I’m Terrified to Go to the Career Counselor!

This is a post about emotional and affective accessibility on college campuses and their career centers. My growing concern is that students are going to college and taking all of these general education classes, switching majors all the time, and then dropping out before they get their degree. Then they have debt and are lacking a degree that would allow for them to earn more as they age.

At what point do students determine that college is a sunk cost? At what point is it a sunk cost?

This is the teeter-totter of education of first-generation college students whose families may be pressuring them to stay in, but may also be equally pressuring them to drop out. Let alone friends or siblings who didn’t go to college; or friends who didn’t finish.

A central aspect of human development is the ability to make mistakes and learn from them – but this can be very costly in the case of college. Discernment – humility and uncovering – is more important than willing one’s way forward, but maybe we can combine the two in service of first generation college students?

Students also need to be advised about what the earning potential is of their majors. I remember I always hated when people asked me what I was going to do with my degrees in the humanities, but it is an important conversation to have. A lot of students think that they can become a professor, but most PhD’s in the humanities are adjunct positions – 30/hour, including grading was the last adjunct position I had.

Students of color have a whole other set of questions that face them: what if the counselor is white, will they understand the barriers to entry even if they haven’t experienced them? Will they know how to coach me? How will they build rapport?

While it would be easy to answer all these questions top down in this post, research actually shows that authenticity in these difficult kinds of conversations is more important than canned responses. Being comfortable in your racial identity is crucial. For that, regardless of your racial background, I highly recommend The Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism & Engage in Collective Healing.

A worksheet about things to avoid might be helpful when interacting with students from diverse backgrounds. Have your diversity, equity and inclusion folks figure out how to enter into that vulnerable college student headspace. There are the timeless things like not assuming people speak Spanish if they are Latin American (maybe they only speak English because they were raised in the States). But other taboo questions and comments change frequently. Educate yourself.

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