When it comes to traditional measures of success in school, some of the common yardsticks that are used include things like aptitude and IQ tests. Indeed, measures of perseverance and success have often been attributed mainly to cognitive factors such as intelligence and academic abilities. As such, students are gauged by how well they perform in testing, or the level of detail and analysis they can provide in their assignments. Although certainly important in helping to forecast students’ academic abilities and eventual success, research into other factors that are different in nature – namely non-cognitive ones –are gaining traction. Non-cognitive factors have shown promise in determining how well a student prepares, adapts and succeeds in the transition from high school to post-secondary.
What are non-cognitive factors?
Non-cognitive factors can be divided into five different categories:
- Academic behaviours: Behaviours that are commonly associated with being “a good student” such as attending class, arriving ready for work, paying attention and completing work.
- Academic perseverance: The quality of student engagement in success-oriented academic behaviors and attitudes.
- Academic mindsets: Attitudes or beliefs that a student may hold about oneself in relation to their academic work.
- Learning strategies: Psychological processes that constitute a group of learner-directed strategies, processes and “study skills” that contribute to academic performance.
- Social skills: Socially acceptable learned behaviours that enable a person to interact effectively with others and avoid potentially unacceptable responses.
For example, a student with strong social skills may find it easier to adapt to a new environment such as a post-secondary institution. A student’s level of social skills can predict how likely they are to integrate socially and develop an institutional sense of belonging, which is itself a strong predictor of academic success.
Delving into academic mindsets
Academic mindsets, which includes vocational readiness, can also provide indicators as to how well a student is likely to transition into higher education. Vocational readiness, or the degree to which a student is ready to make a post-secondary program choice and be engaged in the transition to post-secondary studies, is an aspect of academic mindsets, as it helps students to develop a clear view or knowledge of themselves. This knowledge will guide their choice of a post-secondary program that most strongly aligns with their personality. In other words, it would be difficult to develop a strong academic mindset without having a strong level of vocational readiness.
Measuring vocational readiness
The concept of vocational readiness includes all of the aspects necessary to make a realistic post-secondary program choice. Dr. André Samson from the University of Ottawa developed the Vocational Readiness Scale (VRS) to measure the non-cognitive factors that help to build academic mindsets. This scale assesses many of the factors that can help a student make decisions about their future that align with their personality, attitudes, interests and values. These aspects span: Vocational Confidence, Vocational Preparation, Vocational Aspirations and Vocational Satisfaction, which are the four subscales of the VRS:
- The Vocational Confidence subscale measures the relationship between self-knowledge and career plan or post-secondary program choices.
- The Vocational Preparation subscale measures a student’s active search for information about post-secondary programs.
- The Vocational Aspirations subscale measures self-perceptions and beliefs about one’s future career.
- The Vocational Satisfaction subscale measures current satisfaction with a student’s vocational development and process.
Putting VRS into Action
To learn whether non-cognitive factors, such as those comprising vocational readiness, help students adapt to the transition from high school to post-secondary institutions, we conducted a study on a sample of first-year college students studying in the Ottawa area. To measure different aspects of this transition, the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire was used in conjunction with the VRS. The Student Adaptation to College questionnaire is widely used to measure students’ adaptation to post-secondary studies.
As you can see from our research published in the latest edition of the Canadian Journal of Career Development, we found that higher levels of Vocational Readiness had many positive effects on students’ post-secondary transition. We further found that when a student had high levels of Vocational Readiness, they were better able to meet academic requirements, to integrate socially, and to maintain personal and emotional equilibrium. Students scoring high in Vocational Readiness were also seen to have a greater sense of belonging within their new institution and a higher overall satisfaction with life.
What this means for career education and guidance counselling
A student’s successful transition from high school to college or university is crucial as it will influence not only their academic achievements, but their professional insertion into the job market as well. The process of preparation for this transition starts during high school; career education teachers and guidance counsellors play a central role in this process. In that sense, the VRS is one of the tools that could help these professionals in determining if their students are not only sufficiently prepared for this transition, but also in identifying areas still required to support this transition. The VRS measures students’ self-knowledge, their active search for information about post-secondary programs, their perceptions of career, and their vocational aspirations and satisfaction – characteristics that are associated with the decision to make a post-secondary program choice.
In conclusion, the VRS is a tool that could allow a student’s support network to aid them in the transition from high school to post-secondary studies. A student who is adequately prepared for this transition is more likely to academically succeed, secure a vocation that is fulfilling and ultimately contribute to society in such a way that will bring satisfaction with their career.
The VRS scale is freely available in both French and English and can be obtained from Dr Samson via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Farrington, C. A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T. S., Johnson, D. W., & Beechum, N. O. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners. The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.
Larose, S., Soucy, N., Bernier, A., & Roy, R. (2015). Exploration des qualités psychométriques de la version française du Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire. Mesure et évaluation en education 19(1), 69-94. 10.13140/RG.2.1.2374.1604.
Samson, A., Maisonneuve, A. R., & Saint-Georges, Z. (2021). Ethnolinguistic Identity and Vocational Readiness as Non-Cognitive Factors Related to College Adaptation and Satisfaction with Life Among Franco-Ontarian Post-Secondary Students Living in an Anglo-Dominant Context. Canadian Journal of Career Development. 20(1), 17-27.