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Helping Students Succeed: Life Skills in Your School Counseling Sessions

By Vincenzo Capone | April 2021

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When Gus Velasquez describes his life growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the early 1990s, he often compares it to “living in a box.” Not a literal box, but rather, he saw his future as predetermined and that he would have to follow a path that many close to him had already travelled – a path that led to gang membership and prison. Things began to change for Gus in high school, however, when he was introduced to an after-school career-readiness program where he learned life skills.

Gus signed up for the program because he heard that any student who enrolled was allowed to leave their final class of the day early. But he quickly began to understand its value. The program emphasized the importance of developing life skills and how mastering them would help him get and succeed at a job. During the sessions, school counselors helped Gus build his confidence and taught him and the other students how to fill out job applications, prepare a resume, conduct themselves during an interview, and be respectful.

At the conclusion of the life skills program, Gus secured an interview for a summer job. The interview would take place in a 42-story building only a few miles away, but it felt like a different world for Gus. He initially felt out of place, but then he began to focus on the life skills he was taught in the career-readiness program: He looked his interviewer in the eye, smiled, shook their hand, and answered all their questions with confidence. When he returned to school the next day, Gus’s school counselors showed support by asking him how the interview went and encouraged him to follow up with a phone call to show he was interested in the position. Gus took their advice and, a week after placing the call, was told that the position was his. This gave Gus more confidence than he had ever had and proved to him that he was not destined to live in the box he had perceived.

By teaching life skills, the school counselors helped Gus build confidence and equipped him to build a successful career path. But Gus could just as easily have chosen not to attend that after-school program, like so many of his classmates did. To ensure that all students are ready for success when they graduate, schools must prioritize teaching life skills, and school counselors are in a unique position to do this.

School counseling sessions provide a perfect opportunity for students to process their emotions, goals and desires and to identify what careers may be of interest to them. Whether they want to be a programmer, electrician, or accountant, knowing how to think critically about solutions to problems, work with others on accomplishing goals, advocate for themselves in the workplace, and communicate with coworkers will benefit them tremendously. These are all skills that are highly sought after by employers, and many are basing their hiring decisions more on a candidate’s ability to communicate effectively, think critically, solve problems and make good decisions over their ability to do specific job-related functions. This is because teaching the former is often too difficult, especially after someone has already begun their career.

To ensure that students are career-ready, schools must focus on teaching life skills and treat their development with the same level of importance as more technical skills. But understanding how to develop these skills is a challenge for students, so it is important to turn what can be abstract concepts into concrete practices. Fortunately, free resources provide step-by-step guides for school counselors to teach life skills, model them for students, and show students the relevance to their everyday lives.

The job field is changing constantly and rapidly, and this poses a very real challenge for students entering the workforce. By ensuring students have the opportunity and ability to develop life skills, school counselors can prepare their students for the obstacles they will face in the beginning of, and throughout, their careers.

Vincenzo Capone is managing director of Overcoming Obstacles, publisher of a free K–12 life skills curriculum. He presented on this topic at the 2020 ASCA conference. Contact him at