Reality Town: A Social Learning Theory Strategy for Success

By Aaron H. Oberman, Meriwether Galloway, and Shannon Loughran

Reality Town is a live, in-person simulation experience designed to support the overall mission of the school counseling program to teach life lessons to students about financial literacy, academic performance, and career choices. This program can help school counselors begin the discussion on career exploration and interests with students. Students are not only able to gain focus on their career development, but also increase their awareness of academic and social/emotional factors. The multiple factors come to light as the students participate in career fair-like environment by making financial decisions to meet family and household needs through purchasing choices that include childcare, groceries, transportation, and housing. School counselors collaborate with community members and school stakeholders to run the various stations in Reality Town to help create a social learning experience for all students.

Social Learning Theory

This experience connects well with Krumboltz’s Social Learning Theory focusing specifically on one’s learning experiences and task approach skills as part of the overall career development process (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2022). School counselors can use the key concepts from this theory of career counseling to help connect the Reality Town experience of necessary life and career skills with the dilemmas of the real-world challenges. Students also encounter instrumental learning by their direct participation in the simulation of what life might be like into adulthood.  School counselors can guide students to more accurate self- and world-generalizations related to topics such as purchasing a home and car, budgeting, and being aware of cost and expenses. In addition, it provides students the opportunity to navigate and reflect on their unrealistic beliefs about career decision making and life plans. School counselors can further build on the discussion and the opportunities of potential career paths by helping students navigate these new task approach skills through making life planning decisions.

Connection to ASCA National Model and Standards

The Reality Town simulation aligns with the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Behaviors and Mindsets for Students (2021a). The Student Mindset standard that fits perfectly with The Reality Town simulation is Mindset M6 which emphasizes the “understanding that postsecondary education and life-long learning are necessary for long term success” (ASCA National Model, 2019, p. 48).  Reality Town allows students to experience their own potential career journey and to see the long-term effects of the choices. Students sometimes expect school counselors to provide them with the vast array of career paths that they may choose to take; however, this is a challenging feat when the options are endless and there are several factors that play into career selection. The Reality Town program provides students with a real-world simulation of what their lives would like based on the paths in life they choose to take.  This program also distinctly aligns with the standards focused on students having both short-term and long-term career goals (ASCA, 2021a) because students choose a career path and see what life would look like based off the career path they select.

Multicultural Connections

The Reality Town program is a way for school counselors to provide equitable career development lessons. The program allows each student to personalize the path to pursuing their interests and gives all students an opportunity to explore a variety of choices for their future, as well as specifically aiding marginalized populations to reimagine their future. School counselors are expected to meet the needs of all students, and this program would meet the diverse needs of students. The Reality Town program is also an opportunity for school counselors to encourage students to create equitable and inclusive goals as professionals (ASCA, 2021b).

Student Comments

This program connects instrumental and associative learning experiences important for students’ future success by exploring and navigating some of the life and financial requirements of adulthood. School counselors can utilize this lesson to help support the vicarious learning models as students watch TV, movies, and interact with social media, and are able to make direct connections about how they would do something in a different way.

Some of the student comments shared as part of classroom debriefing sessions after participating in the Reality Town experience support the value of this event. They shared that “it made them think about real life” and the need to “have responsibility in adulthood.” Other students commented that it “helped them learn about the financial world” and “these lessons will stay with them for a lifetime.”

Istock 616102976 Credit Pilin Petunyia

Contemplation, Conversation and Connection

The Reality Town experience supports a comprehensive school counseling program by allowing students a unique, engaging, hands-on opportunity in a safe school environment to learn about career, academic, and social/emotional development and the connection to their impending adult life. It is a powerful activity designed to promote contemplation, conversation, and connection to content between the school counselor and students, as well as family members and their children. Teachers, volunteers, community members, and other school stakeholders also enjoy watching students learn and realize the reality of how today is connected to tomorrow.



American School Counselor Association. (2019). The ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs (4th ed.). Author.

American School Counselor Association. (2021a). ASCA student standards; Mindsets and  behaviors for student success. Author.

American School Counselor Association. (2021b). The school counselor and cultural diversity.  Author.

American School Counselor Association. (2023). The school counselor and career development. Author.

Niles, S., & Harris-Bowlsbey, J. (2022).  Career development interventions in the 21st century  (6th ed.). Pearson Publishing.




