Mary D. Hill and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report # 7-93


This study was done in cooperation with the Orientation Office,

University of Maryland, College Park.


Computer time for this research was furnished by The Computer

Science Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.







Mary D. Hill and William E. Sedlacek


Research Report # 7-93




A sample of 2574 entering freshmen were administered the University New Student Census (UNSC) at summer orientation to assess attitudes and interests in areas related to their counseling interests. The results of the UNSC can be used to prepare programs and staff to meet the needs of these new students on campus.


Educational and vocational concerns were highlighted by 53% of the freshmen, who indicated an interest in seeking counseling in this area. A plurality (42$) were attending college for the primary purpose of getting a better job or preparing for graduate school. Females were more interested than males in receiving counseling for educational/vocational concerns, and they also expected to have a more difficult time adjusting academically. However, males were just as likely to be interested in improving their learning skills even though they reported having less difficulty concentrating than females did.


In spite of the fact that female students expected no more difficulty adjusting socially than males did, they were more likely to be interested in counseling regarding emotional/social concerns. A correlation was found between those students interested in counseling for educational/vocational counseling and those interested in counseling for emotional/social concerns.


Males indicated greater interest than females in pursuing counseling for problems with alcohol; this contrasts with a previously reported trend. There was a correlation between student interest in counseling for problems with alcohol and interest in counseling for emotional/social concerns.


Other important considerations in planning for the delivery of adequate counseling services to new freshmen are the need for different types of counseling based on goal directedness, gender differences with respect to areas of counseling interest, and the availability of a strong support person.


This research indicated what some freshman interests in counseling are. It also showed that males and females differ significantly in some of their counseling concerns and needs. Correlations between areas of counseling interest suggest the value of examining more than just the presenting problem in counseling situations. Recent studies suggest the use of a variety of counseling formats and styles for meeting the needs of students seeking assistance. Being prepared for the effective delivery of services to incoming freshmen calls for an awareness and understanding of these issues.



Freshman Counseling Interests


Colleges and universities must plan for the delivery of necessary counseling services to incoming freshmen each year. Knowing what the needs and expectations of these new students are is one key to discovering what kind of counseling services are likely to benefit the students.


Career selection concerns and academic issues are problems for some new students on college campuses (Beard, Elmore, & Lange, 1982). Boyer and Sedlacek (1984) reported that college students consider career issues to be of central importance and are more interested in career counseling than in other types of counseling. In fact, educational and vocational concerns are the most common problems faced by college students (Carney, Savitz, Weiskott, 1979; Snyder, Hill, & Derksen, 1972). Interpersonal problems and family issues are faced by students as well (Archer & Lamnin, 1986).


Freshman students have also indicated an interest in receiving counseling for drug concerns (Kohatsu & Sedlacek; 1990). Even though drug use in general was on the decline except for alcohol, beer, and tobacco consumption, students agreed they would seek counseling at the university counseling center. There were no significant differences between males and females with respect to the rates of drug usage or the reasons for using drugs in the 1990 study. The most common reasons for use of drugs were to get high or feel good and to relieve tension or anxiety.




Students reported their reasons for drinking beer were to get drunk or to shut things out. In an earlier study (Carter & Sedlacek, 1989), beer and hard liquor were the substances with the highest percentage of regular use with students' most common reasons for indulging being to get high or feel good, to be more sociable, and to relieve tension or anxiety. In that year, students also agreed they would attend the university counseling center for drug counseling. Female students were significantly more likely than male students to support drug counseling programs and to attend a drug education program. In providing services to incoming freshmen, colleges and universities might consider separate programs for males and females because of these differences.


Different forms of counseling may be appropriate for students with varying degrees of goal instability. Using the Goal Instability Scale (Robbins & Patton, 1985), designed to assess an individual's ability to create and commit oneself to longer term goals or objectives, researchers found evidence suggesting that high goal-directed subjects benefited from relationships with individuals with whom they could share activities more so than did low goal-directed individuals (Robbins, Lese, and Herrick, 1993). During times of stress, low goal-directed individuals benefited from relationships in which they could discuss their problems whereas high goal-directed subjects did not benefit as much from these kinds of relationships. Elliott and Gramling (1990) found that depression




increased in highly assertive individuals when they received high nurturing support. Individuals with low goal-directedness may be unable to recognize and make use of social support (Riley & Eckenrode, 1986). Bobbins, Lese, and Herrick (1993) concluded that low goal-directed individuals may need interventions such as those incorporating the use of strong role models and active guidance in their adjustment to college. High goal-directed individuals may therefore be more interested in counseling situations which make use of group activities, and low goal directed individuals may benefit more from one-to-one or small group relationships in which they could discuss problems and receive nurturing support.


