Promoting Student Well-Being and Mental Health: the Career Center’s Role

By Michelle Tullier

When considering issues of student mental health and well-being, it is easy for a college or university career center to assume that those are primarily the domain of the counseling or health center. When a campus grapples with cultivating a positive culture that minimizes unhealthy stress and competition, it is easy for a career center to leave that challenge to the dean of students office or academic affairs leadership. But an environment in which students flourish is the responsibility of all, including career services.

A Climate of Stress on College Campuses

The Spring 2017 National College Health Assessment found that 87% of 63,497 students responding “felt overwhelmed by all [they] had to do” in the prior twelve months. Nearly 61% felt “overwhelming anxiety.” Fifty-seven percent experienced “more than average” or “tremendous” stress, with 28% finding a career-related issue “traumatic or very difficult to handle.”

In a study at SUNY Buffalo (O’Donnell, 2017), 49% of students indicated they endured stress over deciding on a major or career path. Students face increasing pressure to choose a lucrative major, achieve a high GPA, and land a great job (or graduate school acceptance, or fellowship) for a strong return on investment of their tuition dollars and to begin making a dent in loans.

A Call to Action for Career Services

If we in career services view ourselves as an essential part of a “community of care,” we stand to join in making a powerful difference in the flourishing of our students. We must examine the role we might inadvertently be playing in contributing to a stressful culture and identify ways we can help to shift the climate.

Recommendations for Contributing to a Culture of Student Flourishing

While a one-size-fits-all approach to minimizing stress around careers is not effective, and this list is not exhaustive, these recommendations are intended as a springboard for customization in a variety of institutions.

Mission and Message

Inclusion and Integration

Reach and Resources

Training and Touchpoints

Career services professionals already work tirelessly to make differences in students’ lives. However, stress and mental health concerns on college and university campuses are real. We owe it to our students and their families to pause and examine how we can do more to promote a culture of flourishing rather than feeding one of unhealthy stress and competition. Student well-being does not have to be sacrificed for student career success outcomes.



American College Health Association. (2017). National college health assessment reference group report, spring 2017. Retrieved from http://www.acha-ncha.org/reports_ACHA-NCHAIIc.html


O’Donnell, N. (2017). Career counselors: On the front lines of battling student stress. Counseling Today. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2017/03/career-counselors-front-lines-battling-student-stress/



Michelle TullierL. Michelle Tullier, PhD, is Executive Director of the Center for Career Discovery and Development at Georgia Tech and is on the faculty of the Georgia Tech Honors Program, where she teaches an undergraduate course in social science perspectives of purposeful work. Her thirty-plus years in career services include regional leadership roles with Right Management and career counseling at New York University and Barnard College. She is the author of nine published books, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Overcoming Procrastination (Alpha/Penguin, 2012). Michelle holds a BA from Wellesley College and the MA and PhD in counseling psychology from UCLA. She can be contacted at michelle.tullier@gatech.edu.


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Tarun Kumar Singh   on Friday 02/02/2018 at 04:34 AM

Wonderful and meaningful information for me as i am already working in this field, or the same but never comeacross these facts.

Michelle Tullier   on Friday 02/02/2018 at 08:52 AM

Thanks, Tarun. I feel passionate about this topic and am happy to do my small part to prompt thought and conversation around this.

Abigail Crine, PhD   on Friday 02/02/2018 at 11:40 AM

I would like to keep this conversation going, perhaps off line? Thanks for this article. It has been shared in our office this morning and supports my recent plea for more concern/help for student stress levels and what we all can do to offer support.

Kristy Magee, NCDA Career Convergence Field Editor   on Friday 02/02/2018 at 02:47 PM

Such a wonderful list of ideas for higher education professionals to utilize. I greatly appreciate it for my own career center. Thank you for sharing your talents with us!

Heather Allen   on Monday 02/05/2018 at 09:25 AM

Thank you for this article. You referenced several points our College-wide Career Centers have been trying to put into practice. Great article! I forwarded it to my team for review this morning.

Paula Kosin   on Monday 02/05/2018 at 02:37 PM

I would highly recommend the 8-hr. course "Mental Health First Aid" to boost staff knowledge and confidence in identifying, understanding and responding to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders, as well as referring to resources in your college or community. MHFA is practical and immediately applicable, and is the equivalent to First Aid/CPR for physical illness or injury. Learn more and courses offered at https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/take-a-course/what-you-learn/

Mohammed Rahman   on Tuesday 02/06/2018 at 12:49 AM

Dr. Tullier,
This was a great article. There is so much more we can do for our students to make their journey a little less stressful. We just need to remember that we are instrumental in make a difference for our students!
Kind Regards,

Michelle Tullier   on Monday 02/19/2018 at 02:43 PM

Thanks to all of you for your positive comments and suggestions. It's good to see others considering this an important topic and working on it. Apologies for not responding sooner -- the flu knocked me out for a while so I am now catching up! I do want to keep the conversation going. Might end up starting a LinkedIn group and/or perhaps an informal consortium of careers professionals who could have periodic web meetings to share ideas, challenges, and best practices. But I don't want to start anything prematurely that I will let fizzle out, so I want to give this some thought and will be in touch with all of you to see if you'd like to continue the discussion in some way.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.