Academic Advisement And the Career Connection
Authored By: Marianne E. Green
Helping undeclared students pick a major and meet the requirements for that major are key itemson the agenda for academic advisors across college campuses. The process of major selection, however, can be complicated by career related issues when students and their advisors equate major choice with career choice. The erroneous view that there is usually a direct correspondence between an academic field and career options can result in some roadblocks to the facilitation of appropriate major selection as students struggle to define not only an area of academic interest but a future career path, as well. Every day, academic advisors hear major/career concerns, such as these voiced by their advisees:
"I can't get into the college of business because my GPA is too low. I've always wanted to go into business later on. Now I'll have to pick something else."
"I'd like to major in history but what kinds of jobs can you get with that major? I don't want to be an historian."
"I don't know what to major in because I'm 19. How can I decide what I want to do for the rest of my life?"
The fact is that there is little connection between academic majors and future career paths among non-technical majors. A look at alumni employment surveys from well-known colleges and universities nationwide, available at career planning and placement offices, indicated that titles of graduates' majors bear little relationship to either their entry level work or subsequent employment. Even among the more vocationally orientated majors such as accounting, nursing, and engineering, where there is a greater correspondence between major and career, graduates may ultimately take a variety of career paths in management, sales, personnel and consulting which only indirectly utilize their major course background. It is clear that "major" actually refers to an area of scholarship rather than to a definite occupation. Further, no one major, whether liberal arts, technical or business, guarantees that a graduate will obtain a certain job in a certain field or continue indefinitely with that job. It is, after all, individuals who are employed, not majors.
Trying to break the mindset that majors always line up with employment possibilities is only the first step in developing a new conceptual orientation which allows advisors to address students' major/career dilemmas without becoming career counselors, themselves, or usurping the functions of career services. Such an orientation is based on an understanding of the role that skills play in building a bridge between the major and future employment in the "real world."
Advisors and students alike need to be aware of the fact that job titles such as "lawyer," "stockbroker," and "sales representative" are merely labels which convey little or no information about the tasks or skills that are required to fulfill job responsibilities. Similarly, major titles such as "sociology," "political science," and "English" do little to convey qualification to pursue those jobs. Employers, regardless of the field, judge candidates for jobs primarily on the related skills they have and their potential ability to perform the tasks associated with job titles and descriptions. In our skills-based society, graduates must market their skills to employers in exchange for money and position. Credentials, degrees and gradepoint average convey potential to perform many tasks, but skills, embedded in actions, show competencies and qualification. The effective resume, the basic job search tool, should prove that the graduate can demonstrate many of the skills necessary for effective job performance in his/her chosen field.
The entire college experience, not just the classroom, becomes the laboratory where skills can be developed, honed, and tested. Adele Scheele in her book Making College Pay Offers to a college's "invisible" curriculum consisting of clubs, internships, community activities, leadership opportunities, mentoring programs, and part-time and summer jobs. This curriculum complements and enhances the academic or "visible" curriculum. While skills in research, communications, critical thinking, and language are developed within the academic curriculum, other skills, related to employment, are acquired and utilized outside the classroom.
When Academic advisors know the importance of skills and encourage their students during advisement sessions to build a skills repertoire, they are helping them take preliminary steps toward forward career development and satisfying employment. Advisors can introduce students to the skills most valued by employers and then help them to determine which skills they already possess, as well as how to develop those skills they don't currently have.
Valued skills include:
- Teaching, Training, Instructing
- Technical and/or Creative Writing, Editing
- Using Computers, (word processing, programming, publishing)
- Designing (posters, newsletters, layout, brochures)
- Public Speaking
- Selling (inside, outside)
- Planning Events (Fund-raising, coordinating, organizing)
- Managing a Budget (treasurer)
- Leading, Directing, Managing
- Interviewing, Counseling
- Solving Problems
- Using Other Languages
Ways to develop skills:
- Jobs (Part-time, Summer, Full-time)
- Internships, Field Experience, Day on the Job (a University of Delaware program which connects student with cooperating alumni)
- Clubs, Organizations, Sports, Extracurricular Activities
- Class Projects, Research
Undeclared student can take stock of the skills they have, formulate plans to exercise those skills, and look for ways to develop new ones, always with the understanding that skills are demonstrated through action. Referral of students to career services for further work with self-assessment (needs, values, aptitudes, interests) career research (resource rooms, informational interviews, mentor programs), and experiencing careers (internships, cooperative education) builds upon this strategy.
While it is certainly true that academic advisors have numerous students to advise and limited time in which to do it, breaking the major/career mindset, introducing the skills orientation, and providing information on how to build a skills repertoire may serve to make the major selection process easier for undeclared students. Released from the false major equals career equation, student may feel more free to select a major in which they are truly interested without intense concern about the career that necessarily has to follow from that major. That is not to say that any major will equip a graduate for immediate entry into the fields of education, engineering, accounting, nursing or other technical fields. Looking toward post-graduate preparation to provide the necessary background and skills could be an appropriate remedy, if related majors are unattainable.
It is the case, though, that only a limited number of vocationally oriented majors will immediately link up with careers. Student must rely on the "invisible" curriculum and additional coursework in related areas to build the skills background they will need to enter a competitive job market in many fields and industries. Referral of advisees to career services for further work with self-assessment, job research, career exploration and, finally, placement should follow after this very important orientation has been introduced and some groundwork has been laid.
Career Planning and Placement
University of Delaware
Figler, Howard (1989) Liberal Arts Education and Careers Today. Garrett Park, MD:GarretParkPress.
Figler, Howard (1988) The Complete Job Search Handbook.New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Gould, Christine (1983) Consider Your Options: Business Opportunities For Liberal Arts Graduates.Washington,DC: Association of American Colleges.
Nadler, Barton Jay (1986) Liberal Arts Jobs.New Jersey: Peterson's Guides.
Malnig,Lawrence(1984) What Can I do with a Major in? New Jersey: Abbot Press.
Manschauer, John L. (1982) Jobs for English Majors and Other Smart People. New Jersey: Peterson's Guides.
Editor's Note: The above bibliography was compiled in 1992 for this article. Find an current bibliography and resources in the Clearinghouse at http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/adv_undeclared.htm
Cite using APA style as:
Ehrlich, Marianne (1992, September).Academic Advisement And the Career Connection.The Academic Advising News, 14(4). Retrieved -insert today's date- from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: