Career Counseling Needs for Youths in Foster Care in the Transition to Higher Education

Career Counseling Needs for Youths in Foster Care in the Transition to Higher Education

Educational and career opportunities have rapidly changed over the years in contemporary times, resulting in the continuous need for informed decision making in education and career choices. While all youths in all schools and residential settings need to be guided to some extent on career and educational choices, access to this kind of guidance is unevenly distributed across the youths in different categories. Young adults and adolescents are at a period in their lives when they are engaged in processes of self-discovery, and in which they continuously develop their individual perspectives on various aspects of life. In particular, perspectives on social lives, career paths, and even educational choices are prevalent at this stage, and failure to put into consideration the evolving educational and work environment can result in wrong career choices. Youths in foster care have no one to directly assist them in making career choices, unlike youths who live with their parents. As such, these youths who are under foster care need career counseling in preparation for transition to higher education more than any other youths.

This paper explores the concept of career counseling for youths in foster care within the context of transitioning to higher education. A literature review approach is used to examine various approaches that have been used to explore the needs of youths with regard to addressing their educational and career concerns. Particularly, the need for career counseling is addressed, with a focus on the gaps between the experiences of youths within the conventional family settings and those within foster settings. Differences between the foster lifestyle and the lifestyle of other youths are used as the basis for determining career counseling needs for foster youths during the transition to higher education.

Literature Review

Graduates’ experiences in the workplace are some of the factors that determine the level of satisfaction with employment. Job experiences are influenced by several factors, and the educational background is reported to be one of the factors of consideration in the selection of employees. A misfit between the work environment and the educational background of employees can result in negative work experiences, including frustration (International Youth Foundation, 2014). As such, there is a need, especially among the youth, to ensure that their educational experiences are aligned to expectations of the workplace. According to a study by Orellana (2018), education is most often considered an imperfect source of knowledge for application to the work environment. Therefore, in addition to the conventional knowledge attained through higher education, various factors influence the transition from one sphere of life to the other. When considering the transition from the educational environment to employment; therefore, other factors can be considered to be influential to employee experiences. However, the level and type of education also have a significant influence on the experiences of employees. Undiyaundeye (2013) reports that youths develop perceptions of their most desired future outcomes, including work environments and career paths. Because of these individual perceptions, the choice of specific educational paths that would influence those career paths is important among youths. Crisana, Pavelea, and Ghimbulut (2015), further add that the preparatory and the practical dimensions of the graduates’ experiences have to be aligned. These studies confirm the need for informed decision making in the preparatory stage, which is during higher education transition, to foster effective alignment with the future practical dimension.

As youths grow, it becomes hard for them to choose career choices. According to a study by Powers (2018), the complexity of career-choice decision making increases with the increasing age of the youths, and many factors affect career choice at different ages. Besides the link between career and educational choices, youths commonly describe their career choices as a function of several factors, including the experiences they go through in life.  As such, without the intervention of career guidance and counseling, youths in foster care would have different career choices from those of youths who live in normal homes. Moreover, Undiyaundeye (2013) reports that the most influential factor in the career choice of all youths is the level of career guidance and counseling received. Effective handling of the career counseling process helps to affirm youths’ identity and fosters their individual well-being, resulting in future job stability and satisfaction (Balci, 2017). These factors are the premises for the career choice frameworks that have been developed over the years, and which form the basis for career counseling among youths. Orellana (2018), purports that many theoretical models can be used to explain career choices; one of them is the Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT), which asserts that career choice among youths is affected by their outcome expectations and career goals, self-efficacy beliefs, and the interplay between intentions and other factors such as social support, socio-economic statuses of the youths, gender, and ethnicity. Any framework that takes into consideration these factors, therefore, is well-position to offer effective career guidance to youths.

Besides the factors mentioned under the SCCT, various other studies show that intrinsic factors, such as career advancement, job satisfaction, learning experiences, and personality traits. The combination of these intrinsic factors with the extrinsic ones can result in a complex mix that causes challenges in career choice. Accordingly, Orellana (2018), suggests that career counselors ought to consider all these factors and be based on candid one-on-one discussions through which youths share their individual perceptions and are assisted on the path to decision making. Both individual and group counseling activities work for career guidance among youths, and the choice of the best approach to use depends extensively on the individual differences across teams (Balci, 2017). In groups with great diversity, such as those consisting of youths under foster care as well as youths who live with their parents in normal homes, individual counseling may be more effective than group counseling. On the other hand, group counseling mostly suits instances when the youths receiving counseling are of homogenous characteristics. Additionally, Hilling (2017) asserts that for the youths to be effectively guided in their career choices, they need to trust those that are offering counseling services. Accordingly, it may be difficult for youths under foster care, who may not have individuals close to them, to attain the kind of comfort and trust required to be effectively guided in career choice.

