How do I find the best college fit for me? In a recent survey, 56 percent of students indicated that, if they could go back and start the college admissions process over, they’d choose a different college. Even more are worried about career preparedness. Here’s why college career services may be as important to students as financial aid programs.
As any student knows, the college decision isn’t just about choosing a college. It’s choosing a community, a place where you’ll live and learn for four years. It's picking a college major, which may influence your career path and shape your earnings and lifestyle for years to come. It’s deciding how much debt to take on in student loans. And because it influences so many other life choices, the college decision should be one that fits your values, both academically and professionally.
In short, many college students want to know how to find a college that fits me?
In a recent Strada-Gallup survey, Crisis of Confidence: Current College Students Do Not Feel Prepared for the Workforce, nearly two-thirds of students don’t think they have the skills or knowledge to be successful in the job market and workforce, and (perhaps most telling) 56 percent of student survey respondents indicated that, if they could go back and start the college admissions process over, they’d choose a different college.
We here at Edmit were a bit stunned by these statistics, to be frank—but in poring through the survey, we understand students’ underlying frustrations: College faculty and staff feel that they’re preparing students well for the workforce—but employers aren’t seeing the actual skill sets needed from new graduates to get hired for full-time jobs. With the lack of career prep, many students find it difficult to get a job after graduation, while still being saddled with student loan debt. This disconnect between perception and reality—not to mention the significant investment involved for a four-year college degree—can lead to anxiety, frustration, and real economic challenges among graduates. No wonder students feel unprepared and regret their college decision.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. At Edmit, we want to help the next incoming classes of college students choose their best fit college and not regret their decision a few years from now. So, how do you find the right fit college? Let’s start with some of the Strada-Gallup survey recommendations—which high school students can implement as early as the initial college search process, before any college applications have been sent in.
According to the Strada-Gallup survey, students tend to get useful advice about classes, majors, and other study programs from academic advisors, but a gap exists when it comes to advice about career opportunities or postgraduate degree possibilities. One survey takeaway was for universities and colleges to encourage “faculty and staff to initiate conversations with students about potential career options [that] may expose students to ideas and career options they had not previously considered, while perhaps also helping faculty to understand how they can make more direct links between students’ coursework and their future careers.”
Of course, students can be proactive (especially during the college search process) and start career conversations with faculty early and often. During the period when you’re deciding which colleges to apply to, see if you can speak to faculty about the links between the classes you plan to take and your career plans. Will you be acquiring the necessary skills to get an entry-level job in the field that interests you? Ask current students if they feel the college’s academic advisors are good partners in their own professional development—and whether they feel confident in their own career preparation. The responses you get will provide good insight as to whether the college (and the academic department that interests you) takes career preparation seriously.
But as we mentioned earlier, it’s important to make sure that the college’s perception of training aligns with the reality of what the workforce expects in new hires. So on that note...
Ask college counselors about the job placement rate for recent graduates, especially for those who have a four-year degree in the major you’re planning to study. Compare the job placement rate with the feedback you received from faculty and students. Do they line up, or do they diverge?
Consider major employers that interest you, the industries that match your intended skillset, the potential regions where you may want to live and work. Does your potential school have an active presence in those industries and regions? If you’ll be taking on student loans, will your two-year degree or bachelor's degree enable you to get hired for a full-time job, cover your anticipated monthly bills, and support your future goals?
In the Strada-Gallup survey, nearly four in 10 students indicated that they’ve never visited the college career services office or used online career resources—and this includes more than a third of soon-to-be graduating seniors! Student survey respondents who do take advantage of the college career services office, however, feel most prepared for the workforce.
At Edmit, we’re big fans of informed preparation (it’s at the heart of our college comparison tool, after all). So during the college comparison process, don’t stop at admissions and financial aid—take a look at the school’s career services offerings, too. Is there a dedicated college career services office or college career center? What specific services do they offer? How do current students use the office? What services are available to alumni? Get a sense of the quality of the college career services offerings, and how you anticipate using them over the course of your time at college. When it comes to college and career satisfaction, your interactions with career services may turn out to be as important as your choice of major and/or your financial aid award.
If you want to get a first-hand perspective on career preparation, there may be no better source than recent grads. Ask alumni (especially those who graduated from your intended academic department) about their post-graduation job search and work experiences. Were they well prepared? Which classes and campus resources were most beneficial in training for and getting their job? How long did it take them to find work? Was additional training necessary?
Typically, your academic department and career center will be able to connect you with alumni, and that’s a great start. For a more well-rounded perspective, however, it’s a good idea to check social media and community sites (e.g., Facebook Groups, LinkedIn Groups, Reddit, Quora) to speak with a wider range of alumni about their post-college career experiences.
At heart, college is a time for growth, exploration, and preparation. While there will no doubt be anxiety along the way to graduation, regret shouldn’t be side-by-side with your four-year degree. During each stage of your college experience, remember your goals and use them to drive your decisions. Seek out academic advisors who are well versed in the careers that interest you—or can challenge you to consider new professional directions. Take advantage of your campus career services office at every opportunity. Network with alumni and attend on-campus career events. Start early and stay proactive: By knowing which career development services are available to you from day one, you’ll be able to choose your right fit school, develop employable skills, and enter the workforce with confidence.
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