ERIC Identifier: ED321497
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Kerr, Barbara
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
Career Planning for Gifted and Talented Youth. ERIC Digest
Although parents and teachers may be concerned about academic planning for
gifted and talented young people, they often assume that career planning will
take care of itself. Students may have many choices available because of
multiple gifts or a particular talent, and a career choice in that area seems
inevitable. There is no need for career planning: The student is simply expected
to make an occupational decision around the sophomore year of college and then
follow through on the steps necessary to attain that goal.
Unfortunately, evidence is mounting that youthful brilliance in one or more
areas does not always translate into adult satisfaction and accomplishment in
working life. Studies with such diverse groups as National Merit Scholars
(Watley, 1969), Presidential Scholars (Kaufmann, 1981), and graduates of gifted
education programs (Kerr, 1985) have shown that the path from education to
career is not always smooth, and it may be complicated by social-emotional
problems and needs of gifted students that differ from those of more typical
Recognition of these problems has produced counseling models that address
student needs (e.g., Berger, 1989; Buescher, 1987; Silverman, 1989;
VanTassel-Baska, 1990). Some factors that can contribute to problems with career
planning are presented here, along with ways of preventing and intervening with
career development problems.
Multipotentiality is the ability to
select and develop any number of career options because of a wide variety of
interests, aptitudes, and abilities (Frederickson & Rothney, 1972). The
broad range of opportunities available tends to increase the complexity of
decision making and goal setting, and it may actually delay career selection.
Multipotentiality is most commonly a concern of students with moderately high
IQs (120-140), those who are academically talented, and those who have two or
more outstanding but very different abilities such as violin virtuosity and
mathematics precocity. Signs that multipotentiality is a concern include the
Elementary school: Despite excellent performance in many or all school
subjects, students may have difficulty making decisions, particularly when they
are asked to make a choice on topics or projects from among many options.
Multiple hobbies with only brief periods of enthusiasm and difficulty in
finishing up and following through on tasks (even those which are enjoyable) are
additional signs for concern.
Junior high: Despite continued excellence in many or all school subjects,
difficulty with decision making and follow-through continue. Students may
participate in multiple social and recreational activities with no clear
preferences, and they may overschedule, leaving few free periods and little time
to just think.
Senior high: Decision-making problems generalize to academic and career
decisions, resulting in overly packed class schedules and highly diverse
participation in school activities. Students often accept leadership of a wide
variety of groups in school, religious activities, and community organizations.
Adults may notice occasional signs of stress and exhaustion (absences, frequent
or chronic illness, periods of depression or anxiety, etc.), or they may see
evidence of delay or vacillation about college planning and decision making.
Students are able to maintain high grades in most or all courses taken. An
important clue to continuing multipotentiality is the student's vocational
interest test profiles. These tests often show interests and similarities to an
unusually large number of occupations.
College: Multipotential students often have multiple academic majors. Three
or more changes of college major are not unusual for an individual who cannot
set long-term goals. They continue intense participation in extracurricular
activities and have outstanding academic performance but are concerned about
selecting a career. They may make hasty, arbitrary, or
"going-along-with-the-crowd" career choices. They may encounter the dilemma of
opportunities lost in giving up some interests in favor of others.
Adulthood: Some of the implications of multipotentiality can be seen in
bright adults who, despite excellent performance in most jobs, hold multiple
positions in short time periods and experience a general feeling of lack of fit
in most jobs. Some experience feelings of alienation, purposelessness,
depression, and apathy despite high performance and excellent evaluations. Some
experience periods of unemployment and underemployment, or they fall behind
same-age peers in career progress and sometimes social development (marriage,
family, community involvement).
Possible intervention strategies for multipotentiality at different
educational levels include the following:
Provide realistic exposure to the world of work through parent sharing and
exposure to parents' working places.
career fantasies through dress-up and plays.
focusing activities such as class projects or achievement of Scout merit badges,
which require goal setting and follow-through.
biographies of eminent people as primary career education material.
teachers or parents, carefully evaluate skills, talents, and interests in order
to help children understand possible areas of greatest interest.
the meaning and value of work.
family and community values pertaining to work.
for light volunteer work in several areas of interest.
"shadowing" experiences in which students spend the day with an adult working in
an area of greatest interest.
overinvolvement in social and recreational activities for the sake of
involvement; prioritize and decide on a few extracurricular involvements.
appropriate vocational testing from a guidance professional or psychologist.
visits to college and university classes in a few areas of interest.
for more extensive volunteer work.
possibilities of paid internships with professionals.
on a solid curriculum of coursework in order to insure against inadequate
preparation for a later career choice.
value-based guidance, which emphasizes choosing a career that fulfills deeply
conformist, stereotyped career choices.
students to atypical career models.