Career counseling is an extensive activity that helps to provide individuals and groups of clients with information that enables them to balance their intrinsic motivations, extrinsic factors and the evolution of the work environment to make informed choices during the preparatory stage for career development (Crisana et al., 2015). During career counseling, the professional helps the client to identify issues in work-adjustment, the integration of roles into shaping the future, and the development of perspectives to guide career-related decision making. Orellana (2018), reports that higher education institutions consider the career counseling as an important tool not only for the transition to a positive work environment but also for the transition from lower education levels to higher education. The impacts of career counseling on the transition to higher education is even more pronounced because that particular transition is one of the defining stages in employment preparation. According to ­­­Hilling (2017), concepts such as accountability, performance evaluation, globalization, employability, knowledge economy, and internationalization, are most effectively introduced during career counseling ahead of the transition to higher education. As such, career counseling goes beyond focusing on employability indicators and instead addresses the gaps that exist between the work environment and the school environment.

The application of career counseling should take into consideration various individual factors that result in the aforementioned gap. Akosah-Twumasi et al. (2018) point out the influence of cultural heritage on the career choices of individuals. The cultural environment in which youths live can have a significant influence on their career choices through conflicts with the youths’ personal interests. This aspect is essential in career counseling for youths in foster care that may have been brought up in environments that are distinct from their own cultural backgrounds. Such differences can cause an obvious shift in career choices due to the influences of family expectations. In normal households, parental self-efficacy and confidence may result in increased congruence between the career choice of parents and that of the youths under them (Powers et al., 2018). In individualistic settings, on the other hand, youths are more independent in decision making with regard to career choice. The foster care environment mostly mirrors the individualistic environment. Moreover, multicultural individuals in such environments tend to choose careers based on cultural backgrounds that provided them with the optimum motivations (Cojocariu & Puiu, 2014). Considering all these factors confirms the need for career counseling for youths, particularly in foster care. Understanding this need can help even counselors to guide those youths towards the best career paths.


Career counseling is an important step in the preparatory stage of career development. Individual work experiences depend on a large extent to the level of preparation achieved during the preparatory stage, including the educational experiences. For this reason, understanding the individual desires, motivations, and career goals can help to understand the level of exposure needed during the preparation stage. According to Orellana (2018), higher education does little to contribute to work experiences by virtue of its focus on the academic elements. However, Weiss, Klein, and Grauenhorst (2014) point out that the contributions of actual workplace experiences on job satisfaction are not as significant as the effects of higher education on the long-term wages of employees. Weiss et al. emphasize the importance of a favorable class position in higher education on job stratification and wages. Accordingly, it is essential for youths, in general, to be counseled on the choices they make during the transition to higher education based on their desired career paths. The objective of such counseling would be to help them access a favorable class positioning in preparation for their positions in the workplace.

Research has shown that career choice is a function of many factors, and is mostly influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors. For youths, some of these factors include parental expectations, self-efficacy beliefs, ethnicity, cultural values, and even socioeconomic statuses of their families (Balci, 2017). Furthermore, these factors have an explicit impact on the decision making processes of youths and, without proper guidance, can result in wrong choices. For youths in foster care, particularly, exposure to a variety of cultures, outcome expectations, and the socio-economic status can be quite influential, especially in limiting career choices. Furthermore, there is no exposure to the kind of parental confidence and self-efficacy that may influence career decision making as in other youths. As such, this category of youths needs more specialized career counseling in preparation for the transition to higher education, not only by focusing on the various elements of career choice but also by emphasizing the individual strengths and capabilities. Accordingly, the scope of career counseling that includes reference to the importance of job satisfaction, accountability, employ ability, and even performance evaluation, all find significant relevance to career counseling for youths in foster care.

The consideration of cultural predispositions is another factor that can be of significance in career counseling for youths in foster care. Research has provided evidence that cultural values, particularly differences between collectivist and individualistic societies, can contribute to career decisions significantly. Youths in foster care are consistently under a collectivist environment and are bound to be limited in their career choices by factors such as the conflict between the collective interests and the individual interests of those youths, which are inevitable in a collectivist environment. When providing career counseling to youths, counselors ought to find out, through individual conversations with the affected youths, the differences that have been observed between their desires and the social expectations of the homes in which they reside. In this way, career counseling can help foster care youths to transcend the limits of social expectations, pursue careers that interest them and would build their confidence and self-efficacy, and promote their ability to make higher education choices that would be aligned to their desired career paths.


Career counseling is an important aspect of career development not only at the practical work stage but also at the preparatory stage, which is during the transition to higher education. Youths often make career choices based on various factors, including the perceived level of job satisfaction, employability, and individual interests. However, the community within which the youths live also influences their career choice extensively, through expectations, extrinsic motivations, and cultural values. These differences confirm the importance of different approaches to career counseling among different youth populations. When it comes to foster youths, it has been shown that the social setting and cultural backgrounds, coupled with the absence of direct parental guidance, can result in poor or constrained career choices. A guideline has thus been provided to explain the need for career counseling among youths in foster care.


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