In view of the growing complexity of university education choices in today’s context, the Department of Psychology organises, during each academic year, and in collaboration with the University Orientation Committee, a number of incoming orientation initiatives. These are meetings with a ‘formative’ – not merely informative – goal aimed at students and, separately, at parents, designed to foster educational planning and permit a first experience of the academic environment: the Open Days for students, the “Spring at Bicocca” weeks, and the Open Day for parents.
The Department and the University also provide the Orientation Services Network, which includes, among others, the Psychological Counselling Service set up in 2001 by the Department of Psychology, free of charge for potential first-year students. It is a service run by guidance psychologists and aimed at students interested in Bachelor’s Degree Courses. With a view to preventing drop-outs, the service responds to the psychological needs of orientation by providing a space for reflection on paths to be taken to very different users: ‘traditional’ first-year students and ‘non-traditional’ profiles (students from other faculties or other universities, working adults, students away from home).
Specialist orientation activities are provided through individual counselling interviews, coaching groups, e-counselling and telephone counselling. Through psychosocial counselling, the aim is to facilitate an overall formative university experience that strengthens students’ self-guidance skills and encourages more informed choices. More specifically, the activities involve: a) exploring, motivations, doubts and fears concerning the choice of courses; b) comparing expectations with the actual data concerning the university and/or professional context; c) making explicit the criteria of choice, distinguishing personal desires, interests and projects from those of other people (parents, friends, partners), from misleading stereotypes fuelled by the mass media and the socio-cultural context d) clarifying the differences between degree courses that are perceived as similar; e) reflecting on the strategies that encourage faster integration into the university environment (opportunities for attendance, study method, relations with the peer group, etc.). The work of the Service – monitored through a database – also made it possible to clarify the needs underlying the requests for guidance and favoured the development of targeted response actions: e.g. through the creation of support groups for mature students; or FAQs and e-counselling for parents.
Ongoing orientation aims first and foremost to reduce drop-outs by supporting critical issues found in university programmes and facilitating the definition of planning, through accompanying programmes, activities to review planning, as well as re-orientation processes. The activities of the Psychosocial Counselling Service are aimed at first-year students and students enrolled in subsequent years and involve different degrees of care. In particular, this involves: a) helping first-year students to reflect on the choice they have made in terms of goals, motivations and professional projects in order to cope with the difficulties they may experience at the beginning of their course of study (1st year); b) identifying personal resources (cognitive, emotional and relational), potential and constraints in order to deal with the difficulties they may experience during their course of study (later years); c) re-motivating their choice and/or re-orienting themselves towards other courses of study in line with personal aspirations and projects. A form is filled in for each individual counselling session, covering the user’s data and the type of request submitted. In addition, each user completes a questionnaire assessing the quality of the Service. There is a database that collects all the data and allows for annual and multi-year statistical analyses, both in relation to the functioning of the Service and to identify the major problems encountered by students. The database also allows a (long-term and indirect) assessment of the service’s effectiveness in preventing drop-outs (even though the orientation variable cannot be isolated from the other variables that may play a role over the years in favouring/disadvantaging the course of study), since it is possible to reconstruct the times and requests of users who use the service several times during their university career. There is in fact no limit to the number of times a student may access the Service in the overall course of study.
In addition to the Psychological Counselling Service, the Department provides ‘Mentoring for first-year students’ carried out by Master’s Degree students (following the English mentor model), supervised and coordinated by the Counselling Service and the Presidents of Bachelor’s Degree Courses. The tutors are responsible for guiding students in their socialisation within the university context, helping them to develop a feasible plan, encouraging self-monitoring of career progress, the establishment of ‘peer’ relationships and possible re-submission processes to the University Orientation Network Services, when necessary. Each tutor is assigned a group of students, with whom they interface, through face-to-face meetings and online activities, during the first year of study. There is also a dedicated page on the e-learning site.
Comparative studies at European level show that there are relatively few Italian graduates (compared to the number found in many other European countries) and, despite this, the employment advantage resulting from educational investment is significantly lower than in many other countries with a similar level of socio-economic development. Within this framework, the issue of employability particularly concerns degrees which, as in the case of psychology subjects, appear to have less potential for employment in the public and private sector, in relation to the type of education. On the basis of these data, the Department of Psychology seeks to promote job guidance by means of various methods, which fully leverage the choices required by the educational programme – the choice of examinations, thesis, Master’s Degree Course, internship and pre- and post-graduate internship – through individual and collective (in-presence and online) orientation activities that enable Master’s students to: 1) envisage possible professional scenarios; 2) reflect on the construction of educational programmes in a meaningful and conscious way; 3) feel supported in their sense of personal self-efficacy.
In today’s complex socio-economic context, the family plays a fundamental role for children: it is the support network against stressors, conveying a representation of the future and promoting social inclusion. At the same time, since parents want a ‘good’ and ‘satisfying’ life for their children, they risk influencing the choice of educational courses that are stereotypically considered to guarantee a ‘certain’ future. This results in a tendency for parents to ‘substitute’ their children in guidance activities, with predictably negative outcomes.
The Department of Psychology is young, yet steeped in a long tradition that combines basic research with clinical and applied research, effectively bringing together different disciplines that all contribute, from different perspectives, to our knowledge of the mind. The Department has grown both scientifically and quantitatively, becoming one of the most prestigious psychological departments in Italy.