. Advisors looking for research to support the implementation of new programs, trainings, or academic courses will benefit from having The Undecided College Student on their shelves. In particular, the first chapter is an extensive discussion of literature related to undecided students, written in the style of a literature review that advisors can draw from for empirical support. Graduate students will also find this section useful as a repository of articles and chapters to explore for a thesis or dissertation. The research-intensive sections are challenging to read through directly; advisors may find it easier to select relevant portions to read based on the particular context of students that they will be working with. In contrast, the chapter on program development is immediately useful, giving checklists of content and methods for creating new programs or services for undecided students that can be turned into a personalized program quickly.
However, there are a few minor flaws in The Undecided College Student. For advisors who already have a modicum of experience, the content regarding advising delivery models may not be particularly novel and likely could have been omitted with no ill effects on the book as a whole. In addition, advisors may wish for more coverage of how to utilize the career counseling and development theories. For this purpose, a more comprehensive career development text would be a worthwhile supplement, such as Sharf’s (2013) Applying Career Development Theory to Counseling. While Sharf’s work is oriented towards the counseling profession, his coverage of theory-in-practice is easily applied to academic advising as well.
Despite these shortcomings, The Undecided College Student is a very useful reference for any advisor working with undecided students. Ultimately, Gordon and Steele’s book has the research, frameworks, and resources that will have any advisor pulling it from the shelf to refer to again and again.
Sharf, R. S. (2013). Applying career development theory to counseling (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
The Undecided College Student: An Academic and Career Advising Challenge. (2015). Book by Virginia N. Gordon and George E. Steele. Review by Chris Venable. Springfield, IL: Thomas, 308 pp., $44.95, (Paperback), ISBN 978-0-398-09067-8