Given that college is the ideal time to build the skills and make the plans students need to succeed in their aspirations, you might think students would pack career centers, anxiously waiting for their turn with a competent professional who’s there to help them. However, this picture is actually far from reality. Most college students steer clear of career centers for as long as they can, despite the fact that they’re worried about their educational and vocational goals.

While at some schools, career counselors, academic advisors, and educators are understandably frustrated with this counterproductive trend, it doesn’t have to stay this way. The first step to getting students more excited about starting their exploration earlier is comprehending why they aren’t. Once you know what’s motivating students to sidestep your office, you can help remedy their reasons (or, more often, refute their excuses). Read on to learn why students often avoid career centers.

Students Don’t Feel “Ready”

In a recent survey on undergraduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the top reason “non-user” students did not take advantage of career services was “No need to yet (I am not ready to utilize their services).” Unsurprisingly, this reason “was primarily reported by freshmen (46% of these responses) and sophomores (34% of these responses).” This suggests that students feel vocational advising is something they have to be “prepared” for, an activity that’s somehow irrelevant to them early in their college careers. Students appear to assume that career counseling is something they’re supposed to do right before they graduate, when concerns about completing their majors, graduating and finding jobs loom large.

Of course, the result of this mindset is that freshmen and sophomores virtually never come to career centers, which are inhabited mainly by desperate upperclassmen in crisis. As an Inside Higher Ed article on this topic puts it, the “traditional model” for these offices consists of “half-a-dozen—or maybe a dozen, if it’s a big university—overbooked counselors [sitting] in an office and [advising] students who waited until their senior year to think about how they’re going to get a job.”

Students Are Afraid 

Some students may want to enjoy the advantages of career counseling, but be nervous to actually speak with an advisor they’ve never met about such important personal matters. A recent article in The Atlantic points out that “as Anthony Jack, an assistant professor of education, has written, many students, particularly those who are low-income, lack the know-how to consult adults in positions of power.” While higher-income students, or those from different backgrounds, may be completely comfortable talking to career counselors, it’s important to remember that not every student is.

Students Consult with Friends and Family Instead

Even students who are comfortable speaking with adult professionals may prefer to hash out their aspirational concerns with those closest to them rather than career counselors. As The Atlantic reports, based on a recent Gallup and Strada survey, “fewer than 20 percent of undergraduate students reach out to their school’s career centers for advice on finding jobs or finding and applying to graduate programs…Often, students instead consult with friends and family members about important decisions that can determine employment, such as choosing a major.” Of course, as any career center employee knows, talking to peers and relatives about vocational concerns may be more comfortable, but it’s definitely not always more effective. Speaking with family members in different occupations is often helpful, but schools can hold the latest data on the economy, viable career pathways, and steps to acquire necessary skills for the modern workforce. In addition, these offices have resources (such as the VitaNavis® platform) to help students identify their true passions, so they don’t have to pursue the same professions as their loved ones if they’d rather not.

What Can You Do?

In many cases, once students actually take a seat in front of a career counselor, they appreciate the advice and want to continue. So if you get past this first hurdle, you’ll be able to help exponentially more pupils. The fundamental reason students avoid career centers comes from what our team has identified as a “wait to fail” mindset (as in, students postpone getting assistance until they’ve truly crashed and burned). We further believe that students should be equipped and start exploring opportunities as soon as they matriculate so that once they do visit a center, they can have deeper conversations around what they would like to achieve. To resolve this issue, more schools need to transition to a “prepare to succeed” model of vocational advising.

Download our white paper Are Your Students “Waiting to Fail”? to learn more about the research on this subject and techniques to begin shifting this mindset at your school.

Why Students Avoid Career Centers

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