Helm, E., Sedlacek, W. E., & Prieto, D. (1998). Career advising issues for African American entering students. Journal of The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition 10 (2), 77-87.

Career Advising Issues for African American Entering Students
Edward Helm
Louisiana State University
William Sedlacek
University of Maryland, College Park
Dario Prieto

US Public Health Service

Career Advising Issues for African American Entering Students
Edward Helm
William Sedlacek
Dario Prieto


A study of 343 African American first year students at a large eastern university showed their interest in a variety of career issues useful for advisors. For example, students most often reported going to college for job-related reasons and males were more likely to leave college to take a job than females. However, females were less sure of getting a job after graduation. A model of career advising based on noncognitive variables was discussed, including how to make referrals to a career counselor.

As students enter our colleges and universities in the late 20th century their focus is on career issues more than ever before (Hill & Sedlacek, 1995). For example, at one large eastern university 48% of the entering students expressed an interest in discussing career issues with faculty or a career counselor (Quinonez & Sedlacek, 1996). Students were concerned with acquiring job skills, being able to find employment after graduation, attending graduate school for further training and career satisfaction. The university counseling center reported a significant rise in clients seeking career counseling.

African American students often enter their postsecondary institution with different experiences and expectations than other students. For example, African Americans have been shown to have less information on various career options than white students (Hill & Sedlacek, 1995). Additionally, they must learn how to deal with racial/cultural variables in considering career options (Sedlacek, 1994). For example, will they encounter more prejudice in some careers than others? Will they be hired because of their race and then not promoted? There is evidence that career interest measures may be racially biased (Sedlacek & Kim, 1995; Sedlacek, 1994) so the tasks of academic advising for African American students is complex and requires some skills and knowledge of the advisor. The focus here is on the role of the academic advisor since they are often the first contact a student will have on career issues. Academic advisors discussion, would appear to need two things to be successful with African American students on career issues. While these two issues are important for any client, they may take unique forms for African American students as discussed above.

  1. Information on the career needs and interests of African American students.
  2. Skill at deciding when to refer an African American student to a career counselor for further exploration of career issues.

The purpose of this study is to provide data on the first point and to discuss the data in the


The entering freshmen at a large eastern university in 1996 completed a questionnaire on their needs and interests on a variety of topics including career and advising issues. African American students (N = 343) comprised 14% of the entering students (Male = 138, Female = 205). The questionnaire was administered as part of their orientation program which more than 90% of the entering freshmen attended. Items were generated from campus counselors, students and administrators. Test-retest reliability was estimated at .83 based on pilot tests of the instrument. Multiple choice items were analyzed using chi-square and and typically contained 6 total responses. Likert items were analyzed using multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVA) and were 5 point agree-disagree scales. Students were instructed to give one response to all questions.


Table 1 shows the responses of African American students to attitude items by gender. All differences in responses discussed below are significant at the .05 level.

Career Issues

The reason African Americans most often reported for going to college was to get a better job (25%) while 22% chose "to develop myself generally", 14% chose "to gain a general education" and 14% attended college primarily to prepare for graduate school. In a separate item females indicated they were more likely to remain in college so they could attend graduate school than were males (42% v 21%). Long term career goals differed by gender with males more often citing high earnings than females (29% v 17%), while females more often chose making a contribution to society than males (22% v 13%).

When asked about barriers to their career goals females chose personal finances more often than males (39% v 28%) while males more often choose lack of motivation than females (22% v 8%). While there was some interest in career counseling among all African American students there was even more interest expressed by females than males (see Table 1).

Students felt they would still go to college, even if better jobs were available and expected to be able to find a job after graduation, although females were less sure than males.

Academic Issues

Table 1 shows students tended to be about equally sure or unsure about their major. However, they expected their courses to be stimulating and exciting. Students also would seek help with reading and study skills if needed. Students felt they had someone to turn to if they had problems in school. Additionally, they did not expect to have trouble adjusting to academic work, and females expected to have more difficulty with math than males.


The finding that African American students had interest in seeking help with educational/vocational plans has been noted in other help-seeking studies with African American students (Boyer & Sedlacek, 1987; Hill & Sedlacek, 1990; Stabb & Cogdal, 1990; Webster & Fretz, 1978). Hargrove & Sedlacek (in press) found career counseling interests among African American students over a ten year period suggesting that addressing vocational issues within a counseling context should continue to be a primary focus of career and advising services for them. Findings from the present study tend to to confirm those in the other studies in that African American females are more likely to make greater use of counseling services than African American males (Cheatham, Shelton, & Ray, 1987; Hughes, 1987) and African American females have also had more previous counseling experiences (Stabb & Cogdal, 1992). However, Hargrove & Sedlacek (in press) suggested that there may be no differences in career counseling interests between African American men and women. However, if we examine other differences found between African American men and women in the present study, such as the more practical job oriented reasons for African American males to attend college, the lower motivation of African American males makes career advising all the more critical for them.

