Guiding Students Who Have Changed Paths

UNH student receiving Career advice after changing direction

Students change their post-graduation plans for a multitude of reasons and react to these changes a variety of different ways. As advisors, it becomes challenging to provide guidance when a student appears to be “stuck.” By understanding each student’s circumstances from a holistic standpoint and signifying support through active listening, advisors can guide students through difficult transitions and obstacles.

Why the change?

Once a student has shared a change in their initial path it is important to determine the catalyst and whether the student had control over the change.

Possible Change Triggers:

Academic: Are grades a determining factor? (i.e., a GPA that is not sufficient for graduate school)

Burnout: Current coursework and/or other responsibilities can be causing stress, causing students to no longer want to continue current path or further education (i.e., a student who planned to pursue graduate school, but no desires to take additional courses at the current time).

Financial: The cost to continue one’s education and/or the potential resulting salary range can both be influential factors (i.e., a student is concerned with the prospect of added student loan debt)

Family/Friend Pressure: Family and peers can pressure students to pursue or not pursue specific careers (i.e., a student has parent who convinces the student to change majors or career paths)

Interest Change or Discovery: As students progress through coursework and participate in experiential learning, their interests may evolve. They may discover new passions or realize they don’t have an interest in certain areas and topics (i.e., a student interns at a company and realizes the nature of the work is not for him/her)

Medical: A personal or family health issue can cause a student to re-evaluate or change direction.

Outlier Experience: A student has an experience that may not be a completely accurate representation of a prospective career.

What impact does this change have on the student?

Individuals react differently to changes and to best guide a student through a transition, it is crucial to understand the impact a change has made on the student’s life.

Self-esteem: For some students, a change in their trajectory is seen as a failure. Facing failures can be difficult for both high achieving students and students who have faced frequent adversities. Doubt in one’s abilities can be self-harming, counter-productive, and often a barrier for moving forward.  

Relationships: Some students face opposition from family members and even friends when they decide to change their professional direction. This can put an uncomfortable strain on relationships, especially for students who are receiving financial support from family members.

Academics: In addition to being a possible trigger, changes in academic performance can also result due to a change in a career plan. Students may become disengaged in coursework if they believe it’s pursuit is no longer relevant to their future profession. Additionally, stress, self-esteem, and motivation can also impact a student’s academics.

There May Be External Factors

A student may or may not disclose their personal circumstances in life and there is no expectation for a student to do so. However, students do often share pieces of their personal life with advisors. Keeping an open mind and understanding there may be external factors at work, fosters a welcoming, considerate, and trusting environment. Just because a student does not confide personal circumstances, doesn’t mean there isn’t more below the surface.

Home and Family: Could there be obligations, pressure, stressors, or special circumstances happening in the home of the student?

Health: Could the student, family member, or someone close to the family have a health-related issue?

Finances: Is the student or student’s family struggling to make ends meet? Is the student concerned about their financial future?

Work: Does a student’s employment or need to maintain a steady income hinder their ability to engage in other activities that aid in competitiveness? (i.e., an unpaid internship)

Personal Relationships: Is the student having challenges socially?

How to Help

One of the most important ways to help a student who is faced with a change is to listen and gain a complete understanding of why they are changing paths. Students often come to their advisors seeking reassurance. Although you may agree or disagree with the student’s decision, you can provide guidance by offering an unbiased viewpoint. The most effective conversations are free of judgement, centered around options for moving forward, and direct individuals to appropriate resources and next steps.

Provide Perspective

Encourage the student to step back from a focused view and examining multiple possibilities for next steps. If relevant, share your own personal story of when you’ve had to make a tough decision, faced an obstacle, or found your passion.

Talk it Out

Sometimes students fall in love with a new idea, but haven’t thoroughly evaluated that idea. Ask thoughtful questions which force a student to examine the reality of their proposed change. Student may not understand the steps needed to pursue the new profession or a clear understanding of the field and may require assistance in this area.

Refer to a Career Professional

Career and Professional Success staff members are skilled at providing information and resources to effectively guide students in all aspects of their career development, including changes to their original career paths. We will administer and debrief interest assessments, deliver relevant industry and career resource, and discuss alternatives.