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Exemplary Career Guidance Programs: Investing in the Future

The role of school counselors in the transition of students from school to work and lifelong learning cannot be overlooked. They may serve as the crucial link between students and their chances for rewarding careers. This chapter describes the highlights of the nationally recognized career guidance programs that are very successful in assisting students in their career development. A background of the search process and a synthesis of the program components are provided.


In the fall of 1995, NCRVE's Office of Student Services' (OSS) national search for exemplary career guidance and counseling programs culminated with the announcement that nine programs were selected for recognition. These programs exemplify school efforts in implementing well-integrated, comprehensive career guidance programs designed to assist all students in transitioning from school to work and/or further education. The identified programs should serve as models for others working to develop or enhance their career guidance programs.

All applications for the 1995 search were reviewed by a panel of recognized professionals in the field using strict research-based criteria that focused on three clusters of components: (1) career guidance and counseling program plan; (2) collaboration, articulation, and communication efforts; and (3) institutional support, leadership, and program evaluation. Reviewers recommended nine programs for site visits. All nine programs were determined to possess a majority of the attributes of exemplary career guidance and counseling programs.

Program Components

The various elements of the nine programs were compared to the three clusters of components described in the framework for identifying exemplary career guidance and counseling programs developed by Maddy-Bernstein and Cunanan in 1994. (See Exemplary Career Guidance Programs: What Should They Look Like? for a complete description.) Each program demonstrates strengths in many of the components that research shows successful programs possess. The following is a summary of program highlights under each major component cluster.

  1. Career Guidance and Counseling Program Plan

    At the heart of all nine programs is the goal of helping students make informed educational and career choices and carry out plans by providing them with the necessary knowledge and skills. While these career guidance programs have been very effective in meeting the career developmental needs of students, they continue to stress the importance of continually improving their programs. Each program also addresses the three broad competency areas involved in the career development process: (1) self-knowledge and self-awareness, (2) educational and occupational exploration, and (3) decisionmaking and career planning. The following are some of the best practices found in the recognized programs.

    1. Students Undergo Intensive Career Exploration and Planning

      • Use a career advisement system with every faculty and staff member advising a group of students during all of their secondary program.
      • Set up a career development center that consists of the state career information delivery system and other resources that counselors can use in serving a diverse group of students.
      • Use a wide range of career materials and assessment of instruments
      • Offer organized guidance courses and programs in the secondary and postsecondary levels.
      • Adapt the National Career Development Guidelines in designing and implementing a guidance curriculum.
      • Conduct individual planning and group career counseling
      • Guide students in developing their individualized career plans and career planning portfolios.
      • Conduct workshops for students on self-awareness, assertiveness, problem solving, conflict resolution, communication skills, careers, parenting, and managing relationships. Collaborate with others in planning other inservice activities.
      • Hold highly organized and interactive job fairs and career nights.
      • Invite graduates to be ambassadors, mentors, nontraditional models, members of advisory committees, or resource persons for the program.

      The following is a sampling of career materials and assessment instructions used by the programs*:

      • ACT's Career Planning Program- provides students with accurate, comprehensive information about their abilities and interests and helps them explore and identify career paths.
      • DISCOVER by ACT- is a computer-assisted career assessment.
      • COPSytem- incorporates three assessments which provide a coordinated system for career exploration and decisionmaking. The COPS assessment measures interests, the CAPS assessment measure abilities, and the COPES assessment measures values.
      • Career Assessment Inventory- measures vocational interests.
      • Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator- allows students to explore who they are and the importance this plays in making a good decision.
      • System for Assessment and Group Evaluation (SAGE)- measures interests, aptitudes, and abilities as well as learning styles and worker traits.
      • Strong Interest Inventory- provides a student the opportunity to explore occupations for which they have given little or no thought to before, simply because they have not been exposed th them.
      • True Colors- a personality assessment that helps students to develop awareness of their own personality, that of others, and how to successfully interact with different personality types.
      • SIGI Plus- includes a self-assessment section which allows students to choose the main interest fields they want to use at work.
      • Career Values Card Sort- an exercise in clarifying values.
      • Occupational Interests Card Sort- an exercise in rating career likes and dislikes.

      *Refer to the following references for a complete list and discussion of assessment instruments:

      Freeman, B.(1996). The use and perceived effectiveness of career assessment tools: A survey of high school counselors. Journal of Career Development, 22(3), 185-196.

      Kapes, J.t., Mastie, M.M., & Whitfield, E.A. (Eds.). (1994). A counselor's guide to career assessment instruments (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: The National Career Development Association.

    2. Serve All Students

      • Counseling program is available to diverse groups of students.
        • Members of special populations
        • Students from different racial/ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds
        • Students enrolled in vocational-technical programs as well as students in all other programs
        • Those at-risk of failing or dropping out of school
      • Implement programs that address the needs of all students.
        • English as a Second Language (ESL) programs
        • Nontraditional programs
        • Summer vocational programs for youth
        • Programs for displaced homemakers/single parents/single pregnant teens
        • Computer literacy programs
        • Workplace readiness skills programs

    3. Maintain Strong Program Support System

      • Human Resources- Mentors, advisors, tutors, volunteers, translators, interpreters, aides, and peer mediators
      • Programs and Services- Parent-Teacher Association groups, summer programs, JTPA, alumni associatons, day care services, and business education partners
      • Instructional, Career, and Educational Resources- computer-related resources, audiovisual equipment (e.g., television, VCR, overhead projector, videos, slides), media centers, libraries, and interview clothes

  2. Collaboration, Articulation, and Communication

    These exemplary career guidance programs have forged strong partnerships with parents, businesses, community organizations, teachers, and other school personnel. Teamwork is key to the effective implementation of an integrated, comprehensive career guidance program. Everyone involved in the program is committed to assisting every student succeed in school and, ultimately, in life.