COLLEGE STUDENTS AND YOUNG ADULTS
career counseling including assessment of interests, needs, and values.
in a career planning class.
careful course selection.
conformist and stereotyped major choices.
in long-term goal setting and planning.
Early emergers (Marshall, 1981) are
children who have extremely focused career interests. A passion for an idea and
an early commitment to a career area are common childhood characteristics of
eminent individuals in a wide variety of professions (Bloom, 1985; Kerr, 1985);
thus, early emergence should not be thought of as a problem of career
development, but rather as an opportunity that may be acted upon, neglected, or,
unfortunately, sometimes destroyed. Acting upon early emergence means noticing
an unusually strong talent or enthusiasm, providing training in skills necessary
to exercise that talent, providing resources, and keeping an open mind about the
future of the talent or interest. Neglecting early emergence means overlooking
the talent or interest or failing to provide education and resources. Destroying
the early emerger's passion may not be easy, but belittling the talent or
interest ("Who cares about someone who doodles and draws all the time instead of
listening?" "What makes you think you can become an anthropologist?") may easily
extinguish the flame. Insisting on well-roundedness or disallowing needed
training (e.g., refusing to allow a mathematically precocious child to
accelerate in math) may diminish the passion. Overly enthusiastic encouragement
and pressure may also remove the intrinsic pleasure the child feels in the
interest or talent area.
As with multipotentiality, there are signs of early emergence:
Elementary school: Avid interest in one school subject or activity with only
general liking for other subjects and activities and extraordinary talent in one
area and average or above average performance in others are underlying signs of
early emergence. (These students may be mistakenly labeled as underachievers).
Students may also try to write more papers than required, choose too many
subjects in the area of interest, and mention early career fantasies about
success and fame in a particular area of interest.
Junior high: Students continue highly focused interests and may express a
strong desire for advanced training in an area of talent and interest.
Development of adolescent social interests may be delayed because of a
commitment to work in a talent area or because of rejection by others, yet
performance in the talent area grows, while performance in other areas
Senior high: Students may develop a strong identity in the talent area (the
"computer whiz," "artist," or "fix-it person," for example). They may express a
desire for help with planning a career in an area of interest. A desire to test
skill in competition with or in concert with peers in the chosen talent area and
continued high performance in the talent area to a degree that causes neglect of
other school subjects or social activities are additional signs of a focused
interest and passion.
College students and young adults: These young people make an early, but not
hasty or arbitrary, choice of career or major. They often show a desire for
completion of a training period in order to "get on with work," seek out
mentors, continue intense focus, and often neglect social and extracurricular
Adulthood: Adults may continue their intense focus, desire eminence or
excellence in the talent area, and possibly forego or delay other aspects of
adult development such as marriage, nurturing of a younger generation, social
and community involvement, and personal development.
Possible intervention strategies for early emergers at different educational
levels include the following:
for early identification of unusual talent or area of precocity.
with experts on the nature and nurture of particular gifts or talents.
with the school on ways of nurturing the talent or gift.
fantasies through reading of biographies and playing of work roles.
opportunities to learn about eminent people in the talent area (attend a
concert; visit an inventor's workshop; attend a math professor's class).
necessary basic skills to the area of interest.
opportunities to socialize with children with similar, intense interests through
such activities as music camps, computer camps, and Junior Great Books.
a careful balance between encouragement and laissez-faire; provide support for
the strong interest along with freedom to change direction. Do not become so
invested in the child's talent or interest that you fail to notice that the
child has changed interests. (Early emergers most often change to a closely
related interest; that is, they switch musical instruments or transfer an
interest in mathematics to an interest in theoretical physics).
support and encouragement during the intensive training that often begins at
for plenty of time alone.
opportunities for job "shadowing" (following a professional throughout the
working day) in area of interest.
opportunities for light volunteer work in area of interest.
pressuring the student into social activities.
support, encouragement, and time alone.
opportunities for internships and work experiences in the areas of interest
(internship on archaeological dig; job as camp counselor at a fine arts camp;
coaching younger people in musical or athletic skill).
career guidance from a guidance counselor who is familiar with the talent area
or from a professional in that field.
a detailed plan of training and education leading toward the chosen career goal,
including financial arrangements.
higher education or postsecondary training early and thoroughly, with contacts
the student establish a relationship with a mentor in the area of interest.
Early emergers often fare better in a less prestigious institution where they
have access to an enthusiastic mentor than in an Ivy League or high status
institution where they do not.
