Helping Students Find Their Career and Life Direction

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A man is on the phone helping students find their career and life direction

Many first-time college students attend college because they feel outside pressure to do so. They have not taken the time to self-reflect on why they are attending college, what career they may wish to pursue, and what they want their life to look like when they graduate. The lack of self-reflection, through no fault of their own, often causes the student to waste time, energy and money on an education that does not meet their needs.

How can online adjunct instructors help to support students in their self-reflection? There are many facets to the instructor role – obvious ones such as managing one’s course, grading, and participating in discussion boards, as well as subtle roles such as helping students find themselves. Instructors can be instrumental in helping students find out who they really are as individuals, what they are truly passionate about, and how to plan their future life and career goals.

Guiding Students to Self-Discovery

According to Thomas Ehrlich and Ernestine Fu, Forbes contributors, college students should graduate with the knowledge and skills needed to start a career they will find personally gratifying, or at least be prepared for the rigors of graduate study that will serve that purpose at a later date. Ehrlich and Fu believe that more important than finding a career path, college students need to find themselves. They need to become comfortable in the knowledge of who they are and how they want to relate to the world as they move forward in their lives. If students find they do not like what they see in themselves when they look in the internal mirror, it is quite possible others will pick up on the fact that they are not being true to themselves.

Angel Perez, vice president of enrollment at Trinity College, states that when he asked his students why they wanted to go to college, most of them answered, in various forms, “to get a job.” None of his students mentioned going to college to explore their purpose or embarking on a meaningful life. Perez goes further and argues that “maybe it should come as no surprise that each year, higher education graduates millions of students into career paths that leave them unhappy and unfulfilled. They suffer from a crisis of meaning.”

Helping Students Find Their Passion

What can instructors do to help students find their passions and meaning in their lives? Instructors might start to rethink how they look at their roles. Instead of being the “credentialed instructor” that hands out grades and monitors student interactions, instructors can work to build relationships with all of their students and show passion for the material being covered in the course.

According to Melissa McInnis Brown and Teresa Starrett, associate professors at Texas Woman’s University, “student-centered instructors who are passionate about both teaching and the course material made them feel more connected in their classes.” These students were also more inclined to see their instructors as mentors and often enjoy using posted office hours to discuss their future career plans and goals. The more open and accessible an instructor is, the greater the likelihood students will talk about what is important to them as individuals and not necessarily just about course work.

Once instructors have built a relationship, they can weave in questions to students in discussion boards, announcements, emails, and grading feedback, such as those developed by Karl Moore, a professor at McGill University:

  • “How have your passion and interests evolved to shape your purpose?”
  • “How do they connect to your interests and dreams from your early days?”
  • “What pursuits would inspire and give meaning to you?”
  • “What impact would you like to make on others?”

These questions will give students a chance for self-exploration. Allowing students to write about their own passions and ideas gives greater meaning to the course work. It may take an instructor out of their own comfort zone to ask these types of questions, and to be a mentor that is willing to help students search for their purpose in life, instead of just being an instructor who teaches a course. The instructor who takes the time to help students figure out what they want to do career-wise and what they want in life is providing a valuable service to their students.

Instructors at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) have the ability to direct their students to the Student Experience Career Services website. SNHU Career Services has several different ways to work with students throughout their studies and after graduation to explore, develop and achieve their career goals.

Career exploration on the website is easy to access and students can view information on careers that they are particularly interested in and offers on-demand resources with the ability to talk with career advisors. Career assessments are available for students as is individualized career coaching. The earlier students can access available help, the better decisions they can make about their futures.

Preparing Students for Graduation

There may be a tendency to stick with the material in a course, but that is only part of the educational experience for students. As important as it may be, personal growth and self-exploration may be equally important. Instructors can help students ask themselves, “What degree should I get?” or “How can I decide on a career?” by being readily available and sharing their own journey. By being open, they let students know that questions about their futures are welcomed at any time.

This approach is important not only because it helps the student grow as a person, but it can save the student from taking courses that are not needed. Students that are not sure of the direction they should be taking spend more time and money than needed to obtain a college education.

According to Yuritzy Ramos, a contributor to Borderzine, about 80% of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once. On average, college students change their major at least three times and some much more over the course of their college career. This also affects the time it takes to complete their degrees.

Having students that have asked themselves questions about their futures will help them be better prepared when they do graduate with a diploma. They will be less inclined to feel lost and more inclined to embrace their futures because they have planned for it.

Dr. Thomas MacCarty is an associate dean of social sciences. He can be found on LinkedIn.

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