Graduate Career Courses: Engaging Students

By Vanessa B. Teixeira

As a doctoral student in counseling education and supervision, I have taken career counseling courses at the master’s and doctoral level. I have always found the topic of career counseling fascinating and admired my professors for being so passionate and dynamic when presenting the information to students. In taking the courses, however, I came to notice that some of my classmates were not as interested in the topic of career counseling as I was. Also, some of the material, such as the theories and models, were difficult concepts for some students to grasp. During my doctoral internship as a Teaching Assistant, I found some great ways to keep Master’s level counseling students engaged in class material that is either difficult to learn or less interesting. This article presents two key considerations (a “Do” and a “Don't”) followed by specific practices to keep in mind when teaching a graduate level career counseling course.


DO: prepare students for career counseling by relating the class material to real life practice. While it is important to teach the material, it is equally important to prepare students for what they are actually going to be doing as a career counselor.

DO NOT: focus too much on one learning style or one type of activity. Students tend to lose focus and interest quickly if they get too much of the same thing. This will take some creativity, but students will be much more engaged when instructors are dynamic in teaching the material.


Here are practical ideas to try when teaching a career counseling class:

  • Students appreciate reading material that will help them prepare for the field of counseling. Using an additional textbook or supplemental reading that discusses what a career counselor does in the field helps present the context for using the course material. Many times, students are unable to apply theoretical models to real life situations. By assigning readings that depict the life of a career counselor, students can identify more with the class material. I recommend The Career Counselor’s Handbook by Figler & Bolles (2007) as a supplemental book. It’s inexpensive for students and haspractical advice on being a career counselor.

  • Many students are visual learners and would benefit from watching videos of a career counseling session. Utilizing Youtube is a helpful way to find hundreds of videos roleplaying career counseling sessions. Don’t like the video? Show the class anyway and ask them what they would do differently or why the counselor in that video is not an effective career counselor. Students will remember the video and its application much more than reading about a counseling session or viewing a PowerPoint slide.

  • Students appreciate classroom activities that get them moving and thinking. Utilize interactive activities that involve all students such as role-plays, showing videos, going over case studies and then discussing how students would apply career theories and models to situations they would encounter as a career counselor in the field. Not only are these activities fun, but they really help students apply the material they just learned.

  • Guest speakers bring the class to life by showing students that there is life after graduation! Bring in a practicing career counselor as a guest speaker. Have students create three questions for the career counselor as a homework assignment so they are prepared to query what it is like to practice this type of counseling.

  • Learning theories and models of career counseling is essential to practicing effectively with clients. However, lecturing too much on theory can become mundane and difficult for students to grasp the material. Taking breaks after each theory and discussing how students can apply the theory is not only a great way to liven up the class, but it helps students take a moment to recall and apply what they just learned.

  • What is your learning style? Keep in mind that there are different types of learning styles and not all students learn from lecturing or PowerPoint slides. Incorporating as many learning styles and multiple intelligences to your lesson plans will help you reach all students in your class. Students will appreciate the variety and you won’t have to talk for hours without a break. Need ideas for classroom activities for different learning styles and multiple intelligences? This website will get you started: http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/mi/exploration_sub1.html

Teaching a graduate career counseling course can be difficult. Trying out the above list of suggestions will take some resourcefulness and creativity on your part but students will appreciate the real world experience you are bringing to the classroom. They will gain much more from the class when they are actively involved and you will enjoy teaching the class much more when you see that students are able to apply the material they are learning!


Vanessa TeixeiraVanessa B. Teixeira, MS, holds a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of North Florida and is currently a doctoral candidate in the CACREP accredited Counselor Education and Supervision program at Argosy University, Washington DC. For three years, Vanessa worked as a Rehabilitation Services Coordinator with adults diagnosed with severe mental illnesses. One of her primary duties in this role consisted of career coaching, including assisting clients with developing resumes, looking for work in the community, as well as developing and teaching psychoeducational groups focused on career development. Vanessa is currently working toward licensure at a private practice in Alexandria, Virginia called The Key Center. She can be reached at VanessaTeixeira86@gmail.com.

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