Similarly, one of the items reported by Tracey and Sedlacek (1984) to be a reliable indicator of college success (measured by GPA and continued enrollment) is the preference for long-term goals over short term ones. This is one of the noncognitive variables they studied which significantly improves the predictive ability of SAT scores and high school grades in determining success in college for all students. Two other relevant noncognitive variables in their study were availability of a strong support person and realistic self-appraisal. Smith, Walter, and Hoey (1992) in their pilot study of freshman support programs concluded that students inaccurately perceive their skills, overestimate their likelihood of success, and resist avenues of assistance. They suggested academic support programs for students who do not appear to be at risk following testing



and evaluation during a student orientation period.


Research has shown that college freshmen view the counselor's role as informational (King & Matteson, 1959). However, Boyer and Sedlacek (1987) found no significant differences among incoming students' expectations of counseling for educational/vocational, emotional/social, and counseling with an unspecified content. Their explanation of this finding is the lack of previous counseling experience of most freshmen and the resulting absence of having given much thought to the different kinds of counseling services available. Abler and Sedlacek (1987) did find that females prefer female counselors for help with emotional/social concerns.

Nelson's (1993) review of current studies on gender differences between counselor and clients pointed to the need for further research into which types of counselor-client pairs are of greatest benefit to clients. She cited multiple predictors in addition to gender pairings as possible determinants of process and outcome in counseling situations.


Recent trends with their effects on higher education and society warrant another look at freshman interests in counseling. Changing male and female roles, unemployment and the job market, credentialing requirements and stringent academic standards, economic pressures and college expenses, continuing increases in the divorce and remarriage rate, the availability and popularity of alcohol and drugs, and attitudes toward mental health services contribute to the climate of stress in which entering freshmen

5 must deal with their adjustment to college life. Freshman interests in counseling may have changed. The following study explored those interests.




During summer orientation, entering freshmen (N=2574) at a large eastern university were administered a questionnaire (the University New Student Census; UNSC) assessing attitudes and interests on a wide range of topics including counseling. The sample consisted of 1289 females and 1285 males. The racial/ethnic composition of the sample was 8$ African American, 70$ White (not of Hispanic origin), 17$ Asian or Pacific Islander, 3% Hispanic or Latin American, and less than 1% American Indian or Alaskan Native.


Questionnaires were administered by trained graduate and undergraduate students. Before the measures were distributed, the administrators told the students that the purpose was to gather information to better plan programs and services to students. All responses were to remain confidential; individual questionnaires were only coded by student ID number. It took approximately twenty minutes for students to fill out the UNSC.





Data were analyzed descriptively using percentages; and Chi Square, and multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) by gender at the .05 level were used to evaluate the results.




The results are reported in three areas of interest; educational/vocational concerns, emotional/social concerns, and drug concerns.


Educational/Vocational Concerns


Several questions on the UNSC relate to educational and vocational concerns. The largest group of freshmen (23%) said their primary reason for attending college was to get a better job. Another 19% reported preparing for graduate school as their motivation for seeking a baccalaureate degree. The highest degree expected by 43% of the class is a masters degree, with another 15$ of the freshmen reporting the doctorate level as their goal. Medical degrees were the choice of 11$ of the freshmen. Only 20$ said they were not going beyond the bachelor's degree level. Intrinsic interest in the field, high anticipated earnings, and well respected or prestigious occupation were the major factors in making a long-term career choice for 54% of the incoming class of freshmen. Another 15% have not yet made a career choice. When asked whether they would




be interested in seeking counseling regarding educational/vocational concerns, 53% agreed or strongly agreed. Females were significantly more inclined to be interested in educational/vocational counseling than males were, but they were not significantly more likely than males to desire information about choosing a major. Females also reported expecting to have a hard time adjusting to the academic work of college significantly more than males did although 42% of the incoming freshman class targeted adjusting academically as a problem area. A number of students who indicated that they had a hard time concentrating also expected to experience difficulty adjusting to the academic work of college (r = .34; a = .05). Another interesting finding is that even though females reported difficulties concentrating more than males did, males were just as likely as females to be interested in improving their learning skills. The results of the MANOVA are presented in Table 1.


