Clarifying the difference between undeclared and undecided students is important, but their commonality is even more telling to current trends. Undeclared students know the major they want but have not yet completed the admissions prerequisites for their program, whereas undecided students are not sure of their academic options and explore different areas before committing to a major. Both have a common ground in self-efficacy issues. Self-efficacy related to education and career decisions influences a student’s ability and confidence in choosing career pathways that align with their interests.
The problem with undeclared and undecided student groups is not the exploratory aspect, rather the issue lies in the unstructured exploration that students are expected to navigate on their own. A 2014 study indicated that students with undecided status predicted lower and more difficult career decision-making and more overall negative career thinking (Bullock-Yowell, McConnell, Schedin, 2014). The same study showed that students who were undecided vs. declared did not differ on their levels of readiness to make a career decision, rather they differed on decision-making abilities because of information deficits. Understanding these students’ difficulty making informed decisions about their future is crucial to developing their self-efficacy.
The career development process can start as early as primary school. For example, the Cajon Valley Unified School District is encouraging earlier exploration of their students’ strengths, interest, and values in the classroom. When educators, adults, or mentors develop a student’s curiosity about the world, the student then has the space to think more deeply about their responses and build their individual identities.
Throughout the career development process, and among students there is a knowledge gap in their future options (Bullock-Yowell, McConnell, Schedin, 2014). It is important that career counselors, educators, and especially students themselves know that difficulty in career-making decisions are not due to lack of motivation or interest. Instead, these difficulties stem from students being uninformed and having no early-on education plan. In the same way we have to rethink why students have difficulty making decisions, we have to rethink the potential solutions. Fortunately, career counselors and students can find solace in structured exploratory platforms that align student interest, skills, and values with college programs.
The VitaNavis® life-long learning platform encourages self-exploration and prepares students with consistent information on education and career pathways. Students take the SuperStrong® assessment (which is a 60-item version of the Strong Interest Inventory® tool) to see their interests, skills, and goals on the singular and mobile enabled platform that connects these individual qualities to potential education and career pathways. Career and academic counselors have used the VitaNavis platform as a guide to student development, rather than a guide to a decision. The development of individual interest is far more important than making a decision just for the sake of making a decision. The latter will lead students to difficulties in decision-making, whereas the development of interests is an expansive and insightful continuum. The VitaNavis platform develops decision-making power by showing students how many future options exist. The data collected from the SuperStrong assessment is actionable, meaning it can motivate students to use their personal skills, interests, and values to put forth action in their lives and the world of work.
In a similar framework, colleges and universities are adopting a guided pathways approach. This approach presents students with a highly structured educational program map that aligns with a student’s career goals. First-year college students who do not yet know what major to declare can use these guided maps to navigate their interest exploration. Guided pathways can empower students to be informed decision-makers while colleges can provide structured and predictable schedules so programs can continue to be more efficient and supportive of student growth (Teachers College, Columbia University, 2015). When combined with the VitaNavis platform, these decisions become more well-informed as they are aligned with interests, using a research based and scientifically proven assessment.
Undeclared and undecided are not indicators of a student’s idleness, rather a sign that those who support student achievement need to prioritize the development of student interest at earlier stages. Adviser/Counselor to student ratio is ideally 200:1, however currently is at 500:1 nationally and (900:1 in California). With such an imbalance, the VitaNavis and guided pathways approach offers sustainable solutions that involve students in their decision-making empowerment. Interest alignment is foundational to engagement and goal motivation, therefore essential to student action and achievement. There is power in the motivation that unfolds when someone’s interest is cultivated.
Emily Bullock-Yowell, Amy E. McConnell, and Emily A. Schedin, 2014 Decided and Undecided Students: Career Self-efficacy, Negative Thinking, and Decision-Making Difficulties
Teachers College, Columbia University, 2015 What We Know About Guided Pathways