An Experiential Opportunity for Counselors-in-Training: Facilitating Undergraduate Engagement in Career Education

By Suzy Wise and Timothy Schoonover

Career planning is an important process for individuals across the lifespan, with considerations for context-specific life stages and tasks along the way (Super, 1975). While conversations about career futures begin in elementary school (Palladino Schultheiss, 2008) and typically coalesce in high school, late adolescence and early adulthood is routinely a pressure-filled time when most of the action around career planning is done and decisions are made (Paixão & Gamboa, 2017). Some of the tasks at this stage may include:

  • selecting a major or postsecondary path,
  • exploring professions,
  • identifying and developing interests and skills, and
  • determining how personal values might be reflected in the workplace.

For those choosing college as the next step after high school, there are several paths toward accomplishing these tasks, such as visiting the campus career services office, or seeking the guidance of major program advisors. Many students consult with family and friends, personal and professional networks, and the internet for their career guidance. Still others may walk out of college not knowing in which direction to head. Today’s career landscape is very different than even just one generation ago (Savickas, 2010); therefore, young adults need contemporary and relevant career information and tools for success (Lent, 2013). As in the past, if individuals know themselves well, they can make more informed decisions about their futures (Savickas, 2010). In addition, those delivering career counseling or career education must be knowledgeable about current career issues and obstacles, and how to assist their clients and students to be successful (Lent, 2013; Niles, Engels, & Lenz, 2009).


Instructors Who Are Counselors-in-training

At Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb, Illinois, undergraduate students can take an elective course focused on exploring careers and developing job search skills. The course is designed to position career development and career decision making as lifelong processes and emphasize the relationship of individuals to their work. Students are provided with hands-on opportunities to practice decision making and put those learned skills toward personal, academic, and career planning. This elective is taught two days per week across a full semester, and the instructor of record is a masters-level graduate student in the CACREP-accredited counseling program. Dr. Carole Minor brought the idea for this course to NIU from Florida State University in the early 1980s and began with just one or two sections as an experiment. Over 30 years later, Dr. Minor’s idea remains unique because the instructors of this elective are counselors-in-training, rather than counselor educators or seasoned career practitioners, and the course is very popular among students.

Instructors utilize a pre-set curriculum, yet there is ample flexibility to build around the needs of the students while maintaining effective learning outcomes. Anchored assignments include mock interviewing practice, formal and informal career assessments, an etiquette dinner experience, and creation of professional resumes and cover letters. Depending on their existing needs and level of self- and career-awareness, all students spend a varying amount of time exploring their interests, values, and skills, as well as learn and practice important job search strategies. Ways in which they do this include: (a) reflective exercises, (b) written assignments, (c) group projects, (d) formal and informal assessments, and (e) experiential opportunities. These experiential opportunities include choices of receiving individual counseling in the on-campus counseling training clinic, volunteering in the community, attending job-search and internship fairs, or engaging in job shadowing and informational interviews. In a 2016 survey of students who took the course, a clear majority reported that the course (a) assisted them in identifying a chosen major or work field, (b) helped them understand their personal abilities and skills in the workplace, (c) helped clarify their interests, values, skills, and goals, and (d) helped them plan next steps in their career journeys.


Parallel Processes in Experiential Education

In NIU’s counseling program, experiential education is an essential core component of both personal and professional development, because it provides an opportunity to engage purposefully with theoretical material, to synthesize and reflect, and to foster learning and growth to deepen and transfer that learning to others (Dockery, 2011). For instructors, teaching the undergraduate course serves to position them to build competencies in group process, teaching, and career development practice, and for students, taking the course connects them to important resources on campus and in the community. In a truly parallel process with their students, instructors prepare for their professional careers in counseling, and after a full semester of teaching, they report increased confidence in readiness for the job search.

This personal and professional development is reflected in survey feedback from the instructors at the end of their teaching experience. One instructor commented that building relationships with their students and watching them grow throughout the semester was the most meaningful part of teaching, where another said that a significant point of pride resulted from several of their students landing jobs, internships, and interviews throughout the semester, and that one student was accepted into graduate school. Still another instructor remarked that after teaching they felt more confident in their ability to build meaningful relationships with individuals of diverse backgrounds and to collaborate with students to help them accomplish their goals. Teaching a class is a compelling practical opportunity as the delivery of classroom guidance lessons or workshops in community mental health settings is an essential professional task.

For counselor educators seeking to broaden their graduate students’ experience and to simultaneously benefit the undergraduate population with career planning preparation, this experiential opportunity may be the right fit!


Additional Resources

Dockery, D. J. (2011). A guide to incorporating service learning into counselor education. Retrieved from https://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/vistas/vistas_2011_article_34.pdf?sfvrsn=27ab9d53_11

Lent, R. W. (2013). Career-life preparedness: Revisiting career planning and adjustment in the new workplace. The Career Development Quarterly, 61, 2-14.

Niles, S. G., Engels, D. & Lenz, J. (2009). Training career practitioners. The Career Development Quarterly, 59, 358-365.

Porfeli, E. J., & Lee, B. (2012). Career development during childhood and adolescence. New Directions for Youth Development, 134, 11–22. doi:10.1002/yd.20011

Paixão, O. & Gamboa, V. (2017). Motivational profiles and career decision making of high school students. The Career Development Quarterly, 65, 207-221.

Palladino Schultheiss, D. E. (2008). Current status and future agenda for the theory, research, and practice of childhood career development. The Career Development Quarterly, 57, 7-24.

Savickas, M. L. (2012). Life design: A paradigm of career intervention in the 21st century. Journal of Counseling & Development, 90(1), 13-19.

Super, D. E. (1975). Career education and career guidance for the life span and for life roles. Journal of Career Development, 2(2), 27-42.



Suzy WiseSuzy Wise, EdS, is an instructor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana. She is also a Counselor Education and Supervision doctoral candidate at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb, Illinois, where she served as the coordinator for NIU’s undergraduate career planning program for over two years. Suzy obtained her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and an Education Specialist degree from The George Washington University (GW) in Washington, DC with a focus on career counseling and career development. She can be reached at suzywise@gmail.com.


TJ SchoonoverTimothy “T.J.” Schoonover obtained his Master of Science in Education, Clinical Mental Health degree from Northern Illinois University (NIU) in May 2017. During his time at NIU, he taught an undergraduate career planning course for four semesters and served as the graduate assistant for the career planning program for one year. After graduation, T.J. worked as a full-time Child and Adolescent Counselor at Sinnissippi Centers, Inc. in Dixon, IL and a part-time counselor at Family Service Agency in DeKalb, IL until July 2018. After leaving his counseling position, T.J. began the PhD program at University of Arkansas in the Counselor Education and Supervision program in Fall 2018.

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