When it comes to convincing students that they are not qualified to achieve the career of their dreams, telling them that they lack the skills or the grades to realise their goals does not suffice, reveals a study.
The research has shown that people keep clinging to their dreams until they are clearly shown not only why they are not qualified, but also what bad things can happen if they pursue their goals and fail.
"Most people don't give up easily on the dreams. They have to be given a graphic picture of what failure will look like if they don't make it," said Patrick Carroll, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University at Lima.
The findings are especially relevant as students prepare for an uncertain job market, and they, along with their teachers and guidance counsellors, try to find the best career choices for them.
"Educators are trying to lead students to the most realistic career options. You want to encourage students to pursue their dreams, but you don't want to give them false hope about their abilities and talents. It's a fine line," said Carroll.
"This research is important to understanding how students make revisions in their career goals and decide which career possibilities should be abandoned as unrealistic given their current qualifications. They can then zero in on more realistic possible selves that they actually are qualified to achieve," he added.
The research included two similar studies involving separate groups of 64 and 70 upperclass business and psychology students at Ohio State.
The students signed up to meet with a career advisor to learn about a supposedly new master's degree programme in business psychology that would train them for "high-paying consulting positions as business psychologists."
The goal was to get the students interested in the fictitious programme, and see how they reacted when faced with varying levels of threat to their new dreams of becoming a business psychologist.
All the students filled out information sheets, which included their current grade point averages, and they were then separated into four groups.
Students in the control group were given an information sheet indicating no GPA requirement for the programme, while the other three groups were given sheets indicating the GPA requirement was .10 above whatever they had listed as their own GPA.
These three groups were then threatened to varying degrees as to what will happen if they do get admission because of a lenient committee and do not get jobs after completing the strenuous programme.
Carroll said that anxiety played the key role for getting these students to drop their interest in becoming business psychologists.
This led them to lower expectations about getting in to the programme, and finally lower anxiety when tested later as they dropped their dream and accepted the fact that they would not become business psychologists.
Carroll said that he sees the relevance of this research nearly every day, as students seek his input about career plans or the possibility of graduate school.
He said that sometimes these students have not gotten good enough grades or shown the work ethic they would need to succeed at higher levels.
Still, Carroll said that he does not often use what he knows to bring these students back to reality.
"I'm very cautious about using what I know with students. You're dealing with people's dreams and hopes, and with that awareness comes great responsibility," he said.
The study has been published in the journal Social Cognition.
In India where most students are pushed into popular fields like engineering or medicine or computer science, do you think such counselling is required, where not just students but their parents are educated on the benefits of opting for careers more suited to individual strengths?
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