This study examined career indecision, negative career thoughts, and vocational interest structure of first-generation and other college students. First-generation college students (FGCS) are those students whose parents or guardians did not attend college. Research has shown that these individuals are less academically prepared for college, have more difficulty acclimating to the college environment (Choy, 2001), and are more at risk for not completing a degree, with higher attrition rates than other students (Ishitani, 2006). Career and personal motivation can predict college adjustment and persistence for FGCS (Dennis et al., 2005); therefore, career problem solving and decision making is an important task for these individuals.
The process of career decision making of college students has been a popular area of research, including career indecision, negative career thoughts, and Holland’s structure of career interests. Being undecided affects individuals’ career decision-making abilities and may influence their thinking about the career decision-making process (Saunders et al., 2000). Negative career thoughts have been correlated with anxiety (Newman et al., 1989), depression (Saunders, Sampson, Peterson, & Reardon, 2000), and self-worth (Judge & Locke, 1993). Screening for negative career thoughts and being able to address these cognitions with clients may lead to better well-being and success in college.
John Holland (1997) has written about a set of primary and secondary constructs that allow career professionals to assess an individual’s readiness for making a career decision (Reardon & Lenz, 1999) and supply counselors with additional tools for working with clients. In university student populations, low differentiation may impair one’s ability to choose a field of interest (Holland, Gottfredson, & Nafziger, 1975), high coherence may improve prediction of future occupation (Holland, Gottfredson, & Baker, 1990), and high consistency may lead to higher rates of college persistence (Wiley & Magoon, 1982).
The U.S. Census Bureau (2000) reported that, in 1999, those with a high school diploma received an average salary of $27,351, individuals with some college received an average salary of $31,988, and workers with college degrees made an average salary of $42,877. Therefore, FGCS are more likely to earn less in their lifetime because of their lower graduation rates. Post-graduation, these differences disappear. First-generation and other college graduates have similar employment rates and appear to make comparable salaries after receiving a bachelor’s degree (Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998). With the increase in numbers of first-generation college students entering universities (Hudson, Kienzl, & Diehl, 2007), research on the career processes of these students is warranted.
The following research questions were identified for this study: (1) What differences exist between first-generation college students and other students enrolled in a career planning course in terms of career indecision, negative career thoughts, and structure of vocational interests? (2) Does first-generation college student status contribute to career indecision, negative career thoughts, and structure of vocational interests among college students enrolled in a career planning course? (3) What is the relationship between first-generation college student status and career decision state?
To answer these questions, data were analyzed from 243 undergraduate students enrolled in a career planning course. Participants completed the Occupational Alternatives Question to measure career indecision, the Career Thoughts Inventory to assess for negative career thoughts, and the Self-Directed Search to determine vocational interest structure. A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was utilized to test the first research question, with no significant differences emerging between first-generation college students and other students. To examine the second research question, a hierarchical multiple regression was performed to determine the unique contribution of first-generation college student status in explaining variance in each dependent variable. This regression resulted in first-generation college student status accounting for no significant variance on any dependent variables. To test the third question, a MANOVA was conducted with two levels of independent variables (first-generation and other) and two dependent variables (OAQ and Satisfaction with Choice). This analysis also resulted in no significant differences between the two groups.
A discussion of the findings, limitations of the study, and implications for research are presented. Recommendations for future research are many, as the results of this exploratory study are limited in their scope of generalizability and there is a wealth of additional research that can be conducted in order to further the knowledge of this specific population of college students.