Students in K-12 settings need exposure to career exploratory opportunities and school counselors are in a key position to provide such options, specifically in relation to postsecondary choices and future careers. Super (1953) describes vocational development as involving a compromise between personal and social factors, self-concept and reality, and newly learned and existing patterns of responses. According to Super, the closer the chosen occupation is to self-concept the more meaningful the choice will be to the person. Middle school students are growing, developing their self-concept, attitudes and beliefs, and beginning to find ways to apply these to the world of work. Toward the end of middle school, students are starting to ponder postsecondary options. School counselors can support students and their parents in understanding the opportunities available, specifically regarding career and postsecondary decisions, and how the choices made in high school affect these future decisions (McFadden & Curry, 2018). Studies (Curry, Belser, & Binns, 2013; Scheel & Gonzalez, 2007) have shown that career counseling in schools is a progression from elementary to high school:
Students begin to develop career awareness in elementary school, explore careers during middle school, and move into career preparation and planning in high school. Career counseling connects the experiences students have in school to their future, which enhances academic motivation and provides meaning to and purpose for the work they are doing in school. (Sanders, Welfare, & Culver, 2017, p. 238)
The Texas Model
In Texas, eighth grade students are creating a four-year Personal Graduation Plan (PGP) for high school including possible course selections. Decisions about high school course selection have a ripple effect on a student’s future, so it is important for them to understand the long-term ramification. Guiding students on course selection is appropriate career counseling for school counselors at the intermediate level and an appropriate time for middle school students to start thinking of preferences and interests (McCotter & Cohen, 2013). By aligning high school course selections with career choices, students are more motivated to set goals and make plans to achieve them. Intentional career planning provides students with motivation to make a connection between doing well in school and planning for the future (Kenny, Blustein, Richard, Jackson, & Perry, 2006).
In Texas, students must select an endorsement for their high school plan prior to entering Grade 9 (TAC §74.13), allowing them to pursue their interests and customize their high school plan. Endorsements consist of a related series of courses that are grouped together by interest or skill set (Texas Education Agency, 2019). Students choose one of five endorsements:
In one particular Texas middle school, all 8th grade students took the O*Net Interest Profiler (National Center for O*NET Development, n.d.). The school counselors asked students to print a copy of their O*NET Interest Profiler Score Report, tying directly into Holland’s six personality types (1959), and attach it to their PGP.
Students also entered results into a Google Form, used to establish speakers for a campus career day. The school counselors matched the O*NET categories with endorsements. When matching up categories with endorsements, the school counselors also considered some of the high school courses that might correlate with a particular endorsement. For example, Holland's personality type named Realistic states that people with “Realistic” interests enjoy wood, tools, and machinery. Since most of the construction, autobody, and autotech classes fit in that category, these were matched up with Business and Industry. Examples of how the O*NET categories matched the high school endorsements for this particular school include:
Students can be informed on how their O*NET category aligns with their high school endorsement, and then how that endorsement fits a career. Within each endorsement area are career clusters. For example, students selecting a Public Service endorsement can choose to pursue one of the following career clusters: Education and Training; Government and Public Administration; Human Services; Health Science; or Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security. Students then choose a career within the career cluster related to their endorsement and build a career pathway. Perhaps a student wanting to become a teacher could take the necessary high school courses, complete an associate degree, work as a teacher assistant, take another two years completing a bachelor's degree and finishing teacher certification, culminating in becoming a teacher (Texas OnCourse, 2019).
Interventions with Impact for Middle School Students
When elementary schools provide a good foundation for careers, secondary schools may assist in successfully exploring and planning potential careers for students (Trusty, Niles, & Carney, 2005). Collaboration between parents, students, and teachers is important in planning potential careers and setting goals (Trusty, et al., 2006). Providing middle school students with the opportunity to set goals through career planning and exploration could motivate them to reach their goals (Lapan, 2004).