But what kind of advising/counseling services should be provided? The problems in assessing career or other needs in multicultural groups have been summarized and discussed by several writers.

Prediger (1993) discussed standards recommended by the American Counseling Association and attention to norming, validity and reliability for diverse populations were noted. We do not tend to design assessment instruments for use with different racial/cultural populations. Sedlacek (1994) noted five problems in assessment with diverse populations which were: (1) problems in adequately defining groups, (2) feeling that a single measure could work equally well for all groups, (3) doing research that does not consider differences among groups, (4) working with biased samples and (5) poor multicultural training for assessment specialists.

Stabb and Cogdal (1992) found that African American male college students have been shown to express career concerns, but were also interested in personal/social issues such as assertiveness and self-esteem. Sedlacek (1991) has suggested a model based on noncognitive variables that can be used in academic advising or counseling with African American students as well as other racial/cultural groups. Use of the noncognitive variables allows advisors or counselors to consider ideas such as self concept, handling racism, realistic self appraisal and leadership in working with students (see Table 2). The noncognitive variables can be assessed using the Noncognitive Questionnaire (NCQ) or through interviewing techniques. Additionally, Helms (1992) has developed a model of assessing racial identity which could be used effectively with the noncognitive variables in providing professionals with a broader base in approaching career issues for African American students.

To assess noncognitive variables, an advisor should listen carefully in a kind of scanning posture using Table 3. As a student touches on something that appears relevant, it should be probed. Questions can be phrased more directly if this scanning procedure does not yield enough information, providing rapport is sufficiently established. For instance, the question of how a student finds the interracial environment at the school might be asked directly if the issue has not come up otherwise.

If the advisor feels that insufficient information has been obtained to properly advise the student or that more basic career counseling is needed the student should be referred to a career counselor for future assistance. Sedlacek (1991) suggested that in many cases it may be best to make an initial assessment using noncognitive variables and then refer the student to someone else, even a fellow advisor, since it is difficult for the same person to uncover an issue and then try to resolve it. In making referrals it is recommended that advisors make specific referrals to other services or individuals and follow through to see that contact was made. For example, it would be better to refer the student to a specific person or unit of the career center, rather than to just indicate that the student should go to the center. Additionally, the advisor should request that the student report back on how things went at the career center. Sedlacek (1991) also recommended a number of interviewing principles that an advisor might employ. For example, he recommended the advising session begin with a topic that is secondary but of interest to both student and advisor. In this way rapport can be established before the critical areas are covered. Another principle discussed was to avoid putting the student on the defensive. In the case of resistance by the student particularly resulting from a difference of opinion, one should yield as much as possible.

Another key point raised by Sedlacek (1991) was to give advice sparingly, if at all. If advice is requested, the advisor is encouraged to help the student review the options so that the student can decide on his/her own. Also it was recommended that something definite be achieved in each session. The session should not close until some agreement is reached on progress and next steps to be taken.

African Americans remain overrepresented in some fields and underrepresented in others (Murry & Mosidi, 1993) and it is imperative that as we approach the 21st century that the techniques of advising African Americans on career issues include all our available information. The more knowledgeable our advisors are the more likely we will be able to help and retain our African American students in higher education.


Boyer, S. P., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1987). Counseling expectations: Differences by gender and presenting problem. Counseling Center Research Report #13-87. University of Maryland, College Park.

Cheatham, H. E., Shelton, T. O., & Ray, W. J. (1987). Race, sex, causal attribution, and help- seeking behavior. Special Issue: Blacks in higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 28 (6), 559-568.

Hargrove, B. K., & Sedlacek, W. E. (in press ). Trends in psychological help-seeking attitudes of entering Black university students over a ten-year period. Journal of the National Resource Center for The Freshman Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Helms, J. E. (1992). Why is there no study of cultural equivalence in standardized cognitive ability testing. American Psychologist, 47, 1083-1101.

Hill, M. D., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1995). Freshman counseling interests. Journal of the Freshman Year Experience, 7 (1), 27-37.

