I often look up the most recent articles on college statistics, and it seems that most of them – especially the articles about costs and graduation rates – still show that we are going in the wrong direction.  When I look at how the college decision process works for most students, I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised.

Too many students take the Alice in Wonderland approach to making these decisions, with a lot of counselors taking on the role of the Cheshire Cat.  In case you don’t remember the scene,  Alice comes to a fork in the road, looks up, and asks the Cheshire Cat (sitting in the tree) which road she should take.  The cat asks Alice, “Where do you want to go?”  Alice replies, “I don’t know.”  So the cat responds, “Then it doesn’t matter which road you take.”

“Which road should I take?”

I see a lot of students who spend a disproportionate amount of time in their decision process focusing on where they will go to college, and minimal amounts of time thinking about what they will do when they get out.

They go through the rigor of applying to 4 – 8 colleges, wait on the acceptance letters, then make their final choices based on a variety of disconnected criteria, like: where their friends are going to school, where their parents are pushing them to attend, or how far away from home do they want to go.

Many guidance counselors (who may be the most over-burdened and over-stretched of any of the high school administrators) focus on helping students get into their first or second choice of college, as evidenced by some of them posting this information on the school’s web site. They don’t have the time or tools to effectively guide or redirect, they just answer the question as it was posed.

Independent counselors and college web sites aren’t much help in this area either.  While some may suggest an assessment instrument or a questionnaire to help students figure out the direction they want to go, precious few of the tools they recommend are reliable or valid tools to use for this purpose.

Garbage IN = Garbage OUT (GIGO)

I spent over 20 years in the IT and Consulting industries before starting to work with students and professionals who are in career transition.  One of the oldest phrases in the IT industry is GIGO.   If you start out by with bad data, you’ll end up with bad data.  If students don’t spend any time thinking about their future career before they go off to college, you can bet they will spend a lot of time thinking about once they get there.

The generation going off to college now is sometimes called the ‘gameboy’ generation.  Not only were they raised on electronic games, many of them have incorporated the ‘game reset’ mentality into their decision-making process.  That means when things go poorly or get hard, they choose to start the game over rather than finish it with a poor score.  So we shouldn’t be surprised when they go off to college, change their major several times, and then take 5 – 6 years to graduate (if they are lucky).  Even at a state school, these kinds of changes will cost whoever is footing the bill for college an extra $20 – 40,000 for this additional time on campus!

There are better ways to go about making these decisions, and certainly there are better tools to help students making these life-changing decisions.  PeopleRight Careers has a unique combination of experience working with businesses to benchmark their top performers, and working with students to show them how they can leverage this information into making better career choices that are based on their individual strengths.

A recent survey in the September 2010 Human Resource Executive magazine of over 800 workers age 26 showed that the average number of jobs they had held was seven.  So students are going off to school with little direction, changing their minds frequently while in school, and then continuing to change directions once they get out.  What’s good about this scenario?