Career Maturity and Ethnically Diverse High School Students

Brenda Jones, C. Sophia Dominguez, and Beth Durodoye

An explanation of the career development and adolescent literature will inevitably lead back to one of the most popular topics in this area -- career maturity. Career maturity speaks to how one goes about making age-appropriate career choices that are realistic and withstand the test of time (Patton & Creed, 2001). Numerous demographic factors have been examined in relation to this concept, including the variable of ethnicity. This paper will provide helpful ideas for school counselors as they work to guide ethnically diverse students through their career decision making processes.


Students, regardless of background, demonstrate similarities in choosing their career paths. These similarities include the need for assistance in fostering personalized career development through engagement in age appropriate self-exploration activities related to career decidedness, or in connecting course selections to their career and educational plans. These common career choice issues require that counselors first assist all students, preferably starting in the 9th grade, to be aware of what counseling is and is not. Helping all students to understand that career planning is a process and not a single event is also beneficial.

At the same time, it is important that counselors be aware that career choice concerns have been more pronounced for many ethnic minority students (i.e., Latino Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans). For example, some ethnic minorities, in comparison to their White counterparts, need more help in selecting, changing, or preparing for a career (The Gallup Organization, 1999). One explanation for this finding is that traditionally, ethnic minorities have had more difficulty with issues of access and opportunity tempered by divergent educational, social and cultural, political, economic, financial, and other factors.

At times, assumptions are made by educators that students' career maturity increases automatically as they advance from one grade level to another (Powell & Luzzo, 1998). Additionally, because of their personal and environmental circumstances, some ethnically diverse students believe that they have little to no control over their career futures. Powell and Luzzo offer a proactive approach that will assist counselors in counteracting these assumptions and beliefs. They suggest counselors provide ethnically diverse students with a variety of career development opportunities that will alter their attribution for career decision making, with an ultimate goal of fostering personal control, responsibility, and career maturity. Clearly, it is important that counselors not only consider career choice issues for the general student body, but retain a focus toward issues that specifically impact ethically diverse student populations.

School Counselor Recommendations for Work with Ethnic Minority Students

When working with ethnic minority students, career maturity considerations may mean that counselors attend to:

  • An examination of their own cultural values, beliefs, and behaviors with a focus on how these areas may impact the counseling relationship;
  • Understanding how "isms" (e.g. racism, classism, etc.), and within and between group cultural diversity impacts some groups and how these issues can adversely affect the career development of some students;
  • Exposing students to occupational areas that they might not have considered possible;
  • Assisting students to deal with possible feelings and expressions of cultural identity conflicts while in the process of making career decisions;
  • Assisting students to deal with possible feelings of alienation with aspects of their school culture; and
  • Utilizing theoretical frameworks and assessment instruments that are culturally appropriate for students.

Counselor Advocacy

In addition to individual work with diverse students, school counselor interactions with broader systems are also important. Advocating on behalf of students with their families, communities, and job sites provides richer student access to available opportunities. Moreover, in making these connections, the counselor can serve as a role model for students to learn how to advocate for themselves as they continue to negotiate their own career paths beyond the secondary setting. Ideas for counselors serving as advocates in this area include:

  • Being aware of the environmentally imposed restrictions that affect acquisition of world of work experiences for ethnic minority students;
  • Assisting students to identify barriers and strengths to career success with regard to their families, peers, schools, communities, and the larger society;
  • Participating in collaborative and consultative efforts with teachers as a source of guidance for students;
  • Involving parents and community, when possible, in career-related pursuits;
  • Providing mentoring, job shadowing, and internship opportunities by building partnerships with community elders and leaders; and
  • Securing strong support from school district personnel, principals, teachers, and parents to implement a comprehensive career program.

Final Thoughts

Career decision making for high school students involves an exposure to and an exploration of careers, access to career resources and preparation programs, and guidance in career choice and goal setting. From a traditional standpoint however, issues of access and opportunity have made it more difficult for ethnic minority students to be fully involved in the career decision making process. As such, it is important that school counselors consider and implement informed strategies that are active, directive, and systemic in nature to best help diverse students to successfully negotiate their career choices.


Patton, W., & Creed, P. A. (2001). Developmental issues in career maturity and career decision status. The Career Development Quarterly, 49, 336-351.

Powell, D. F., & Luzzo, D. A. (1998). Evaluating factors associated with the career maturity of high school students. The Career Development Quarterly, 47, 145-158.

The Gallup Organization (1999). National survey of working America. Princeton, NJ: Author.

Brenda Jones, MA, CSC, NCC, LPC-Intern, (brenda.jones@utsa.edu) acquired over 30 years of educational experience with over 20 years in high school counseling and guidance. She retired after serving as the head counselor at Northside Independent School District's Sandra Day O'Connor High School in San Antonio, Texas, and is currently a doctoral student in the Counselor Education and Supervision Program, at The University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research interests center around adolescent issues in counseling, education, and career planning, especially as they relate to minority student populations.

C. Sophia Dominguez, MA, MS, LPC-Intern (http://www.cdominguez34@mail.accd.edu/ email: fke454@my.utsa.edu) is a part-time counselor at San Antonio College, Department of Program & Services for Women & Non-traditional Students. She is a doctoral candidate in the Counselor Education and Supervision Program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her area of emphasis is college and career counseling with specific interests in ethnic minority adult re-entry students and homeless populations.

Beth Durodoye, Ed.D., NCC, (beth.durodoye@utsa.edu) is a Professor of Counselor Education and Supervision at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she also serves in an administrative capacity as a Provost Faculty Fellow. Her specialization is multicultural counseling with particular interests in cross-cultural advocacy and ethnic minority populations.

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