The college experience for many students is marked by challenges and concerns surrounding educational and career choices. These challenges and concerns may be reflected in a student's career decision state, or the extent that one is certain, satisfied, and clear about one's career goals. This study examines students' career decision states at the beginning and at the end of a career course intervention. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of the findings for further practice and research.
Keywords: career courses, career decision-making, career decision state, career choice certainty, college student career development
Career courses may be viewed as instruction created to help undergraduate students explore occupations; acquire relevant educational information; develop greater self-knowledge in relation to interests, values, and skills; and develop necessary tools and skills for making career decisions and solving career problems (Sampson, Reardon, Peterson, & Lenz, 2004). A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (2016) revealed that 33% of 842 university respondents were offering career courses for credit. In the present study, we examined the efficacy of a career course intervention for improving college students' career decision states.
At the conceptual level, career decision state is a subjective state of being, or state of recurring consciousness, regarding one's career goals or aspirations. It is composed of both cognitive and affective components (Leierer, Peterson, & Reardon, 2017-2018). Career decision state may also be thought of as a single continuum from being highly goal directed, satisfied, and confident to being immobile or frozen, dissatisfied, and confused. Furthermore, when individuals seek career services or are about to embark on a program of study, an overarching issue is whether they are ready to make an important career decision or are ready to pursue a training program.
Purpose of the Study
The aim of this study was to assess the career decision states of students at the beginning and end of a college career course. The career course was a comprehensive, 3-credit-hour course, which has been continuously offered for 45 years by a large southeastern university and which enrolls more than 375 students annually. Twelve sections of the course were taught annually (including the summer term) by one lead instructor and three coinstructors. The course was influenced by cognitive information processing (CIP) theory (Reardon, Lenz, Peterson, & Sampson, 2017; Sampson et al., 2004). In Unit I, students learned about CIP, with a focus on increasing self- and option knowledge. In Unit II, students learned about social conditions that affect career decision-making, including labor market trends, family relationships, globalization, technology, and organizational culture. Unit III focused on the job search process, including resume and cover letter writing and strategies for interviewing and negotiating offers. Students received a grade based on the quality of their completed assignments and papers. Two research questions guided the study: (a) To what extent does this career course positively affect college students' career decision states? and (b) To what extent does this career course have a differential impact on college students' career decision states depending on class standing (i.e., lower division and upper division)?
Participants were 164 undergraduate students enrolled in 10 sections of a career course over two semesters at a large university in the southeastern United States. Students who completed all three units of the course composed the voluntary participants included in the study. Of the participants, 82 (50.0%) were women and 81 (49.4%) were men, with one individual (0.6%) identifying his or her gender as other. Regarding class standing, 32 (19.5%) were freshmen, 37 (22.6%) were sophomores, 35 (21.3%) were juniors, and 60 (36.6%) were seniors. Most participants identified as...