The pursuit of a college education is, for many students, the pursuit of  a dream: a passion, a profession, a career. For others, the practical benefits of higher education are far too significant to ignore. The Education Pays graph from the Bureau of Labor Statistics illustrates these benefits, such as buffering against unemployment, facilitating higher earnings, and promoting upward social mobility.

Not surprisingly, college enrollments tend to spike during times of recession. The chart below depicts annual change in college enrollment over a 30 year period (Kantrowitz, 2010). During harsh economic times, people tend to go back to school to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to increase their marketability to employers.

Academic decisions are inextricably linked to career decisions. Higher education represents a major decision point in a student’s career-planning process. In a recent report, Pathways through graduate school and into careers, Cathy Wendler (co-author of the report) stated: “To date, there has been little research to identify whether graduate students understand the relationship between their studies and future career options…If we can illuminate career pathways, we will ensure that students have a map or framework within which to make informed choices.” As “the only structured activity on the campus in which all students have the opportunity for one-to-one interaction with a concerned representative of the institution,” (Habley, 1994, p. 10) academic advising is an appropriate activity in which to address students’ career concerns.

Career Advising vs. Career Counseling vs. Career Coaching

Career advising refers to the process of “helping students understand the relationships between their educational choices and general career fields” (Gordon, 2006, p. 11). This is very different than career counseling, which emphasizes the integration of multiple life roles in the development of a professional/vocational identity and career coaching, which focuses on career advancement/management strategies.

Theoretical Frameworks

Academic advisors understand that students make academic decisions within the context of future career goals. Not all advisors, however, receive training in relevant theoretical frameworks. Below is a brief list of important career theories:

  1. Donald Super’s Life-Span Theory
  2. John Holland’s Career Choice Theory
  3. Lent, Brown, & Hacket’s Social Cognitive Career Theory (based on Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory)

Although many other career theories exist, I think advisors need to familiarize themselves with these 3 theories in particular because of their significance in career work (e.g. advising, counseling, & coaching).

Additionally, advisors could benefit from learning about the career advising framework. Gordon (2006) proposed the 3-I career advising approach: Inquire, Inform, and Integrate. In the Inquire stage, academic and career concerns are identified. The Information stage involves understanding one’s interests, values, and skills but also researching and evaluating educational/occupational information. The Integrate stage requires one to put everything together or organize the information in a way that facilitates the career-decision making and planning process.


Advisors must also be capable of guiding students toward proper resources to research certain careers. Although many resources exist, my personal favorites are the Occupational Outlook Handbook, O*NETCareerOneStop, and the H.I.R.E Network, which is a great resources for individuals with criminal backgrounds. My favorite job-search engine is Advisors should also be familiar with the latest trends and job-search strategies using social media.

Click to View Job Search 3.0 Video

Advisors should also be familiar with industry specific licensure/certification information relevant to the programs for which they advise. As an advisor for business, technology, and psychology/human services programs (to name a few), I find that students usually have questions about obtaining specific certifications or licenses as they seek opportunities to enhance their professional credentials. Below is a brief list of some of the resources from which students can research career/academic-related information:

  1.  Accounting – National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA)
  2. Project Management – Project Management Institute (PMI)
  3. Informational Technology – CompTIA, Cisco, Microsoft, ISC2, ITIL
  4. Human Resources – Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI)
  5. Counseling – American Counseling Association (ACA) – State professional counselor licensure boards
  6. Social Work – Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)

Career advising is a process that acknowledges the interrelated nature of the academic-and-career planning process. Advisors who brush up on basic career theory, learn the career advising approach, and familiarize themselves with resources and tools that can assist students with understanding how their academic decisions relate to their career goals will ultimately enhance the student experience.

** Please note that by no means does this article attempt to provide an exhaustive list of resources or a full account of career theory. The basic ideas contained in this article are meant to encourage advisors to enhance their knowledge of career advising theory and resources to better assist their students. Please leave a comment to share any information/resources that you find particularly helpful. Readers of this article may also want to read my article about Online Career Services.



Gordon, V. N. (2006). Career advising: An academic advisor’s guide. San Francisco, CA: Wiley & Sons

Habley, W.R. (1994). Key Concepts in Academic Advising. In Summer Institute on Academic Advising Session Guide.  Available from the National Academic Advising Association, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS.

Kantrowitz, M. (2010). Countercyclicality of college enrollment trends. Retrieved from

Recommended Reading and Resources:

The Path Forward: The future of graduate education in the United States

Self-Directed Search

The Riley Guide

Fuller, B. E., Holland, J. L., & Johnston, J. A. (1999). The relation of profile elevation in the Self-Directed Search to personality variables. Journal of Career Assessment, 7(2), 111-123.

Super, D. E. (1980). A Life-span, life-space approach to career development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 16, 282-298.