Diverse Pathways to Purpose for College Students With Disabilities

Document Type



Published in: Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, vol. 42, issue 2, 2019.


The sense of purpose, which directs and motivates goal attainment, is associated with health and happiness as students make transitions from high school to college and work. Despite its importance for student well-being, little empirical work has addressed the development of purpose among students with disabilities. This article expands on a model of the relationship between purpose development, career aspirations, and disability identity in a sample of 59 college students with a variety of visible and invisible disabilities. Using a constructivist grounded theory approach to the analysis of extensive interviews, results present five pathways to purpose and the processes through which students’ disabilities contribute to their sense of purpose. Implications for practice and future research emerge from this rich source of student voices.