Doug Meyn, M.Ed., Career Consultant to the Muma College of Business, and Jean Keelan, M.S. NCC, Director of Career Planning, from University of South Florida presented findings from a study on how visiting the career center affected student anxiety levels, as well as tools that can be utilized to help alleviate anxiety in students. This re-cap is by Jen Harlan, Career & Internship Advisor at Kennesaw State University, email@example.com.
Doug Meyn kicked off the presentation into this important topic with an anecdote about a student situation that those of us in the advising field are likely familiar with: a student came in to his office anxious about his future. The student told Mr. Meyn that he wanted to become a doctor, but he was anxious about taking the MCAT. From there, he started to spiral – not only was he anxious about taking the MCAT, he was anxious about how he’d do on the MCAT, then he was worried about if he’d even like being a doctor, and so on. He wasn’t certain about his choices, and, as Mr. Meyn puts it, he was “stuck in neutral” and unsure about what to do next.
Stories like these are familiar for a reason. The Spring 2016 American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment found that 17% of student respondents had been treated for anxiety, 14% for depression, and almost 11% for both conditions in the last year. This same study found that over 25% of respondents reported “career-related issues” as traumatic or difficult to handle.
To help put the student back in gear and to speak to his analytical leanings, Mr. Meyn came up with a formula: a + i = a3, or if we are anxious and add inaction then it triples our anxiety. Additionally, he came up with a solution: a + (kpA) = a/2, or if we take anxiety, add knowledge, power, and action, then we cut our anxiety in half. While this interaction eventually led to the study undertaken, the formulas Mr. Meyn created paint a decent picture of what we try to do as advisors; we try to fill in the essential variables of the equation, i.e. knowledge, power, and action, so as to cut a student’s anxiety in half.
The University of South Florida study corroborated this sentiment. Undergrad first-time users of career services seeking assistance with any topic were surveyed through pre-appointment and post-appointment questionnaires. The six questions included in each of these surveys were essentially identical, utilized the Speilberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and were chosen to get a read on the level of the student’s anxiety prior to and after the appointment. Additionally, students were asked to rank resources by most effective to least effective by level of helpfulness for them individually.
Based on the results, 69% fewer students identified with “anxious”-related statements–such as “I am tense,” “I feel upset,” “I am worried”— after their appointment. There was an additional significant decrease in the number of students who did not identify with “at peace”-related statements—such as “I feel calm,” “I am relaxed,” “I feel content” — between their pre- and post- appointment questionnaire. Eighteen percent more students identified with “at peace”-related statements after their appointment. Perhaps most striking, 87% of respondents reported “increased confidence” after their appointment at the USF career center. Students ranked the following as some of the most helpful resources gained from their meeting:
- Gained information about the job search
- Learned about resources available to help me
- Identified a plan to develop career direction
- Learned new tools I can apply
Mr. Meyn offered several key takeaways from this research, such as developing a plan with students who are anxious, identifying their needs and concerns, utilizing next step concept and messaging, and recommending beneficial resources.
Jean Keelan, in the second half of the presentation, offered further strategies for decreasing anxiety in students when dealing specifically with major selection, based on a presentation she completed for a group of students at USF. Ms. Keelan utilized five areas for structuring this presentation: statistics about major selection, the Systems Theory Framework of Career Development, an activity to measure self- and workplace knowledge, information about decision making and personality types, and, finally, next steps for students in the presentation.
The statistics utilized offered a “you’re not alone” approach; for example, from the National Center for Education Statistics, Ms. Keelan shared that about 80% of students in the U.S. end up changing their major at least once. The Systems Theory Framework of Career Development approach further added the role which chance plays in an individual’s career path. Ms. Keelan led the student’s through the activity of filling out a knowledge wheel, essentially ranking considerations in their major selection process, such as experiences, personality, chance, abilities, etc., from those the student is most knowledgeable of and least. Finally, students were led through considering how their own personality type could impact the decision-making process when selecting a major.
By providing all of this information, Ms. Keelan was able to set the students up to take the next step in their own individual major selection decision-making process. Her presentation provided a different message for different types of students represented in the room, and allowed them all to gain some sort of lead toward continuing in their decision-making process.
These two studies offer important practices in working with students who are anxious about big decisions coming up. Taking note of the best practices and recommendations based on these studies can provide professionals in the advising field a better platform and a larger tool belt for working with students in this situation.
A copy of the presentation can be accessed under the SoACE Membership portal.