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Factors to Consider When Evaluating a College's Career Services Center

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A guest post from Barbary Van Dyk, Senior Advising Specialist at Bright Horizons/EdAssist


Among the many factors important in the college selection process is the evaluation of college career centers. Career centers offer a wide range of services, from assisting students with career goals, college majors, internships, job search tools, networking, potential graduate education, as well as alumni services.  When you consider that the goal of college, at least for many students, is preparing for a rewarding and satisfying career, finding the right college with the right career services becomes vital.  It's necessary to understand how proactive and effective the schools on your list are at engaging students in a practical manner to prepare for the next transition—from college to the world of work. Getting answers to relevant questions will provide insight to help make an educated decision.  


Initial questions might include:


1. What services does your career center offer?
2. What services are unique compared to other college career centers?


According to a Gallup poll, some college career centers are under-utilized, and statistics indicate that only half of college students partake in career services.  The average student associates the career center with job search assistance.  It's typical for students to visit the career center only when graduation is near and they are seeking a job.  With nearly 2,000,000 students graduating from college each year, the job search becomes competitive. But, college career centers hold much more value.  Students who are most successful in the transition to the workplace have proactively prepared for the world of work throughout their college career. Thus, active participation in college career services can be the tipping point in job search success.   


Instead of leaving career service participation to chance, many career service centers actively encourage student participation by engaging students in innovative activities.  Career centers that incorporate early and on-going involvement throughout college provide students with the best opportunities to choose a suitable career goal and develop career management skills for use in life after college.   


That leads to questions relating to student engagement at an early stage:


3. At what point does your career center first engage students?

4. What special outreach efforts does your career center use to engage students to utilize career services?

5. What percentage of students at each grade level engage in career services?  


The wide variety of career services may include: 


Career & College Major Selection

Some career centers incorporate career exploration and academic planning during the first year.  Through self-reflection, exploration, and labor market research, career centers can facilitate the process of a student's selection of a career goal early on.  When a student is clear on their career goal and is offered assistance in determining which academic major best matches their goal, the student can get organized and stay focused.  Additionally and importantly, such planning helps avoid the prevalent practice of students changing their major.  As a result, the student graduates on schedule, eliminates excess tuition, and is duly ready to enter the workplace and earn a living.  


Related questions may include:


6. What services does your career center offer to help students identify potential career goals and choose a major? 
7. How is your career center staffed, and what background/education do the career counselors possess?



To engage students and emphasize the importance of proactive career planning, some colleges have instituted programming connecting students with alumni or peer mentors who can offer students advice on courses and activities, and overall guidance to navigate college. 



Experiential learning (learning by doing) enables applied education and practical hands-on experience, which, among other benefits, provides students the opportunity to try-out a field or occupation.  An internship can also help a student attain that employer-sought experience that will often give a job candidate a competitive edge.  Career centers may actively coordinate with employers to seek internships and experiential learning opportunities for students.  



Career services may help students find networking events to connect with alumni and professionals in the student's field of interest. Networking allows students to interact with professionals and students from whom they can continue their learning outside of the classroom and enable students to do proactive research about the labor market and learn about industry trends.    


Workshops and Seminars 

Career centers may offer workshops on networking and other job search topics.  Often, career centers bring in professional speakers to discuss industry topics.  These events provide an opportunity to learn about industry trends, develop networking know-how, and begin to establish networking contacts.  


8. What types of internships and experiential learning opportunities are available?

9. What support do you provide in finding a mentor or internship in a student’s field of interest?

10. What type of access do students have to alumni mentors?

11. What industries and employers are represented?


Job Search Strategies & Tools

Career services usually include individual advising, workshops, and seminars to help students develop job search tools, including resumes and cover letter writing, and network via professional social media sites such as LinkedIn.  These tools are essential for the job search and are also beneficial to the student for professional interactions while interning and interacting with alumni and professionals.  


Interview Skills

When interviewing, not only does the student's college performance impact the hiring decision, but so does the student's ability to interview appropriately.  Students can attend workshops on topics including what to wear, how to present oneself, what questions to anticipate, how to respond, etc.   Additionally, students may practice with mock interview sessions offered by some career centers, which enables students to be better prepared (and less nervous) for the real interview.    


12. What resources are available for job search strategies and tools?  


Graduate School Planning

Career centers can also help students who are considering graduate school.  Sometimes graduate school is an obvious choice, and other times a student may benefit by first gaining some practical work experience.  Centers can also assist students in choosing an appropriate program and identify admission requirements. 


13. What percentage of students continue their education vs. join the workforce?

14. What type of assistance is provided to help students evaluate graduate schools?


Career Fairs

Career centers may conduct employer outreach in a diverse range of industries in the form of career fairs in order to bring students and recruiters from organizations in high-interest sectors.  Students then have the opportunity to meet recruiters, learn more about each company, and share their own stories.    


15. What types of career events are held annually?  How many employers participate?

16. What employers regularly recruit from your school?  How often does on-campus interviewing occur?


Job Postings

Many career centers have access to job postings that are not listed elsewhere.  Many colleges have relationships with employers, obtain exclusive job postings, and are eager to provide examples to potential students and parents.   


17. How does your school assist students in finding jobs?

18. What percentage of students graduate with a job?

19. Where are graduates working?


Alumni Services

Career centers may also provide on-going services to college alumni via individual counseling, workshops, and seminars on career management, advancement, and continuous learning topics.  


20. What career services are available to alumni?


We hope this information and tips are helpful to you as you evaluate and consider colleges for your student.

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