Career Counseling for Students: A Comprehensive Guide

The development of your career is a lifelong process. It begins from the time you were born. As you grow up, a number of factors influence your career choices, including your life circumstances, personality, interests, hobbies and the people around you.

If you are a student who’s unsure of the future that lies ahead of you, you may consider approaching a counselor to discuss your career.

What is Career Counseling?

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Career counseling is a service designed to help individuals find the professional path that’s right for them. Clients typically opt for this type of counseling to obtain advice, recommendations or suggestions concerning their planned or ongoing job search. They can also seek career guidance and additional perspective when they plan to make an industry change in the middle of their careers.

Although career counseling is for everyone, it’s highly recommended for university students who are having trouble with their chosen program of study or selecting a career.

College students who are in the following situations are encouraged to consult a career counselor:

  • Those wondering what jobs best suit their interests and skills
  • Students who are having difficulty making a career commitment
  • Individuals who made have plans without a clear goal in mind
  • Those looking to explore further career options
  • Students who want to change direction or choose a different university after realizing that what they initially wanted didn’t align with their skills
  • Those who want to obtain assurance or feel more confident the decision they’ll be choosing for their future
  • Students who know that they want to earn a bachelor’s degree, but are unsure of the next steps to take after graduation

What Can a Career Counselor Do for You?

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The job of a career counselor is to assist with your career selection and guide you in the best possible direction. These professionals usually hold a master’s degree (or a certification from a reputable organization) and are experts in career information resources, career development theory, administration of assessments and counseling techniques.

When you go through career counseling in your school, you can expect the counselor to do the following for you:

  • Help you discover more about yourself — particularly your talents, your plans and what you expect to get out of your education
  • Listen and take note of your feelings, thoughts and concerns about your educational and career choices
  • Assist you in organizing and sorting out your feelings and thoughts
  • Help you determine the factors influencing your career development and choices
  • Point you to resources related to your chosen career path

What a Career Counseling Session Looks Like

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During your session, your career counselor will help you explore your strengths and skills, as well as determine your personality type and interests. Your counselor may also administer assessments, such as an IQ test and the famous Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. This personality assessment will determine your personality traits and provide possible careers based on these traits.

You career counselor may also bring up the following topics for discussion:

  • Your practical skills — and how these can be useful to your future employers
  • The necessary skills required to pursue a particular career
  • The educational requirements (master’s degree, associate’s degree, Ph.D., etc.) necessary when you want to pursue a specific career
  • The opportunities for advancement or change in a particular career
  • The potential salary of the job you’re aiming for
  • The working environment of your chosen career (some jobs are office-based, whereas others, such as truck drivers, require you to be on the road)
  • Interview advice (Note: Career counselors can help you make a strong first impression by teaching you how to craft a compelling professional story in a job interview)

How to Find and Choose a Good Career Counselor

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Usually, you could approach the career counselor of your school for guidance. If you want a second opinion or feel that your school counselor isn’t the right one for you, you could look for another professional to serve your needs.

Here are a few tips when finding and picking a good career counselor to work with:

  • Ask your friends at school or your family if they can recommend an experienced career consultant or counselor.
  • Visit the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) website to find a board-certified counselor in your area. Once you’ve entered your country, state and city, set the filter to “Career Development.”
  • Check the credentials of your preferred career guidance counselor. The professional that you plan to consult with should ideally have a certification issued by the National Career Development Association (NCDA), a non-profit organization that serves as the governing body of career counselors.
  • Obtain a few references from any counselor before proceeding with any form of paid consultation. Ask the references questions, such as “What progress did you make after your one-on-one consultation?” and “Would you recommend the services of this particular counselor to your friends and family?”
  • Prioritize counselors who charge per visit instead of professionals who charge counseling packages that cost more than a thousand dollars.

How to Make the Most of Your Career Counseling Session

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If you’re going to pay a professional for career counseling, you’ll want to get the most bang for your buck by approaching this process with the right mindset.

Here are a few suggestions to help you maximize your counseling experience:

Come up with Concrete Goals

Simply saying that you want a job after graduating from college isn’t helpful. You have to think deeper by getting into the specifics. Although a career counselor can help you with creating a better goal, you can save time by having a precise idea of what you want.

One way to do this is to create a Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely (SMART) goal.

An example of a career goal that uses the SMART technique is this:

“To find work within the city of Portland that uses my skills in network administration and provides opportunities to learn from certified network professionals within the next 15 months.” This statement is arguably better than declaring “I need an IT network administrator job.”

Follow the Advice Offered by Your Career Counselors

A counselor can only do so much to help you. Although they can guide you in your career search process, they are unable to serve you a job offer or get the CEO of a company to give you a high-paying position.

Long story short, you shouldn’t expect to show up, pay the professional and then leave while you sit back and relax. You need to participate, provide input during the consultation session and follow the valuable career advice of your counselor. If you don’t or choose not to, then you’re clearly wasting your time and money.

Open Yourself up to Criticism

Although your counselor is there to guide and support you, they won’t hesitate to offer constructive criticism when necessary — especially if this feedback will help you land the dream career you want.

Accepting criticism can be difficult for some people. Finding out that your resume needs a few tweaks here and there can be discouraging, especially if you’ve poured your heart and soul into your work. This, however, is just part of the job of your career counselor. During your one-on-one, you’ll learn your weak spots and obtain suggestions to fix them.

So listen to the counselor and take note of the feedback (both good and bad) given to you.

Be Honest

You need to be fully transparent with your counselor. If you’re feeling confused about which path to take or pressured because your college friends have their career choices all figured out, let your counselor know. After all, these consultations offer a safe place to freely express what’s on your mind.

When you enter the counselor’s room, lay everything down on the table. Don’t worry if the counselor finds out about your doubts and worries. They will do everything they can to come up with a solution that will benefit your career. Also, they will make sure that the topics you’ve talked about doesn’t leave the room. Counselors value your privacy.

Students don’t have to make career decisions by themselves. They can seek the help of a certified career counselor to help them make meaningful, well-informed choices, as well as pursue the career path that will use their skills and talents.

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