Hughes, M. S. (1987). Black studentsí participation in higher education. Special Issue: Blacks in U.S. higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 28 (6), 532-545.

Murry, E., & Mosidi, R. (1993). Career development counseling for African Americans: An appraisal of the obstacles and intervention strategies. Journal of Negro Education, 62 (4), 441- 447.

Prediger, D. J. (1993). Multicultural assessment standards: A compilation for counselors. Alexandria Va: American Counseling Association.

Quinonez, C., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1996). A profile of incoming freshmen at the University of Maryland at College Park, 1995. Counseling Center Research Report #3-96. University of Maryland, College Park.

Sedlacek, W. E. (1991). Using noncognitive variables in advising nontraditional students. National Academic Advising Association Journal, 11 (1), 75-82.

Sedlacek, W. E. (1994). Issues in advancing diversity through assessment. Journal of Counseling and Development, 72, 549-553.

Sedlacek, W. E., & Kim, S. H. (1995). Multicultural assessment. ERIC/CASS Digest series on Assessment in counseling and therapy, EDO-CG-95-92. Greensboro, NC.

Snyder, J. F., Hill, C. E., & Derksen, T. P. (1972). Why some students do not use university counseling facilities. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 19, 263-268.

Stabb, S. D., & Cogdal, P. A. (1992). Black college men in personal counseling: A five year archival investigation. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 7 (1), 73-86.

Webster, D. W., & Fretz, B. R. (1978). Asian American, Black, and White college studentsí preferences for help-giving sources. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 25 (2), 124-130.

Table 1

Means* and Standard Deviations by Gender **for African American Students (N = 343)  on Attitude Items

 							Males(n = 138)	 	Females (n = 205)

Item							Mean	  	SD	Mean	  	 SD 

If I run into problems concerning school,		

I have someone who would listen 			1.88		 .83  	1.85	 	 .93

to me and help me.

I am not sure of my major.				3.65		1.35	3.64		1.42

I do not expect difficulty with math courses.		3.09**		1.23	3.55**		1.26

I do not expect to get a degree from (school name).	4.71		 .83	4.61		 .93

I expect that, for the most part,			2.12		 .80	2.22		 .79

my course will be stimulating and exciting.

I do not anticipate problems getting			3.00		1.06	3.03		1.13

the classes I want.

I will likely end up majoring in a different		3.65		1.10	3.52		1.14

academic field from the one that

now seems appropriate to me.

I do not expect to have trouble				2.45**		1.12	2.78**		1.07

obtaining a job when I graduate.	

I expect to have a hard time adjusting			3.05		 .96	2.94		 .98

to the academic work of college.

I would like to design my own major			3.46		1.14	3.60		1.09

rather than select one already established.

If better jobs were available to high school		3.96		1.20	4.15		1.02

graduates, I would not go to college.


If needed, I would know where to go to seek 		2.51		1.25	2.56		1.25

help at (school name) regarding reading and study skills.

I am interested in seeking counseling 			2.20**		1.00	1.94**		 .98

regarding my career plans.

My high school prepared me well for college.		2.31		1.16	2.51		1.18

I expect to transfer out of (school name) to 		4.04**	 	.95	3.79**		1.15

another school.	

*   1 = Strong agree; 5 = Strongly Disagree

** Differences significant at .05 level using MANOVA	

Table 2

Noncognitive Questionnaire for Diagnosis in Advising Nontraditional Students

  1. Positive Self-concept or Confidence. Strong self-feeling, strength of character. Determination, independence.
  2. Realistic Self-appraisal, especially academic. Ability to recognize and accept any deficiencies and works hard at self-development. Recognizes need to broaden his/her individuality.
  3. Understanding and dealing with Racism. Realist based upon personal experience of racism; committed to fighting to improve existing system; not submissive to existing wrongs, nor hostile to society, nor a "cop-out." Able to handle racist system; asserts school or organization role to fight racism.
  4. Preference for Long-range Goals over Short-term or Immediate Needs. Able to respond to deferred gratification.
  5. Availability of Strong Support Person. Someone available to turn in crises.
  6. Successful Leadership Experience. Evidence of influencing others in any area pertinent to background (gang leader, church, sports, noneducational groups, etc.)
  7. Demonstrated Community Service. Involvement in his or her cultural community.
  8. Knowledge Acquired in a Field. Unusual or culturally related ways of obtaining information and demonstrating knowledge; Field itself may be non-traditional.





