Holistic Career Guidance for the At-Risk College Student

by Marilyn Joseph

Students are constantly meeting challenges at school: academic, social and the impact of cultural differences and background dynamics. These challenges may put students at risk and can impact many aspects of their lives, including career choices and decision-making. As career development professionals, we can help students incorporate their career aspirations into their lives and discover what they really want to do. The following provides guidelines for assessing and exploring the students’ background, identifying and establishing external support systems, and specific activities to promote their future career success.

Assess and Explore Student Background:

How is their self-esteem?
Are they first generation college students?
What is their social reality/community obligation?
What are the chosen careers of parents/guardians, siblings and immediate family members?
What is the viewpoint of the most influential person in their lives?

Identify and Establish External Support Systems:

Discuss with students how they can integrate into campus life and campus activities, allowing them to experience other points of views.
Identify mentors who can provide students with guidance and the sharing of experiences. This will allow exposure to professional experiences and camaraderie.
Encourage students to cultivate support systems outside of their family unit. Formulating relationships with teachers, professionals and peers allows students to integrate into systems that differ from their family system.

Activities to Promote Future Success:

Yesterday: Guide the students to take a historical look at their accomplishments by asking them to create a story. This will reflect what the students feel they are good at and what obstacles have been in their path.

Today: Have students create their typical day. This will clearly show them what responsibilities and obligations they need to handle on any given day.

Tomorrow: Ask students to create their own career path, providing a realistic view and timetable for career goals. Have them create a picture of what things will look like when they are successful. The depiction may be verbal, written or drawn. This will give students a chance to incorporate what is most important or valued.


Students need an introduction to the concept of holistic career planning. Because of the demands and responsibilities that we all face, it is important that students be appropriate in their career choices. Taking a holistic view will give students a realistic outlook on what will work for them, ultimately increasing the likelihood for success!

Suggested Readings:

Bloch, Deborah P., Richmond, Lee J.
Connections between Spirit & Work in Career Development
Palo Alto, California, Davies- Black Publishing, 1997

Golden, Bonnie J., Lesh, Kay
Building Self-Esteem
Upper Saddle River, N.J., Pearson Education, Inc. 2002

Jacobsen, Mary H.
Hand Me Down Dreams
New York, N. Y., Harmony Books, Div. of Crown Publishers, Inc. 1999

Lama, Dalai, Cutler, Howard C. M. D.
The Art of Happiness at Work
New York, N.Y., Riverhead Books, Penguin Group 2003

Marilyn Joseph received her Masters of Arts in Transitional Life Counseling and Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Behavior. She has worked with clients for over 20 years as an Employment Specialist and Career Counselor. Marilyn is also a University Instructor and Director of Career Services, Text Book Reviewer for a number of publishers and a Member of the NCDA Mentor Program, Association of University Women and the Florida Career Professional Association. She can be reached at:

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