The Simple Reason Students Don’t Go to Career Counseling

If you’re a career counselor, student services representative, or academic advisor, chances are, you’ve complained about the fact that students don’t go to career counseling. After all, your entire purpose is to assist students throughout their journey, guiding them through high school or college and into an ideal occupation for their interests. Unfortunately, you can’t exactly counsel an empty chair. You’ve worked hard to create an inviting environment. You’ve studied up on career exploration tools, teaching practices, and philosophies. You’re ready, willing, and excited to work with them. So, the key question is: why is it that students don’t go to career counseling?

It seems that everyone has a different answer to this question: students these days are more focused on friends than careers, they’re too busy with classes to consider their post-graduate futures, they’ve become apathetic about the world of work… the list goes on and on. However, these assorted musings aren’t useful. They don’t get to the core of the issue or offer any solution to it.

The Sobering Statistics

In all likelihood, you’re already struggling to get students to show up to your career counseling sessions, so you’re well aware of this problem. However, you may have believed you were alone in suffering from this issue. Even if you’re one of the career counseling professionals with a relatively full office, it can only help you to be better informed of the trends in your industry.

Regarding student attendance for career counseling activities, consider the following key statistics:

  • A multi-year Career and College Readiness research project from the non-profit YouthTruth® found that just “36 percent [of students surveyed] used counseling for help on future career possibilities,” according to an article published in EdSource.
  • The Gallup-Purdue Index surveyed more than 11,000 college graduates about their views on career counseling – “six in 10 graduates said they never visited the career office as an undergraduate,” as covered in The Washington Post. While this figure is slightly better than the one reported by EdSource, it’s still far from optimal.

Given these numbers, your career counseling expertise is probably serving no more than two-thirds of the students at your organization, and you’re likely reaching closer to just one-third. This is all despite the fact that, according to Education Dive, “students who have identified a career path for themselves [feel] twice as prepared for their futures as those who are unsure of their path.” As you well know, your guidance could help fill this gap for dozens if not hundreds of students, if only you could get them into your office.

The Crux of the Problem

If students clearly need career counseling and you’re there to offer it, why aren’t they taking advantage of your help? Why is it that students don’t go to career counseling? The basic, but the brutal answer is: they don’t trust you. They don’t have faith that you’ll understand their aspirations and be able to aid them in reaching them. They fail to attend career counseling events, appointments, and seminars because they don’t believe these will be helpful to them.

According to the same study referenced above found that high school juniors and seniors gave career counseling services a “helpfulness rating” of only “3.89” out of 5. Similarly, the Gallup-Purdue Index discussed previously discovered that of the students who did use career counseling resources, “fewer than half…found the career center helpful or very helpful.” Furthermore, Education Dive notes that “49% [of students surveyed] called for more access to college preparation tools” and “many felt unprepared for the practical aspects of succeeding in the workplace, including networking, job interviewing and using industry-specific tech.”

While you’re confident in your skills as a career counselor (and of course you should be!), the regrettable fact is that students aren’t nearly as convinced.

Building Trust with Your Students

Another reason why students don’t go to career counseling is a lack of trust. While it might be hard to hear that your students don’t trust you as much as they should, the good news is that this problem is actually surprisingly easy to solve. According to a piece published by the American Sociological Association, “distrust between counselors and students is due to a lack of shared understanding regarding expectations and roles.” In many cases, distrust stems simply from a lack of mutual understanding between students and counselors about roles, expectations, and, even more fundamentally, the words you use. 

For example, if you and your student have differing definitions of “leadership” or “creativity,” your recommendations may actually be completely misaligned to your student’s true interests. In addition, if students aren’t familiar with the careers, sectors, or skills you suggest, they’re likely to feel uncomfortable and at a distance from you. These variances in vocabulary can lead to major confusion about your role in the student’s career counseling process and their expectations for what you plan to provide. 

To forge a more fruitful bond and truly collaborate with your students, you need to ensure you’re actually on the same page when it comes to their career possibilities and how you can help them attain these. Having a shared vocabulary and set of resources to work with can smooth out even the rockiest of counseling relationships. If you can find common ground with your mentees, you can get your students back in your office. 

Are You Ready to Get Students Into Your Career Counseling Office?

Whether you’re a Chief Academic Officer, Chief of Student Services, career counselor, academic advisor, or any other educational professional offering career counseling, you need to create outstanding relationships that keep students coming back to your office. A lack of strong relationships is one of the major reasons why students don’t go to career counseling.

To learn more about the challenges facing career counselors today, discover the science behind these difficulties, and find out how your organization can overcome them with innovations in this industry, download our white paper on <<Establishing a Standard Vocabulary for Career Exploration>>.

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The Simple Reason Students Don’t Go to Career Counseling

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