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Rural Students Look Beyond Counselors for Career Guidance

Rural students, especially those from low-income communities, don't have the same access to career counseling as their peers in more urban schools. They also face the challenge of a changing job market as positions in industries formerly common in their communities disappear.

Those are among the reasons three researchers decided to explore where rural students are going for information to make career and life decisions, and what differences exist between students in upper and lower grades and students of different genders and ethnic backgrounds.

An 11-page article in the spring 2011 Journal of Counseling & Development, "Where Do Rural High School Students Go to Find Information About Their Futures?" explores those issues. The journal is the quarterly product of the American Counseling Association.

The study's authors, Dana Griffin, Bryan C. Hutchins, and Judith L. Meece, used a national sample of more than 8,000 rural students ages 14 to 18 from geographically and socioeconomically diverse towns. A majority of those surveyed hoped to attend or complete a two- or four-year stint in a post-secondary institution, and a majority also hoped for jobs that required a college or post-graduate degree.

The study was done as part of a larger study on the educational and occupational aspirations of rural high school students.

The researchers found the most widely-used sources for students in rural schools were parents, friends, teachers, and school counselors, and students in upper grades were more likely to seek out information than their younger classmates. Older students relied more on high school counselors and college representatives for information, and researchers pointed out that students in lower grades may be making academic decisions using information they receive from friends, family or teachers.

"This finding points to the need for a more comprehensive approach to providing career information to rural high school students. The fact that friends are important resources for students indicates the need for college and career information to be disseminated early and consistently to the entire student population," according to the study.

Female students were more likely than male students to use multiple sources. Black and Hispanic students were less likely to go to a wide variety of sources, but they were more likely to solicit teachers' input. Hispanic students were the least likely of any racial group to seek out information from any source. Low-income, rural students were more likely to go to teachers for information, likely because counselors in those schools have responsibilities that extend beyond guidance, so counselors need to work more closely with teachers, according to the study.

The article offered three implications for school counselors based on their findings:
• Students use a variety of sources for career information, so it's important for the information they receive to be accurate and to be available in various forms.
• Because students are going to school counselors, teachers, parents, peers, coaches, and religious leaders for information, there needs to be more collaboration with those individuals.
• High schools need to be intentional in their efforts to provide Hispanic students with the information they need to prepare them for higher education or jobs.

The study suggested some areas for potential research follow-up, such as exploring the relationship between students' educational and occupational expectations and their goals, identifying what students found helpful in the information they received, and looking further at Hispanic and black students because those groups either did not use sources of career information or find them helpful.

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