The ten Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs) described below are funded through federal legislation by the U. S. Department of Education. These organizations, which are designed to enhance career and technical education programs at public middle and high schools, provide career and leadership development through peer interactions, adult mentoring, and contests and competitions based on knowledge and skills learned in the classroom.

The first article in this two-part series, “Career and technical education: diverse options for your teen,” provides an overview of career and technical education programs offered nationally through public schools and adult education programs.

A school-based option

A school-based program instructor coordinates curriculum-oriented CTSO activities that:

  • extend classroom learning
  • build student confidence for using their knowledge and skills
  • provide social and travel opportunities for members

Generally, participation in a student organization is voluntary and your teen can elect to participate. However, in some instances, teachers may require participation in the student organization as part of classroom activities.

Benefits to your teen

When you’re helping your teenager with learning disabilities plan for transition to post-high school education and/or employment, encourage her to participate in a CTSO. These student organizations can supplement career and technical skills she learns in the classroom. CTSOs also offer opportunities for your child to interact with peers and teachers in a less formal and more social atmosphere, and promote career exploration by allowing her to visit and shadow in local businesses and industries. These activities allow your teen to make more realistic and informed decisions about her career.1 Further, after-school meetings allow teachers additional time and opportunities to teach, counsel, guide, and mentor your child.

Support and encouragement from the instructor and peers are the key components in building important employment skills such as self-confidence, decision making, and problem solving. In addition, these clubs offer low-risk environments for:

  • attempting new challenges
  • learning generic job-related skills
  • meeting and working with peers who have similar interests
  • using social skills that are important in the workplace
  • networking and making connections with local business people
  • having opportunities to travel

National events

At their annual national conferences, CTSOs offer students many opportunities to meet peers from around the country, talk with adults who work in their chosen career area, and enter competitions to hone and demonstrate their career-related skills. Perhaps most important, these clubs and their conference activities can bolster your teenager’s career-related goals, motivation, and confidence.

Career and technical student organizations (CTSOs)*

Membership is available to students (including associates and alumni) in secondary and postsecondary schools who are interested in learning leadership, citizenship, academic, and technological skills. Activities include co-curricular programs where members demonstrate their business technology skills, develop their professional and leadership skills, network with one another and professionals across the nation, and get involved in the community through work projects.

Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA)

Students, alumni, and teachers of marketing, management, and entrepreneurship are eligible for membership. Benefits of membership include scholarships, leadership training, conferences, co-op job placements, and partnerships with the more than 60 national businesses and educational institutions. DECA sponsors co-curricular competitive events with monetary awards to winners.

Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA)

Secondary students interested in a business or business-related career may join FBLA, and middle school students may join FBLA-Middle Level. Benefits of membership include opportunities to attend the national leadership conference, seminars, and institutes for chapter officers.

Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA)

Secondary students in family and consumer sciences education through grade 12 are eligible for membership. Activities are centered on topics of concern to youth, such as teen pregnancy, parenting, family relationships, substance abuse, peer pressure, the environment, nutrition and fitness, teen violence, and career exploration.

National Future Farmers of America (NFFA; formerly the Future Farmers of America)

Membership is available to both secondary and postsecondary students enrolled in agricultural education programs who are preparing for careers in agricultural marketing, processing, communications, education, horticulture, production, natural resources, forestry, agribusiness, and other diverse agricultural fields.

National Young Farmer Education Association (NYFEA)

As with NFFA above, membership in NAYFEA is available to individuals who are interested in working with young agricultural leaders, recruiting members into agricultural careers, developing agricultural businesspersons, and supporting children and community development members.

National Postsecondary Agricultural Student Organization (PAS)

Membership is available to students in agriculture, agribusiness, and natural resources postsecondary programs in approximately 550 institutions in all 50 states. This organization provides opportunities to participate in employment experience programs, course work, and other activities.

National Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA)

Membership is available to secondary, postsecondary, college, and adult students enrolled in health occupations education programs. Competitions held at the national conference include extemporaneous and prepared speaking, extemporaneous writing and poster creation, and researched persuasive speaking.

SkillsUSA-VICA (formerly Vocational Industrial Clubs of America)

Membership is available to high school and college students and professional members who are enrolled in technical, skilled, and service occupations, including health occupations. At the annual conference, members participate in more than 87 competitions.

Technology Student Association (TSA: formerly AIASA)

Membership is available to students of all ages who are interested in technology. In addition, educators, alumni, parents, and business leaders who are interested in building a technologically literate society may join. Organizational activities include participation in local, state, regional, and national competitions, social activities, chapter fund-raising activities, and community service projects.

* Adapted from Evers, R. B. (in press). “Developing Career and Occupational Skills in students with Learning Disabilities.” In Patton, J. R., Kolar, P., Blalock, G., & Basset, D. (Eds.). Transition and students with learning disabilities: Facilitating the movement from school to adult life (2nd Ed.) Austin, TX: Pro-Ed, Inc.


  • 1. NcNally, K. M. & Harvey, M. “Career and technical student organizations: A perfect path to self-determination and successful transition,” Preventing school failure, 2001.