    1. Family/Parental Involvement and Support

      • Strong school and family partnership is key to program success in secondary schools.
      • Parents are involved in various facets of the student's life.
        Parents can participate in the following activities:
        • career planning
        • educational planning
        • advisory committees
        • financial aid workshops
        • parent-teacher conferences
        • guidance and counseling sessions

    2. Faculty/Staff Involvement

      • Faculty are partners in the career development program; they include career information in the curriculum and conduct career development activities. Some schools have teachers serve as career advisors to a group of students.
      • Faculty and counseling staff participate in inservice activities that focus on improving students' careers and education.
      • During IEP meetings, teachers collaborate with school counselors and parents to fully meet the special needs of students.
      • Vocational and academic teachers work together with counselors during student orientation, career advisory meetings, curriculum development, career assessment, information exchange meetings and other counseling activities.
      • Faculty refer students to counseling staff for individual counseling.
      • Faculty and counselors collaborate to provide job placement assistance.

    3. Intra- and Interagency Collaboration

      • Career guidance and counseling programs maintain several collaborative campus efforts with other units and programs (e.g., Planning, Research and Evaluation, Curriculum, School Improvement, Bilinqual, and Special Education).
        • Assesment of students' abilities, aptitudes, learning styles, needs, and interests
        • Development of integrated curriculum
        • Appropriate scheduling/placement of students
        • Promotion of career guidance counseling program areas and courses
        • Program assessment
      • Career guidance and counseling staff work with external agencies in preparing students from school to work and/or postsecondary education

        Programs collaborate with the following agencies and organizations:

        • Vocational rehabilitation centers
        • JTPA offices
        • YMCA, YWCA
        • State Occupational Information Coordinating Committee
        • Educational Service Centers
        • Tech Prep programs
        • Higher educational institutions
        • Chambers of Commerce
        • Civic organizations

    4. Collaboration with Business

      • Counselors conduct on-site visits of business and industry to keep abreast of the changes in the workplace and needs for personnel.
      • Career guidance and counseling personnel establish cooperative agreements with businesses (e.g., utility companies, hospitals, and banks, construction companies) to enable students to become familiar with the work environments.

  3. Institutional Support, Leadership, and Program Evaluation

    The third group of components is typical of any good program. The success of the identified exemplary programs in meeting the career development needs of their students can be attributed to strong administrative leadership and support, financial backing, ongoing program evaluation, qualified personnel, organized professional development activities, and follow-up of program graduates and noncompletors. There is a total commitment to assisting every student to succeed.

    1. Institutional Support

      Administrative support and leadership for each program is demonstrated in several ways and different areas. For one, counselors have administrators who listen and are receptive to ideas for growth and improvement. Administrators are committed to responding to the needs of counseling staff by hiring needed and qualified personnel, providing space and facilities for counselors and students, conducting ongoing staff development programs, and providing financial support.

    2. Facilities

      A wide range of resources are available to counselor and students, including career resource centers, libraries, private counseling offices, computers, audiovisual equipment, and assessment and career-related materials. Students, teachers, counselors, and parents are encouraged to take advantage of these resources.

    3. Financail Support

      Adequate funding is available for instructional materials, equipment, travel, and continuing education of counseling personnel. Funding sources include state and federal funding, local school districts, private agencies, and other grants.

    4. Guidance Personnel Qualifications

      The professionals that make career guidance programs work are qualified and credentialed individuals. Most of them have graduate degrees. In some situations, related background and work experience, as well as educational qualifications, are taken into consideration when staffing.

    5. Professional Development

      To strengthen the various components of the exemplary career guidance and counseling programs, staff development activities are planned. The counseling staff attend workshops and seminars to improve their skills in career counseling, group and individual counseling, curriculum development, and assessment. The counselors also conduct inservice activities for other school personnel on topics such as sexual harassment, personality assessment, leadership styles, gender equity, and other career-related issues that are all aimed at improving students' success.

    6. Program Evaluation

      Counseling staff consider program evaluation as a crucial component in improving services for their students. Yearly and periodic assessment of programs is conducted not only as a gauge for meeting set goals, but more importantly for program improvement.

    7. Follow-Up of Program Completors and Noncompletors

      The concern of counseling staff for their students does not end after graduation. Follow-up of graduates, as well as early leavers, is crucial in assisting students in becoming successful in their careers and life. Counselors of the identified exemplary programs continue to devise a more effective means of doing follow-up.

      Young people need to have a hopeful vision of the future and an idea about how to get from where they are now to where they would like to be.

      Hamilton & Hamilton, 1994, p.2

    Yes--the nine exemplary career guidance programs have taken up this challenge. They are investing in the future.


Maddy-Bernstein, C., & Cunanan, E.S. (1995). Exemplary career guidance programs: What should they look like? (MDS-855). Berkeley: National Center for Research in Vocational Education, University of California at Berkeley.

Hamilton, S.F., & Hamilton, M.A. (1994). Opening career paths for youth: What can be done? Who can do it? Whashington, DC: Cornell University Youth and Work Program,l American Youth Policy, and Jobs for the Future.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education. (1992). Here is what we must do at school to get our students ready for work: Blueprint for a school-to-work system. Whashington, DC: Author.

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