Negotiating Values: A Narrative Study of Career Indecision for First-Generation College Students of Color

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The prevailing narrative surrounding higher education in the United States is that completion of a bachelor’s degree leads to socioeconomic mobility through the attainment of a well-paying job. First-generation college (FGC) students of color are particularly attuned to this “promise of higher education,” but little is known about how they make career decisions during college and how they navigate challenges in career decision-making. This study sought to understand how FGC students of color experienced the phenomenon of career indecision under the broader scheme of their career development.

Using a tripartite conceptual framework composed of social cognitive career theory, the four-factor model of career indecision, and community cultural wealth, this study was guided by the following research questions: (1) how, if at all, do undergraduate FGC students of color navigate career indecision? (2) In what ways, if any, do racial cultural values these students hold shape how they make meaning of their career indecision? Using narrative inquiry, this study adopted an asset-based lens to portray the stories of six undergraduate FGC students of color from a variety of racial and career backgrounds and their experiences with career indecision. Semi-structured interviews and document analysis revealed the racialized nature of occupational decision-making for participants. Furthermore, they needed to balance familial expectations for socioeconomic mobility through career success with their own personal occupational interests.

This study’s findings provide implications for future interdisciplinary research that further investigates the roles intrapersonal and environmental factors play in the career indecision of FGC students of color during college and as they transition into the workforce. The findings also suggest ways in which colleges and universities can better support these students during their career development in ways that align with the latter’s cultural values.