Insert Table 1 about here


Emotional/Social Concerns


The majority of freshmen (62%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement "I expect to have a hard time adjusting to the social life in college." Although female students did not differ significantly from males in their expectations of experiencing difficulty adjusting to the social life of college, they were significantly more interested in



counseling regarding emotional/social concerns. Also, a significant correlation (r = .20; a = .05) was found between those freshmen interested in seeking counseling for emotional/social concerns (8$) and those interested in counseling for educational/vocational plans (53%). Females reported significantly more family interest in their classroom experiences than did males.


Drug Concerns


Males also differed significantly from females with respect to their interest in seeking counseling for problems with alcohol with twice as many males as females indicating greater interest in pursuing this type of counseling. A correlation (r = .42; a = .05) existed between students expressing an interest in seeking counseling for problems with alcohol and students who were also interested in seeking counseling for emotional/social concerns.




University life poses problems, pressures, and stress for students. Under this stress, a significant number of students experience difficulties which affect their academic performance and personal effectiveness. Additional numbers of students experience developmental problems in adjusting to college life and adulthood. Defining identity, relating to others, and identifying career and educational goals are a few of the major tasks of this period. A number of students are also in need of





assistance with their learning skills, including study and writing skills. Yet, how many incoming freshmen are aware of their potential counseling needs?


It is always difficult to get freshmen to seek counseling before problems develop. Unrealistic self appraisal has been suggested as one of the factors leading to this difficulty (Tracey & Sedlacek, 1984; Smith, Walter, & Hoey, 1992) in addition to lack of previous counseling experience (Boyer & Sedlacek, 1987). In spite of these explanations, colleges and universities must plan programs and prepare staff in advance for dealing with problems which students are likely to encounter.


This study attempted to examine recent freshman counseling interests in three areas, educational/vocational concerns, emotional/social concerns, and drug concerns. Since it may be helpful to approach males and females separately based on their differing needs, this study also looked at areas of significant difference between genders.


Overwhelmingly, career and educational concerns are foremost for freshmen. Choosing a major, deciding on a career, getting the requisite education for that career, and overcoming obstacles to studying efficiently are the most salient issues for these new students. Receiving information about choosing a major and improving learning skills were areas of equal interest to both males and females in this study, but females were significantly more interested in receiving counseling regarding educational/­vocational plans. This may reflect a greater willingness of



females to pursue more options with respect to career and education, since there is a lack of information on the part of females about the world of work and career and fewer role models for women in many career areas of interest to them. There are also less favorable conditions for acquiring career information for female students due to subtle forms of discrimination in business and industry (e.g. glass ceilings). Women's willingness to pursue educational/vocational counseling is consistent with the more relational style which many women use in their approaches to problem solving.


Lacking long term career goals may indicate a need for more supportive and nurturing programs for females. One to one counseling or small group experiences aimed at discussing problems within the context of a therapeutic relationship might better serve the needs for female students whereas male students may benefit more from larger group work with some emphasis on sharing activities. Females may also need more direct guidance and strong role modeling in their exploration of career and educational goals. Participation with clients in goal-setting activities in general as well as in the career exploration area within the counseling sessions may be more helpful for female students.


Since males are more likely than females to lack supportive interest from a family member, they may benefit from some assistance in establishing such a relationship with someone at home or in developing more supportive relationships with



appropriate mentors on campus. Counseling relationships providing this kind of support and interest in the student's actual classroom experience might fill the need for a number of male freshmen and prevent a drop in GPA as predicted by Tracey and Sedlacek (1984).


Greater interest by females in counseling for emotional/social concerns in spite of no significant difference between reported expectations for adjustment to the social life of college by males and females may indicate a more realistic self-appraisal on the part of female students or a more open attitude of females to counseling in this area. Perhaps interest in counseling for emotional/social concerns may be related more to developmental, personality, or family matters than to social adjustment to life on campus. The correlation between interest in counseling for emotional/social concerns and educational/vocational counseling is interesting in light of the general knowledge that the presenting problem in counseling may be the student's entree to explore other counseling concerns. Awareness of this phenomenon continues to be important in planning counseling services, and it seems to be supported by this study.


