Generating Graduate Student Interest in Career Counseling

By David Dietrich

The Situation

Our faculty at the University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM) recently met with a large group of the graduate students in the masters program in counseling.  The purpose was to discuss program requirements and answer questions.   The majority of the discussion revolved around the counseling skills courses, practicum, and internship.  No one mentioned the career course, not even faculty, and it occurred to me that our experience is not unusual.  The profession of career counseling traces its roots to Frank Parsons' seminal 1909 book "Choosing a Vocation", and career counseling is one of the (CACREP) eight common core curricular areas. Despite these significant traditions and requirements, contemporary graduate students may view career counseling as an afterthought.  Counselor educators may reflect on the following and find agreement with the situation at UTM.

  • Do your graduate students value the discipline of career counseling? 
  • How likely is it that they will choose to become career counselors? 
  • What can you do to increase their engagement in career issues? 


Lara, Kline, and Paulson (2011) explored these questions in a qualitative study of graduate career counseling training.  Here are some of the issues they found to be important, which can result in strategies to increase student interest:


1.    Faculty Perceptions: "It has its place, I guess..."  There is a tendency for counseling programs to provide more attention to mental health counseling courses and issues.  Even in school counseling programs, other issues besides career counseling can dominate (academic performance, bullying, family issues, self-harm behaviors).  Students pick up on these attitudes and may adopt them as their own. Graduate students often get their cues about the importance of counseling courses and disciplines from faculty. STRATEGIES: Honestly assess the attitudes of your faculty toward career counseling.  Are faculty members appreciative of the contribution of career counseling to counselor education?  How do they discuss the importance of career counseling with students? 


2. Faculty Expertise and Interest: "Why do I have to teach this course?" Who teaches career counseling in your program?  Often adjuncts or junior faculty members are assigned to teach this course because the program does not have a faculty member with career counseling training and interest.  Student interest is impacted by faculty enthusiasm and knowledge.  STRATEGIES:   find a faculty member who is interested so as to generate enthusiasm from his or her students.


3. Student Attitudes: "Why do I have to take this course?" What are the attitudes of your students toward career counseling?  Assess their attitudes and the reasons for those attitudes.  Students may enter your program with preconceived ideas about career counseling based on their experiences with a school counselor, or from what they have heard from others.  STRATEGIES:   Faculty advisers can help to assess and address these attitudes in their advising sessions. 


4. Incorporating Career Counseling Across the Curriculum: "I didn't realize career issues related to this course too!" Most graduate programs in counselor education offer only one career counseling course.  This can be the one chance for students to learn about the issues and practice of career counseling.  To help augment student appreciation for career counseling, it's important to determine how career issues are processed in courses across your curriculum.   Sometimes faculty members may not understand how to do this.  STRATEGIES:  Look to collaborate with faculty to show them how career counseling theory and techniques can enhance their courses.  For example, in a Crisis Counseling course an ability to explore career issues can be important.  A course in Marriage and Family should discuss how important career issues are in the health of relationships. Even techniques such as group counseling can be examined in the context of group career counseling.


5. Teaching Methodology: How are the career courses taught?  An emphasis on theory is important, but students tend to retain knowledge that is practiced.  It is important for students to have opportunities to use career counseling tools in their own lives. Students respond to these personal experiences.   STRATEGIES:  One great way to do this is to require your students to assess their own career interests, aptitudes, and attitudes.  There are many free online resources to help you do this, or you may take advantage of your university's career counseling center and have your students seek out assessment and career counseling there.  Role playing in class is another great technique to generate interest in career counseling. Do you offer practicum and internship opportunities in career counseling?  Incorporate field observation and practice in your career counseling course. 


Student Outcomes after Applying Strategies: "This is more than just matching client strengths and interests to a career path."

Once students have applied career counseling techniques, they can begin to understand the need to hone those skills.  Without these strategies, even counseling students can fall into the trap of thinking that career counseling is merely knowledgeable advice giving.  When you give them practice in career counseling techniques, an awareness develops about the skill involved in this discipline. Your students also want to know that their masters degree will lead to employment. Help students see the tangible benefits of choosing a career counseling path.  Discuss the job opportunities and continuing education for career counselors.


Career counseling is a valuable component of counselor education and training. Unfortunately, in many cases, students and faculty have lost sight of this focus. By examining the issues raised in this article, you can begin to assess and improve your own students' understanding of and interest in this important discipline.  Following the strategies here may then help you to increase student, and faculty, engagement in career counseling.



Lara, T. M., Kline, W. B., Paulson, D.  (2011).  Attitudes regarding career counseling: Perceptions and experiences of counselors-in-training.  The Career Development Quarterly, 59(5), 428-440.




David DietrichDavid Dietrich, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and an assistant professor in the Masters Program in Counseling at the University of Tennessee at Martin.  Prior to teaching at UTM, Dr. Dietrich taught psychology at Lambuth University for 11 years.  He also has experience as a high school counselor, and as the clinical and program director for a residential treatment facility for violent juvenile offenders.  Dr. Dietrich may be contacted through email at: ddietrich@utm.edu

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1 Comment

Irma Zuniga   on Monday 03/02/2015 at 10:04 PM

Career development as an important component of psychosocial adjustment is poorly understood, therefore poorly integrated in graduate programs. Perhaps it is the stubborn belief that psychology and career development are two separate disciplines? People making requires a whole constellation of resources, thought, exploration, and most importantly guidance. Career development theory is an important component of this constellation. Thanks for the article.

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