1.  POSITIVE SELF-CONCEPT	Feels confident of making it through	Can express reason(s) why he/she

      OR CONFIDENCE		graduation.  Makes positive		might have to leave school.  Not

				statements about him/herself.		sure he/she has ability to make

				Expects to do well in academic		it.  Feels other students are 

				and non-academic areas. Assumes		better than he/she is.  Expects 

				he/she can handle new situations	to get marginal grades.  Feels  

				or challenges.				he/she will have trouble 

									balancing personal and Academic 

									life.  Avoids new challenges or 


2.  REALISTIC SELF-APPRAISAL	Appreciates and accepts rewards		Not sure how evaluations are done

				as well as consequences of poor		in school.  Overreacts to most

				performance. Understands that 		recent reinforcement (positive

				reinforcement is imperfect,		or negative), rather than			

				and does not overreact to		seeing it in a larger context.  

				to positive or negative			Does not know how he/she is doing

				feedback.  Has developed a		in class until grades are out. 			

				system of using feedback to		Does not have a good idea of how 

				alter behavior.				peers would rate his/her


3. UNDERSTANDS AND DEALS	Understands the role of the		Not sure how the "system" works.

    WITH RACISM			"system" in his/her life and		Preoccupied with racism or 		

				how it treats nontraditional 		does not feel racism exists. 

				persons, often unintentionally.		Blames others for problems.  

				Has developed a method of assessing	Reacts with same intensity to 

				the cultural/racial demands of 		large and small issues concerned 

				the system and responding		with race/culture.  Does not have 			

				accordingly; assertively, if the	a method of successfully handling

				gain is worth it, passively if		racism that does not interfere 

				the gain is small or the 		with personal and academic

				situation is ambiguous.  Does 		development.

				not blame others for his/her 

				problems or appear as a

				"Pollyanna" who does not see


4.  PREFERS LONG-RANGE TO	Can set goals and proceed for some	Lack of evidence of setting and	

     SHORT-TERM OR		time without reinforcement.  Shows	accomplishing goals.  Likely to

     IMMEDIATE NEEDS		patience.  Can see partial fulfillment	proceed without clear direction.

				of a longer term goal.  Is future and	Relies on others to determine

				past oriented, and does not just see	outcomes.  Lives in present.

				immediate issues or problems.  Shows	Does not have a "plan" for

				evidence of planning in academic and	approaching a course, school

				non-academic areas.			in general, an activity, etc.  

 				Goals which are stated 

 				are vague and unrealistic.

5.  AVAILABILITY OF STRONG	Has identified and received help,	No evidence of turning to others

      SUPPORT PERSON		support and encouragement from		for help.  No single support 

				one or more specific individuals.	person, mentor, or close advisor

				Does not rely solely on his/her		can be identified.  Does not talk Is                             

				not a "loner."  Willing to		he/she can handle things on

				admit that he/she needs help when	his/her own.  Access to previous

				appropriate.				support person may be reduced or

 									eliminated. Is not aware of the

 									importance of a support person.

6.  SUCCESSFUL LEADERSHIP	Has shown evidence of influencing	No evidence that others turn to

      EXPERIENCE		others in academic or non-academic	him/her for advice or direction.

				areas.  Comfortable providing		Non-assertive.  Does not take

				advice and direction to others.		initiative.  Overly cautious.

				Has served as mediator in disputes	Avoids controversy.  Not well

				or disagreements among colleagues.	known by peers.

 				Comfortable taking action where

				called for.		

7.  DEMONSTRATED COMMUNITY	Identified with a group which is	No involvement in cultural, 

     SERVICE			cultural, racial and/or geographic.	racial or geographical group or

				Has specific and long-term 		community.  Limited activities

				relationships in a community.  Has	of any kind.  Fringe member of

				been active in community activities	group(s).  Engages more in 

				over a period of time.  Has 		solitary rather than group

				accomplished specific goals in a	activities (academic or 

					community setting.				non-academic).

8.  KNOWLEDGE ACQUIRED		Knows about a field or area that	Appears to know little about or

    IN A FIELD  		he/she has formally studied in  	areas he/she has not studied in

				school.  Has a non-traditional		school.  No evidence of learning

				possibly culturally or racially-	from community or non-academic

				biased view of a field.  Has		activities.  Traditional in

				developed innovative ways to		approach to learning.  Has not

				acquire information about a given	received credit-by-examination

				subject or field.			for courses.  Not aware of

									credit-by-examination possibilities.

Note: From Sedlacek (1991)