School counselors can support this career planning and exploration through classroom and parent workshops that focus on college, the admissions process, and career exploration to facilitate determination of college majors and qualifications that will enable them to pursue future careers (Paolini, 2019) and other postsecondary options that match their interests.
In the COVID-19 world, where job loss and unemployment is becoming the norm, it is imperative that counselors expose students and their parents to resources that maximize career exploration opportunities. Learning about industry and occupations early on, and using online resources to research what training is required beyond high school will give students an advantage for positioning themselves for successful career entry. School counselors are in the ideal position to educate students and parents on the avenues to various postsecondary opportunities and careers that align with student interests.
Brant-Rajahn, S. (2018). Middle school college and career readiness in the digital age. ASCA School Counselor, 56(01), 10-14.
Curry, J. R., Belser, C. T. & Binns, I. C. (2013). Integrating post secondary college and career options in the middle level curriculum. Middle School Journal, 44(3), 26-32. DOI: 10.1080/00940771.2013.11461852
Holland, J. L. (1959). A theory of vocational choice. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 6, 35-45.
Kenny, M. E., Blustein, D. L., Haase, R. F., Jackson, J., & Perry, J. C. (2006). Setting the stage: Career development and the student engagement process. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(2), 227-279.
Lapan, R. T. (2004). Career development across the K-16 years: Bridging the present to satisfying and successful futures. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
McCotter, S., & Cohen, S. (2013). Are middle school counseling programs meeting early adolescent needs? A survey of principals and counselors. Journal of Counselor Supervision and Preparation, 5(1), 6-27.
McFadden, A., & Curry, J. R. (2018). State leaders’ and school counselors’ roles in elementary and middle school career development: Research findings and promising practices. Connecting Education & Careers, 93(3), 46-49.
National Center for O*NET Development. (n.d.). O*NET OnLine. Retrieved March 12, 2020, from https://www.onetonline.org/
Paolini, A. C. (2019). School counselors promoting college and career readiness for high school students. Journal of School Counseling, 17(2), 1-21.
Sanders, C., Welfare, L. E, & Culver, S. (2017). Career counseling in middle schools: A study of school counselor self-efficacy. The Professional Counselor. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1165684.pdf
Scheel, M. J., & Gonzalez, J. (2007). An investigation of a model of academic motivation for school counseling. Professional School Counseling, 11, 49–56.
Super, D. E. (1953). Career patterns as a basis for vocational counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 1, 12-20.
Texas Administrative Code. (2019). §74.13 Endorsements. Retrieved from http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter074/ch074b.html
Texas Education Agency. (2019). Texas Education Agency graduation toolkit. Retrieved from https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/Graduation_Toolkit_Summer2019.pdf
Texas OnCourse. (2019). Connecting career clusters pathways and endorsements. Retrieved from https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/5256511/PDFs/ConnectingCareerClustersPathwaysandEndorsements_TexasOnCourse_July2019.pdf
Trusty, J., Niles, S., & Carney, J. V. (2005). Education-career planning and middle school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 9(2), 136-143.
Lesley Casarez is an Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Angelo State University, where she has coordinated the school counseling programs since 2014 and has served as the Director of the Quality Enhancement Plan since 2019. She has held numerous positions in local and state counseling associations. She can be reached at Lesley.Casarez@angelo.edu
Rachel Gandar is a high school counselor at Lake View High School in San Angelo Independent School District in San Angelo, Texas. She has worked as a school counselor at all levels, and will serve as president of the local counseling association during the next academic year. She can be reached at Rachel.Gandar@saisd.org
Michael O'Briant is a middle school counselor at Lee Middle School in San Angelo Independent School District in San Angelo, Texas. He has over 35 years in education and has served in numerous positions in the local and state counseling associations, including serving on the taskforce for the Texas Evaluation Model for Professional School Counselors, 3rd ed. (TEMPSC-III). He can be reached at Michael.Oemail@example.com