Since male students indicated greater interest in seeking counseling for problems with alcohol, separate approaches for males and females might be beneficial in this counseling area. Greater interest in alcohol counseling on the part of males in this study is a departure from the trend noted earlier in the




Carter & Sedlacek study (1989) which reported more support by female students for drug counseling and drug education programs. Awareness of fluctuations in interest over time can serve to enlighten and prepare counseling personnel for meeting current needs. Emotional/social counseling as a component of alcohol counseling is also indicated based on the correlation existing between interest in the two kinds of counseling. Because of the known tendency for denial of alcohol problems, it is possible that there is more of a need for alcohol counseling than the figures would indicate. This tendency should be considered in planning counseling programs for the freshman class.


Counseling Center personnel on college and university campuses can probably expect to plan on serving incoming freshman in the areas of career and vocational concerns, social emotional concerns, and alcohol concerns. The types of counseling styles and formats needed will include one to one counseling, small groups, and larger groups; and will vary according to presenting concern, amount of goal directedness, and gender. Separate programs for males and females may be required for vocational and alcohol counseling. It is likely that career and educational concerns will be foremost for students and that some students presenting themselves for career and educational counseling will be able to benefit from and counseling in other areas as well.







Abler, R. M., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1987). Stability in university student help source preferences by gender

over a 10-year period. College Student Affairs Journal, 8 (1), 40-45.


Archer, J., & Lamnin, A. (1986). An investigation of personal and academic stressors on college campuses.

Journal of College Student Personnel, 27, 210-214.


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.


Boyer, S-P., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1984). A profile of incoming freshmen at the University of Maryland, College

Park, 1984. Counseling Center Research Report #14-84. University of Maryland, College Park.


Beard, S. S., Elmore, R. T., & Lange, S. (1982). Assessment of student needs: Areas of stress in the campus

environment. Journal of College Student Personnel, 23, 348-350.


Carney, C. G., Savitz, C. J., & Weiskott, G. H. (1979). Students' evaluations of a university counseling

center and their intentions to use its programs. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 27, 242-249.


Carter, R. T., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1989). Sex differences in student attitudes and behavior toward drugs over

a decade. College Student Affairs Journal, 9, (1), 27-34.



Elliott, T. R., & Gramling, S. E. (1990). Personal assertiveness and the effects of social support among

college students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 37, 427-436.


King, P. T., & Matteson, R. W. (1959). Student perceptions of counseling center services. Personnel and

Guidance Journal, 37, 358-364.


Kohatsu, E. R., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1990). Freshman attitudes and behavior toward drugs: A comparison by year

and gender. Journal of the Freshman Year Experience, 2 (1), 17-34.


Nelson, M. L. (1993). A current perspective on gender differences: Implications for research in counseling.

Journal of Counseling Psychology, 40, 200-209.


Riley, D., & Eckenrode, J. (1986). Social ties: subgroup differences in costs and benefits. Journal of

Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 770-778.


Robbins, S. B., Lese, K. P., and Herrick, S. M. (1993). Interactions between goal instability and social

support on college freshman adjustment. Journal of Counseling and Development, 71, 343-348.


Robbins, S., & Patton, M. (1985). Self-psychology and career development: Construction of the Superiority and

Goal Instability Scales. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 32, 221-231.



Smith, J. B., Walter, T. L., & Hoey, G. (1992). Support programs and student self-efficacy: Do first-year

students know when they need help? Journal of The Freshman Year Experience, 4, 41-67.


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.


Tracey, T. J., & Sedlacek, W. E., (1984). Noncognitive variables in predicting academic success by race.

Measurement and Evaluation in Guidance, 16, 171-178.



Table 1: Attitudes and Expectations of Freshmen at Orientation











1. Overall, I would say that having a declared major is better than having an undecided major.






2. I am interested in seeking counseling for problems with alcohol.






3. I am interested in improving my learning skills.






4. At least on person in my family will be interested in knowing about what happened in my classes.






5. I expect to have a hard time adjusting to the academic work of college.






6. I am interested in seeking counseling regarding emotional/social concerns.






7. I expect to have a hard time adjusting to the social life in college.






8. I sometimes have difficulty concentrating.






9. I would like to receive more information about choosing a major.






10. I am interested in seeking counseling regarding my educational-vocational plans.







* Items significantly different at the .05 level using MANOVA.


Note.    1 = Strongly Agree, 5 = Strongly Disagree