There’s a lot to consider when helping your child make the best possible decision on where to go to college. From majors, athletics, and Greek life to how far a campus is from home, students and their families have a lot of factors to consider.
However, one perk offered by colleges—that some may overlook in the excitement of college applications—is the importance of career services, despite controversial cuts to these offices’ funding.
A great college career service office can make your child’s time in school much more rewarding, reducing the stress of finding a job after graduation, while making the transition out of college smoother.
The problem is not every college has a great career office.
Researching the Best College Career Services
You may be led to think that more elite colleges have better career services, but author Ron Leiber quotes one prominent college president in his book The Price You Pay for College as saying, “the better the college, the worse the career services.”
The good news is that many top colleges are working to change this, and as a consumer of their services, your child and your family can help shift the conversation.
But first, what are career services in college? In the past, colleges could get by with simply offering help writing a resume and connecting students to alumni. That is no longer the case.
Ideally, career services can help students from the first semester. This included figuring out what type of work they will find fulfilling (which may or may not be related to their major), coordinating on-campus recruitment, and offering workshops on everything from professional correspondence to networking.
Evaluating Career Services in College
There are a number of statistics that can help you and your child better evaluate whether or not a particular college’s career services team is a good fit.
First, you’ll want to know about the percentage of students employed after they graduate. Also expect to see statistics on how many students go on to graduate programs.
Check on statistics about what sort of work these recent alumni are doing; a campus with a great nursing or engineering program could bias numbers, especially salary data.
Conversely, a campus that does a great job with on-campus recruiting may be able to better place students into jobs, no matter what their course of study.
Questions to Ask the College About Career Services
There are a number of questions worth asking that pertain to career planning for college students.
Here are a few starting points:
About the Career Office
- How many people work in the career office?
- What resources are available for underclassmen? For seniors?
- As some careers start recruitment in sophomore year (e.g. investment banking), what pipelines are in place to help new arrivals on campus?
- Are internships available? Where?
- How does the college handle unpaid internships? Are grants available?
- Is credit given for internships?
- What type of internships are available? (You don’t want your child paying San Francisco or New York rent for a summer to fetch coffee!)
From College to Career
- How many on-campus hiring events are there per year?
- What companies hire on campus?
- Who are the biggest employers?
- What percentage of graduates leave with either a job or graduate school lined up?
Exploring In-person and Online Career Services in College
There are many potential sources for information about career services, both in-person and online. While campuses may differ, online resources should be able to explain quite publicly about graduation rates, salary data, and other useful information.
If they are lacking, feel free to reach out to admissions officers to request them.
If you’re able to visit campus, it may well be worth arranging a stop to the career services center in advance. While you shouldn’t expect them to drop everything for a walk-in appointment, a 20-minute meeting is a great way to learn what all a college’s career center can offer. Additionally, if arranged through the admissions office, it is a great indicator of demonstrated interest.
Finally, take note of which professional organizations are active on campus. From business fraternities to groups interested in careers in data science or environmental engineering, these student-led organizations often have great links with industry, allowing for ample networking opportunities.
Before Enrolling, Plan How You’ll Use the Career Office
Once your child has decided on a college, help them make a plan for using the career office. Ideally, the career office can aid them in finding organizations, honing skills, and highlighting everything else they need to stand out. This can help them to separate their academic passions from their career.
In other words, by being proactive, students can avoid studying something they aren’t dedicated to and instead show employers a relevant set of skills in a field they care about.
Here’s a sample plan:
Once your child arrives on campus, have them explore options that others have pursued. If they know what they want to study, look into what other grads in that field have done.
Conversely, if they know what they want to do but not what they want to study, have them start looking at what others have studied to get into that role. Of course, if they know neither, this is a great time to take personality tests at the career office and explore other tools to help them figure it out.
Start reaching out to alumni to set up informational interviews to learn more about a given career. The college career office should have a directory, but tools like LinkedIn and even on-campus organizations are great assets.
Additionally, for aggressively recruited fields like investment banking or consulting, start attending on-campus recruitment activities. Your child should try to get an internship or relevant part-time job this summer.
Your child should have a major selected, so encourage them to reach out to alumni who have studied in that field. An internship in their desired field is invaluable now, and their professors may be able to help.
No matter what, make sure they are doing something “enterprising” the summer between junior and senior year. (Staying home playing video games doesn’t count.)
With a little luck, your child will already have a job lined up after graduation. If not, don’t worry yet. Some on-campus recruiters will only talk seriously to seniors; make sure your child is at every such event.
Additionally, consider an internship upon graduation, but only one with a high probability of leading to a permanent job.
Just as a college’s library and dorms are important factors in figuring out how successful and happy your child will be at college, an examination of a college’s career center will help you determine how successful your child might be after college.
After all, the best career centers often stay in touch with alums, helping them throughout their careers. Investing in a college with a good career center now can help pay your child down the road.
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