Communication Strategies: Helping Aimless Students

Find out which tools and resources can help lost students find direction.

By Ashley Henshaw | February 17, 2017

The first step in working with aimless students is to get them in your office.
Photo: Thinkstock

There’s nothing wrong with being aimless as a high school student – after all, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone under the age of 18 to know what they want to do with their lives. However, these students should be searching for direction, and as a college counselor, you’re a great resource to help them find it. These students don’t necessarily lack motivation or skills. Instead, they simply need some guidance. Check out these tips for helping aimless students find a path that is unique to their interests and strengths.

Hands-on experience can be a great opportunity to take interests or talents to the next level.

Make an Appointment

The first step in working with aimless students is to get them in your office. While it’s a simple step, showing your earnest interest in helping them is extremely important. According to a survey among Michigan residents, 25 percent of young adults say they “didn’t get the direction they were seeking” while in high school to achieve job or career goals. As a result, many of these directionless students were more likely to graduate late, drop out or believe that school wasn’t relevant to their lives.

Despite these unfortunate findings, there’s hope for these students yet. The same survey found that students counted counselors, along with parents, siblings and teachers, as the most influential people in their lives. That means that a dedicated, approachable and helpful counselor can go a long way toward getting students motivated. As Maureen T. Hallinan mentions in her review of “The Ambitious Generation: America’s Teenagers, Motivated But Directionless,” “Schools influence students by the value they attach to career planning, college admission, college selectivity and course selection. They send overt and covert messages that communicate values to students, and that affect students’ attitudes toward educational achievement and attainment and occupational opportunity.”

Use Assessment Tools

Because aimless students need extra help discerning a good college match or career path, use assessment tools to create a sense of direction. “Students who lack focus can see great benefit from the assessment tools that help guide their plans. I recommend that every high school student complete an interest and career profile tool,” says Wendy Flynn, a college admissions consultant and founder of MBA Admissions Coach.

Most counselors have access to great aptitude tests, career assessments and other useful tools. In addition, our college admissions-related assessments can prove helpful to students in need of direction:

Develop a Plan

“From the results of various assessment tools and the academic record, counselors can help students develop a timeline of their college admissions process,” says Flynn. “Ideally, this timeline will be developed in the freshman year and refined each year as the student grows and matures.” Creating a strategy for getting a student to college is routine for most counselors. With aimless students, however, it’s important to include activities that will help them add a sense of direction into their personal plan.

Hands-on experience can be a great opportunity to take interests or talents to the next level. Hallinan states in her book review, “Students who obtain internships or other pre-professional training increase their awareness of their talents and are socialized to the responsibilities and challenges of the work world.” Internships, paid jobs or shadowing opportunities in a field where the student shows promise can be a great way to motivate and provide direction for a student.

Of course, in-school opportunities can be just as important. Classes and extracurricular activities give students a chance to try out different things while also developing a solid college resume. Keep in mind that students’ interests and goals may change over time, so it may be necessary to adjust their personal plan or timeline to match these developments.

Keep in mind that students’ interests and goals may change over time, so it may be necessary to adjust their personal plan or timeline.
Photo: Thinkstock

Get Parents Involved

As Hallinan notes in her review, the authors of “The Ambitious Generation: America’s Teenagers, Motivated But Directionless” found in their research that “while many parents have high educational aspirations for their children, fewer provide the kind of guidance that helps students make educational choices leading to future work opportunities.” For this reason, counselors need to provide guidance to parents as well as students.

One way to do this is to encourage parents to introduce students to people and experiences which demonstrate the importance of college and career aspirations. According to Hallinan, “Strong familial ties that support student effort and achievement and strong social and professional ties that channel resources to students help them understand the connection between education and occupational goals.” Parents can use their own experiences along with their relationships with friends and coworkers to demonstrate different paths in life.


As Flynn says, “In the end, every student is a unique and wonderful individual who will benefit from the guidance of experienced professionals who can help guide them through the college search and admissions process.” Counselor involvement is essential to these individuals, so make sure to connect with the aimless students in your school.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

How to Counsel Overwhelmed Students
How to Work With Overly Ambitious Students
Communicating With Unmotivated Students
Top 10 Ways to Utilize Your Guidance Counselor

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