When considering issues of student mental health and well-being, it is easy for a college or university career center to assume that those are primarily the domain of the counseling or health center. When a campus grapples with cultivating a positive culture that minimizes unhealthy stress and competition, it is easy for a career center to leave that challenge to the dean of students office or academic affairs leadership. But an environment in which students flourish is the responsibility of all, including career services.
A Climate of Stress on College Campuses
The Spring 2017 National College Health Assessment found that 87% of 63,497 students responding “felt overwhelmed by all [they] had to do” in the prior twelve months. Nearly 61% felt “overwhelming anxiety.” Fifty-seven percent experienced “more than average” or “tremendous” stress, with 28% finding a career-related issue “traumatic or very difficult to handle.”
In a study at SUNY Buffalo (O’Donnell, 2017), 49% of students indicated they endured stress over deciding on a major or career path. Students face increasing pressure to choose a lucrative major, achieve a high GPA, and land a great job (or graduate school acceptance, or fellowship) for a strong return on investment of their tuition dollars and to begin making a dent in loans.
A Call to Action for Career Services
If we in career services view ourselves as an essential part of a “community of care,” we stand to join in making a powerful difference in the flourishing of our students. We must examine the role we might inadvertently be playing in contributing to a stressful culture and identify ways we can help to shift the climate.
Recommendations for Contributing to a Culture of Student Flourishing
While a one-size-fits-all approach to minimizing stress around careers is not effective, and this list is not exhaustive, these recommendations are intended as a springboard for customization in a variety of institutions.
Mission and Message
Inclusion and Integration
Reach and Resources
Training and Touchpoints
Career services professionals already work tirelessly to make differences in students’ lives. However, stress and mental health concerns on college and university campuses are real. We owe it to our students and their families to pause and examine how we can do more to promote a culture of flourishing rather than feeding one of unhealthy stress and competition. Student well-being does not have to be sacrificed for student career success outcomes.
American College Health Association. (2017). National college health assessment reference group report, spring 2017. Retrieved from http://www.acha-ncha.org/reports_ACHA-NCHAIIc.html
O’Donnell, N. (2017). Career counselors: On the front lines of battling student stress. Counseling Today. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2017/03/career-counselors-front-lines-battling-student-stress/
L. Michelle Tullier, PhD, is Executive Director of the Center for Career Discovery and Development at Georgia Tech and is on the faculty of the Georgia Tech Honors Program, where she teaches an undergraduate course in social science perspectives of purposeful work. Her thirty-plus years in career services include regional leadership roles with Right Management and career counseling at New York University and Barnard College. She is the author of nine published books, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Overcoming Procrastination (Alpha/Penguin, 2012). Michelle holds a BA from Wellesley College and the MA and PhD in counseling psychology from UCLA. She can be contacted at email@example.com.