COLLEGE STUDENTS AND YOUNG ADULTS
provide support for extended education and training.
the development of knowledge of career ladders in the area of interest
(auditions, gallery shows, inventor's conventions, etc.).
a continuing relationship with a career counseling or guidance professional for
support in decision making and problem solving.
The career development problems discussed here are nearly opposite one
another: The multipotential student seems unfocused, delaying, and indecisive,
whereas the early emerger is focused, driven, and almost too decisive. Both
types carry with them dangers and opportunities. Skillful career education and
guidance can help ensure that neither multipotentiality nor early emergence
leads to difficulty in career planning and development.
CAREER PLANNING FOR SPECIAL POPULATIONS
Minority gifted students have special career planning needs as well as needs
related to multipotentiality or early emergence. Minority students from Black,
Hispanic, and American Indian backgrounds are less likely to have been selected
for gifted education programs and less likely to perform well on standardized
achievement tests than their nonminority peers. In addition, they may have lower
career aspirations because of lower societal expectations. Nevertheless, the
patterns of leadership and out-of-class accomplishments of gifted minority
students are very similar to those of nonminority gifted students (Kerr,
Colangelo, Maxey, & Christensen, 1989). Minority gifted students are active
leaders in other communities. Therefore, career counseling for these students
may be most effective when it focuses on raising career aspirations and
emphasizes out-of-class accomplishments as indicators of possible career
directions. Career planning must also go hand in hand with building a strong
ethnic identity if later conflict between ethnic identity and achievement in
majority society is to be avoided. Colangelo and LaFrenz (1981) have provided
suggestions for how this can be accomplished.
Gifted Girls and Women:
Persisting sex role stereotypes and the continued socialization of girls for
secondary roles means that, despite great gains in certain fields such as
medicine and law, gifted girls are less likely than gifted boys to achieve their
full potential. Although gifted girls outperform gifted boys in terms of grades,
gifted boys achieve higher scores on college admissions examinations. Compared
to gifted boys, gifted girls are underprepared academically, having taken fewer
mathematics and science courses and less challenging courses in social studies.
As a result, they have fewer options for college majors and career goals (Kerr,
1985). Bright women apparently let go of career aspirations gradually, first
through underpreparation and later through decisions that may put the needs of
husbands and families before their own. Gifted women fall behind gifted men in
salary, status, and promotions throughout their working lives.
In order to ensure that gifted girls have the greatest possible chance to
fulfill their potential, career planning should emphasize rigorous academic
preparation, particularly in mathematics and science; maintaining high career
aspirations; and identifying both internal and external barriers to the
achievement of career goals. Many suggestions for career planning for gifted
girls are provided in SMART GIRLS, GIFTED WOMEN (Kerr, 1985).
Berger, S. (1989). COLLEGE PLANNING FOR GIFTED
STUDENTS. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Bloom, B. S. (1985). DEVELOPING TALENT IN YOUNG PEOPLE. New York: Ballantine.
Buescher, T. (1987). "Counseling gifted adolescents: A curriculum model for
students, parents, and professionals." GIFTED CHILD QUARTERLY, 31(2), 90-93.
Colangelo, N., & LaFrenz, N. (1981). "Counseling the culturally diverse
gifted." GIFTED CHILD QUARTERLY, 25, 27-30.
Frederickson, R. H., & Rothney, J. W. M. (1972). RECOGNIZING AND
ASSISTING MULTIPOTENTIAL YOUTH. Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Kaufmann, F. (1981). "The 1964-1968 Presidential Scholars: A follow-up
study." EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN, 48, 164-169.
Kerr, B. A. (1985). SMART GIRLS, GIFTED WOMEN. Columbus, OH: Ohio Psychology
Kerr, B. A., Colangelo, N., Maxey, J., & Christensen, P. (1989).
"Characteristics and goals of academically talented minority students." Paper
presented at International Educational and Vocational Guidance Conference,
Marshall, B. C. (1981). "Career decision-making patterns of gifted and
talented adolescents." JOURNAL OF CAREER EDUCATION, 7, 305-310.
Silverman, L. (1989). "Career counseling for the gifted." In J. L.
VanTassel-Baska & P. Olszewski-Kubilius (Eds.), PATTERNS OF
INFLUENCE ON GIFTED LEARNERS: THE HOME, THE SELF, AND THE SCHOOL (pp.
201-213). New York: Teachers College Press.
VanTassel-Baska, J. (Ed.). (1990). A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO COUNSELING THE GIFTED
IN A SCHOOL SETTING (2d ed.). Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Watley, D. J. (1969). "Career progress: A longitudinal study of gifted
students." JOURNAL OF COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY, 16, 100-108.