Career Development as a Retention Tool: Early Intervention for Incoming Deciding Freshmen

By Wendy Becker-Jamison and Wendy LaBenne

How does a career center get students in early and grab their attention? In what ways can a career services office contribute to university retention efforts? At Saint Louis University (SLU), the Career Services office implemented an early intervention program in which incoming "deciding" freshmen met with career counselors for individual appointments during their summer orientation program.

Career Development as a Retention Tool

According to Feldman (2005), fostering the career development of incoming freshmen increases student satisfaction and has the added benefit of aiding the institution's retention efforts. In addition, career development interventions present opportunities for students to connect college activities with a future career path (Niles, Bowlsbey, 2005). Tinto (1987) indicated a lack of clear academic focus and career goals as factors for students "stopping" or dropping out. Targeting, tracking and engaging "deciding" students can be a useful way to institutionally support first-year students exploring majors and thus serve as a means of retaining these students. Furthermore, while research supports career development as a retention tool, current research was not found on early intervention programs targeting deciding students usingindividual career counseling appointments.

Early Intervention Meetings

The department's purpose with the implementation of this program was to increase student awareness of the career decision-making process that will be part of their college experience. The intervention had three primary goals: connecting early with freshmen; educating incoming students on the career development process; and assessing the students early to identify individual needs in the areas of self-knowledge, career information, career choice anxiety, and general decision-making skills. Engaging the students during their orientation process may help them to begin to integrate career decision making with academic identity (Dorn, 1992). Making this connection prior to beginning their college career can encourage the "exploratory" phase that leads to the developmental educational and occupational decisions that will need to be addressed later on.

Career counselors conducted face-to-face meetings with each deciding student as part of the University orientation process for freshmen, called SLU 101. Each summer incoming freshmen come to SLU for a day and a half. During this time they register for classes, attend various informational seminars, stay overnight in the residence halls, and meet other students with whom they can reconnect when school begins in the fall.

Students are termed "deciding" by their answer to a question about academic major on the University application form. Through collaboration with the Academic Services and Undergraduate Initiative departments, deciding students' orientation schedules directed them to an appointment with a career counselor. The purpose of this meeting was to make an early, clear connection to the Career Services department and to begin the process of career decision-making.


During SLU 101 deciding students arrived at the Career Services office to check in at the front desk. They were given a written assessment developed by the department. The student completed this assessment prior to meeting with a career counselor. This assessment took approximately five minutes and included questions involving four different areas of concentration: self-knowledge, career information, career choice anxiety, and general decision-making skills. After completing the assessment, the student met with the counselor for 30 minutes.

During the meeting, the counselor built rapport and, based upon the assessment outcome, inquired about and discussed areas of interest. The counselor informed the student about various ways that Career Services could assist him or her in the deciding process. This session was concluded by suggesting steps to take over the summer to launch his or her college career development process. One standard suggestion was to reconnect with their counselor in Career Services at the beginning of the fall semester. Students local to the St. Louis metropolitan area had the opportunity to jumpstart their career planning by meeting in person during the summer with a career counselor; all other students were offered the option to call or e-mail their counselor over the summer months.

Each student received a SLU Career Services information folder which contained: a list of upcoming departmental events, a four-year career development plan, access to the on-line job and internship database, information about finding an on-campus job, a list of useful websites, and a SLU Alumnus Career Path Pictogram, based on a Department website podcast. Water bottles designed with the departmental logo and contact information were an additional gift to the students.

Outcomes and Results

For SLU deciding students, a mandatory appointment with a career counselor before meeting with an academic advisor was a new process. Because of this early intervention with incoming freshmen, the Career Services department has experienced multiple follow-up appointments, phone calls, e-mails, and requests for assistance with internships. Many of these follow-ups occurred within one week of the initial career counseling appointments, which was an unexpected surprise.

The career counselors received positive feedback from the other University departments including academic advising. Since students met with an academic advisor after their career counseling appointment, advisors reported that students were excited about their career development plan and were enthused about starting the career decision-making process. Additionally, giving water bottles to the students created a buzz around campus as other students were interested in them. Finally, all career counselors created additional outcome data through evolving database client notes, resulting in the ability to track the student return rate for future research.


Dorn, F.J. (1992). Occupational wellness: The integrations of career identity and personal identity. Journal of Counseling and Development. Vol. 1, No. 4.

Feldman, R. S., (2005).Improving the First Year of College, Research and Practice, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey.

Spencer, N. G., Harris-Bowlsbey, J. (2005). Career Development Interventions in the 21st Century, 2nd edition, Pearson Education, Inc.

Tinto, V. (1987). Increasing student retention. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.


Wendy Becker-Jamison is a Career Counselor for Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the Career Services liaison to the Doisy College of Health Sciences, the School of Public Health and the Fine and Performing Arts departments. Her educational background includes PLPC licensure, a Master of Arts in Counseling, and certifications in Solution-Focused therapy and Sensori-Motor Psychotherapy. She may be reached at jamisonw@slu.edu or 314-977-2321. careers.slu.edu/

Wendy LaBenne is a Career Counselor for Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the Career Services liaison to the Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology as well as several College of Arts and Sciences departments. Additional related background includes three years of human resource experience. She has a Master of Arts in Human Resource Development and Management, a Master of Science in Education in Counseling, and is a National Certified Counselor. She may be reached at wlabenne@slu.edu or 314-977-2831. careers.slu.edu/

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