Intervention Implications for School Counselors from a SCCT Perspective

By Mei Tang

To effectively help students plan and implement post-secondary career options, school counselors need to understand what factors influence high school students' career choices.   This paper will summarize a recent research about factors influencing high school students' career choices using SCCT and implications for school counselors will also be highlighted.

Social cognitive career theory (SCCT)

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994), postulated that one's background (or contextual factors) and individual characteristics would influence one's learning experiences and consequently self-efficacy.  The theory emphasizes the interactive influence of contextual factors and cognitive person variables on individual career development (Lent & Brown, 2002).  Career self-efficacy has been evidenced as an important factor to gender differences in career choices (Zeldin & Pajare, 2000) and minority career development (Flores & O'Briens, 2002). 

Understanding career aspiration of students using SCCT

Tang, Pan and Newmeyer (2008) investigated whether SCCT was a plausible theoretical approach to understand the career aspiration of high school students and whether gender had moderating effect on SCCT model.  The main results from the study supported the usefulness of SCCT in understanding the career choice behaviors.  The interrelationships among learning experiences, career self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and career interests were evident in influencing career choice of high school students.  The specific findings are as follows:

  • The study revealed the gender differences on career aspiration and decision making process. Female students reported significantly higher internal outcome expectations, lower self-efficacy and interest on the occupations involving Data/Things dimension, and higher self-efficacy, interest, and career choice on the People/Ideas dimension.
  • Learning experiences have greater influence on the development of career self-efficacy for female students than for male students. Furthermore, female students' career choices are more strongly moderated by outcome expectations than by interests.
  • Career self-efficacy is a strong predictor of and mediator between learning experiences and expectation for career choices in the People/Ideas area.
  • For male high school students, the following interesting findings are worthy of note:
  • Male students avoid People/Ideas types of occupations even though they have interests in those areas.
  • Like females, male students need strong self-efficacy to pursue nontraditional (for males) occupations.
  • There is an indication that male students' career-related learning experiences do not facilitate development of confidence in Social and Artistic occupations.  

Implications of Findings for School Counselors

  • School counselors need to help students understand their individual characteristics (e.g. gender, self-efficacy, interests, and outcome expectations), contextual factors (e.g. socioeconomic backgrounds, family and school experiences), and the assets and barriers in each category.
  • At the school wide level, a systematic and comprehensive school counseling program with a career development component well aligned with the career domains as suggested in the professional standards should be implemented. School counselors should collaborate with community agencies and parents to provide a variety of learning experiences that would provide students direct observation and/or practical experiences of different occupations.
  • At the classroom level, working with teachers in designing a curriculum that helps students apply subject content areas to career options in order to provide meaningful learning experiences to develop self-efficacy for students in pursuit of their aspirations.
  • On an individual level, a school counselor can identify the students who need more intensive intervention to overcome barriers that prohibit them from pursuing their desired careers. The identification of resources and barriers can be done through analysis of students' individual perceptions of what constitutes barriers or resources for them. After identification of the potential barriers, the next step is to help students examine their personal assets, family resources, and any supportive factors from their school, church or community that can help them overcome the barriers they perceive.

            In summary, understanding the factors that influence high school students' career choices is the first step; more importantly, it is necessary to develop a comprehensive and systematic career development program that involves all the shareholders and provide meaningful learning experiences for students to understand the world of work and themselves better. 



Flores, L. & O'Brien (2002). Using structural equation modeling to advance theory regarding the career orientation of Mexican adolescent women. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 49, 14-27.  

Lent, R W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance [Monograph]. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45, 79-122.

Lent, R. W., & Brown, S. D. (2002). Social cognitive career theory and adult career development. In S. G. Niles (3rd ed.), Adult career development: Concepts, issues and practices, (pp. 76-97). Columbus, OH: National Career Development Association.

Tang, M., Pan, W., & Newmeyer, M. (2008).  An explorative study to examine career aspiration of high school students. Professional School Counseling, 11, 285-295.

Zeldin, A. L., & Pajares, F. (2000). Against the odds: Self-efficacy beliefs of women in mathematical, scientific, and technical careers. American Educational Research Journal, 37, 215-246. 

Mei Tang Mei Tang is an Associate Professor, Coordinator of Counseling Program, University of Cincinnati, Ohio. To contact Dr. Tang: mei.tang@uc.edu

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