Aaron ObermanAaron H. Oberman, Ph.D., NCC, is an associate professor and program coordinator for the counselor education programs at The Citadel in Charleston, SC. He has prior experience as a career counselor and has worked as a counselor educator and supervisor for 20 years. His research interests include the ASCA Model, and best practices in school counseling and teaching. Dr. Oberman may be contacted through e-mail at aaron.oberman@citadel.edu.



Meriwether GallowayMeriwether Galloway, M.Ed., is graduating with a degree in counselor education from The Citadel with a focus in elementary school counseling. Her research interests include the data collection and analysis, and best practices in school counseling and teaching. Ms. Galloway may be contacted through e-mail at mgallow1@citadel.edu.



Shannon LoughranShannon Loughran, M.Ed. is graduating with a degree in counselor education from The Citadel with a focus in elementary school counseling.  She plans to work in the Charleston area as an elementary school counselor. Ms. Loughran can be contacted through e-mail at sloughra@citadel.edu.



Printer-Friendly Version


Marcela Mesa   on Thursday 05/02/2024 at 08:52 AM

This topic interests me a lot: do you have any video resources, where we could gain an insight about the organization and implementation of such a project as Reality Town? Does this take place in one or several days and what kind of logistic aspects would have to be considered?

China Yang   on Thursday 05/30/2024 at 10:54 AM

I remember being in high school and having one class that taught me about budgeting my finances after I graduated and started to make more money than usual, I had no idea what to do with my funds! I am a big advocate for teaching life lessons to students, filing taxes, changing a flat tire, deciding which bank to bank with, etc. These topics should be taught in school because they're equally as important as our general education classes. Reality Town needs to be an opportunity every student can have!

Grace Cormier   on Friday 05/31/2024 at 12:21 PM

Reality town creates a necessary foundation for multicultural exploration within the educational system. As seen above, it would offer aid to marginalized groups to help reimagine their future. This is essential for bringing change towards underserved populations. School counselors must be aware of the cultural implications within their practice and how to create equitable lessons that benefit all students, including those from diverse backgrounds.

Justine C.    on Saturday 06/01/2024 at 06:38 AM

This is such an important and innovative tool for helping students explore different career paths and envision their future lives. Too often, young people have trouble seeing beyond the next few years. A platform that allows them to virtually experience various jobs, living situations, financial realities and more can open their eyes to the multitude of possibilities and problem-solving tools that are ahead of them.
By making it interactive and gamified, you tap into the way today's students learn and engage best. Letting them make choices and see the ripple effects play out immerses them in a tangible way. This turns it from an abstract exercise into something with real stakes they can get invested in. I am wondering if this is an exercise to be used during Advisory or does this process take longer?

Micol Striuli   on Sunday 06/02/2024 at 12:25 PM

What a clever way to utilize technology in the classroom. This sounds like a fun and educational way for students to become familiarized with "real life" responsibilities. As many students have pointed out in the article, conventional schooling does not prioritize financial education and many young adults enter the workforce with little knowledge of things like filing taxes and other work related documents. I like that this is a creative way to demonstrate ASCA standards.

Korrie L.   on Sunday 06/02/2024 at 06:44 PM

This simulation is so important in this day and age. I remember that, as I entered adulthood, I knew very little about financial literacy. Having this technology that puts a student right in the midst of being an active adult is key. They get to explore, learn, and figure out on their own what it is truly like to be an adult. These experiences can help shape their choices now so that they better their future.

Leah Abbate   on Monday 06/03/2024 at 04:52 AM

This program seems like a great way to engage students in a wide range of skills and experiences related to career choices, financial awareness, and the reality of real life demands and challenges. Many times, students are unaware of the endless amount of career paths they are able to take. I believe the “career fair-like environment” of this program is a positive way to provide students with exposure to the many options they may not ordinarily have an awareness of. I also particularly like the idea that students can “forecast” what their life may look like based on the career they choose. As a child, it is difficult to have a full grasp on financial responsibilities and realities of how career choice can impact one’s future. This program seems like it would shed light on some of those realities for students.

Marcela Garces   on Monday 06/03/2024 at 11:30 AM

What an innovative idea! Do you have any videos or more information regarding the live sessions? I would love to see how one works. Also, I am really elated to see the multicultural connections! As a Latinx, I struggled to understand financial literacy and made "not so good" choices as a young adult.

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.