Occupational Exposure for Students in Rural and Isolated Communities

By Meghan Brown

Occupational Exposure for Students in Rural and Isolated Communities

Rural and isolated communities are experiencing declining populations, changing demographics, declining property values, and increasing property tax rates and healthcare costs. Specifically, students in rural schools face many challenges unfamiliar to the students in urban and suburban areas. Some rural communities have little exposure to the breadth of jobs available in their region. On the other hand, some communities worry that students will see college as the only way to “get out”, therefore not returning to the community after graduation and furthering population decline. Many of them lack the drive to complete high school and move on to secondary school due to their limited environment (Khattri, Riley, & Kane, 1997).


Unique Characteristics of Rural Communities

Students living these communities seem to have a more restricted worldview compared to their urban/suburban counterparts based on the few occupations and businesses available in these communities. In rural communities, finding exposure to a variety of occupations and industries can be even more difficult, as local economies are mostly agriculture based. A commonality between most students in these communities is that the occupations to which they aspire are what they see in their day-to-day lives and on television, which typically does not portray professions as they are in reality. In addition, programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, community rec centers, etc… are not options that are typically found in rural and isolated communities, leading to a limited pool of role models outside of school, church and home. Career counselors could play a critical role by developing programming and education plans tailored specifically around factors that uniquely shape rural communities, so that students’ knowledge of options after high school are expanded.


Suggested Resources and Strategies

The mission of career counselors serving these communities should be to creatively find solutions to address the need for more resources that ensure students are well informed of the breadth of occupational choices that might be appealing to them, and to help students research their interests individually. The following list contains a few of these creatively chosen resources:

  • Online resources:

    • Online High School Courses offered through sites like Apex Learning: Since rural and isolated communities usually have small schools with a small teaching staff, the amount of elective classes offered to students is very limited and class offerings are very general. With an online program such as Apex, students can tailor their high school education to what they are interested in.

    • Google Plus: Through online technology such as Google Plus, counselors can arrange to have professionals present careers to students without being in-person.

    • Cappex: Students are able to complete a profile and search for US colleges that would be a good fit for them based on their current grade point average and ACT scores.

  • Community-based programs:

    • Local Community College: Researching what is available to students through the local community college is a great way for students to begin exploring their interests. Reach out to find opportunities for concurrent credit, obtaining associate degrees while in high school and even for a visit so students can know what to expect when visiting other colleges.

    • Local Chamber of Commerce: The Chamber of Commerce can assist interested counselors with building relationships between the schools, individuals, and businesses in the community in order to help expose students to a variety of occupational fields. Most notably, they could partner with schools to provide suggestions for speakers to present on their occupation’s daily responsibilities and the education required to become a professional in that field.

    • Local community clubs such as Lions, Rotary, and Kiwanis: Reaching out to these groups will help increase students’ exposure to individuals and businesses, and to find mentors. These connections can lead to community leaders becoming more invested in the mission of the school and allow students access to a variety of adult role models.

  • Career Program Ideas:

    • Career Talks: For one semester, every-other-week, a professional could be invited to the school to talk to students for an hour about their occupation and educational requirements for that occupation. Students choose which career talks they attend and must dress professionally and come with a question to ask.

    • Summer Leadership Academy: During one week in the summer, interested students selected from an application process tour places of work in the community. These students receive a hands-on approach to the career exploration. Counselors could ask a community business or organization to sponsor the costs of the program.

    • College Field Lessons: This could include traveling up to three hours to various 4-year colleges to ensure students are exposed to more than just the local community college. On these field trips, students learn about things they are unfamiliar with such as dorms, dining halls, full science laboratories, finding their way around campus using a campus map, etc… Counselors are encouraged to specifically ask colleges for experiences that are not on a typical “college tour”.

    • Conferences and Summer Programs: Students in rural and isolated communities must have exposure outside of their communities to be able to make informed decisions about choices after high school. Career counselors must be prepared to spend a lot of time looking for and helping students apply to conferences and summer programs, including STEM and college workshops. Counselors may want to focus on programs across the country that are free to students or that offer scholarships to cover the cost of the program.


Unique Communities – Unique Approaches

Students who live in rural and isolated communities are hindered by limited resources, dwindling population, limited exposure to occupational opportunities and role-models in their immediate surroundings compared to their urban and suburban peers. Students living in these unique communities will require career counselors to utilize a more informed and creative approach to adequately serve them. By taking a more creative approach, career counselors can ensure students are aware of, and choose, the educational/occupational opportunities consistent with their unique talents; not those shaped by limited daily exposure of the community in which they live.



Khattri, N., Riley, K. W., & Kane, M. B. (1997). Students at risk in poor, rural areas: A review of the research. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 13(2), 79-100. Retrieved from http://jrre.vmhost.psu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/13-2_5.pdf




Meghan BrownMeghan Brown is a high school transition advisor at a college preparatory public charter school in Blytheville, Arkansas. She previously taught 7th grade math and 5th, 6th and 7th grade science. She is a product of rural education and her passion for rural education began in college while tutoring rural high school students and then working as a Teach For America Corps member in two different rural communities along the Mississippi River. She can be reached at Meghan.Brown@kippdelta.org

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Kathryn Rice   on Monday 02/02/2015 at 01:24 PM

I can really appreciate this article, being from a rural area myself. There were so many career options that I wasn't exposed to, which really made it difficult for me later in life.
Thank you for sharing these suggestions!

Rosie Alexander   on Tuesday 02/03/2015 at 02:36 PM

Great article Meghan. I'm a careers adviser working in the far north of Scotland and a great deal of what you say makes sense in terms of my experience. I certainly use technology to overcome issues of geographical distance in terms of the provision of careers guidance (which I do mostly via phone and videoconference) and in terms of delivering careers education and running employer sessions via videoconference too.

I'm also interested in, and researching the impact of rural location on career pathways of students, and have actually just blogged about some issues similar to the ones covered in your article: https://rosiealexander.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/social-mobility-in-rural-areas/

Thank you for the article and for raising awareness of the importance of considering rural areas!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.