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We’re wrapping up coverage of our fourth and final Student Voice survey cycle from 2023, on getting ready for life after college and the world of work. Read on for a recap of the top 10 findings and links to related articles and analysis. (And if you haven’t already, check out the top 10 insights from our previous three survey cycles in this series, on academic life, health and wellness, and the college experience.)
The main life-after-college survey, circulated in December in collaboration with College Pulse, included 3,000 two- and four-year college student respondents at 144 institutions. Questions related to students’ interactions with their college and university career services offices, their desired levels of faculty and adviser involvement in career exploration, and the value of experiential learning, including internships.
Explore the main survey data further by requesting access to findings, with the ability to filter by demographic factors, here.
Now, the life-after-college survey cycle’s biggest takeaways (with Nos. 1 through 9 drawn from the main survey and No. 10 drawn from a separate but related flash survey).
- Prior research links use of career services to better student outcomes, but a significant share of Student Voice respondents don’t use them: three in 10 say they’ve never interacted with their college or university career center even once. In better news, the largest share of students in the survey, about four in 10, have interacted with their career center two to five times. Not quite one in 10 has interacted with the center six or more times, while two in 10 students have visited their career center once. Career center usage rates aren’t significantly higher for students about to graduate, either: some 28 percent of the Class of 2024 still hasn’t worked with their career center. Experts say the goal is to get 100 percent of students involved with career services. Here are six student ideas for boosting engagement with career services.
- As for which career center services students are using, about four in 10 respondents who’ve interacted with their career center each say they’ve benefited from career exploration, choosing a major, recruitment events and résumé development. Nearly three in 10 students have gotten help creating a career plan. Fewer than two in 10 students have benefited from networking, getting an internship, prepping for recruitment events and interview prep or mock interviews. Asked which services career centers should offer, more than half of respondents each say the following: résumé development, career exploration, recruitment events, help getting an internship, interview prep or mock interviews, networking, and preparing for and succeeding in an internship. Many of these latter percentages are significantly higher than students’ reported usage rates for the same services, suggesting something of a disconnect between what students want from career centers and what help they’re actually seeking out—or what’s available.
- Most students in the survey who’ve interacted with their career center are aware of the services offered, and about half say their centers are welcoming. But student feedback dips for satisfaction—and two groups of students have especially low career center satisfaction and effectiveness rates: nonwhite students and online students. Some 45 percent of white students in the survey express satisfaction with the career center services they’ve used, compared to just 29 percent of Asian students, 32 percent of Black students and 29 percent of Hispanic students. Similarly, 38 percent of white students say that their career center’s services are effective, compared to 26 percent of Asian students, 28 percent of Black students and 30 percent of Hispanic students. These data suggest that white and nonwhite students are experiencing their career centers differently—which is concerning from an equity standpoint. Students enrolled in online-only courses also report significantly lower satisfaction and effectiveness for their college or university career centers than do students taking some or all of their classes in person: some 28 percent of students taking all their classes online this term say they’re satisfied with the career center, versus 37 percent each of students taking all their classes in person and a mix of online and in person. In this article, experts offer tips for putting career services to work for students of color and for online students.
- Asked which of a list of possible outcomes are most important when it comes to their academic experience, respondents seem to value passion, practicality and breadth relatively equally. Students’ top three priorities are growing their knowledge in a subject area they’re passionate about (49 percent), growing their knowledge in a variety of other subject areas (42 percent) and developing specific skills needed for their careers (41 percent). Next is developing skills relevant to any job or career, meaning applied or what was formally best known as soft skills, such as critical thinking (24 percent). Leaving college with a clear idea of what they want to pursue rounds out the top five priorities (14 percent). Community college students (n=583) are more likely than four-year students (n=2,417) to prioritize growing their knowledge across a variety of subject areas, though, at five in 10 versus four in 10 respondents. Read about our follow-up flash student survey that asked students how well their colleges and universities are preparing them for these outcomes here.
- A majority of survey respondents—about seven in 10—say at least one professor has helped them explore potential careers or develop specific career skills, whether as part of a class or one on one. Nearly four in 10 students say one professor has helped them in this way, while closer to three in 10 say multiple professors have helped. Just over three in 10 students, however, say no professors have helped them explore or prepare for potential careers, with two-year college students more likely than four-year students to report this is the case, at 30 percent versus 37 percent, respectively. Over all, 27 percent of students with expected 2024 graduation dates (n=1,196) haven’t gotten this kind of help from even one professor. What is the ideal level of faculty involvement in a student’s career preparation? On a scale of zero (no involvement) to five (highest level of involvement), just 2 percent of students say a professor should have no involvement in helping them prepare for and launch a career. About two-thirds of students want moderate to higher involvement. Students also want a high level of involvement in career preparation and exploration from their academic advisers, with just 2 percent of respondents saying that advisers should have no role in career prep. The plurality of students, 35 percent, want a level-four adviser involvement. This is generally consistent across student demographics and institution types.
- With additional implications for faculty and the curriculum, the kinds of experiential learning opportunities students want and the kinds that are included or required in their programs of study generally match up, across institution types. The top five experience types that students identify as included or required are: internships (52 percent), fieldwork (30 percent), undergraduate research (29 percent), clinical experiences (25 percent) and volunteering (21 percent). The top five experiential learning types that students say should be included or required, comes close to mirroring that: internships (53 percent), fieldwork (36 percent), clinical experiences (28 percent), undergraduate research (27 percent) and volunteering (23 percent). This article discusses a bold new career-preparation initiative at one institution, plus student ideas for improving career preparation.
- Over all, few survey respondents—just one in 20—have no potential career track in mind. The vast majority of respondents are roughly split between exploring options within a broad career area, exploring options within a specific field, being somewhat decided on a specific career and, finally, being definitely decided on a specific career. This is generally true across class years, except for the soon-to-graduate Class of 2024, where the share of students definitely decided on a career jumps to about one in three. Two- and four-year students in the survey are equally as likely to be definitely decided on a career, as are students at private nonprofit institutions versus public institutions (one in four each). By major, about one in five students studying the arts and humanities and the social sciences and one in four studying the natural sciences say they’ve definitely decided on a career, compared to one in 10 students who identify as having interdisciplinary majors. By age, about a quarter of students each, 19 to 23 and 24 to 29, say they’ve definitely decided on a career, compared to closer to half of students aged 30 to 39 and 40 or older.
- Parents are the No. 1 choice from a long list of possible career influences, and this is relatively consistent across subgroups and institution types. Continuing-generation students are especially likely to cite their parents as a top career influence than are first-generation students, at just about half versus a third, respectively. Traditional-age students are also likelier to cite their parents than are older students. Students’ own strengths and weaknesses, their professors, their peers, and their academic abilities round out the top five career influences, in that order, with roughly a quarter of students over all citing each of these. Students identifying as having learning disabilities or related conditions and those with mental health conditions or illnesses are more likely than those who don’t to cite their strengths and weaknesses, at a third versus a quarter, respectively. Perhaps surprisingly, salaries linked to specific careers and students’ sense of the job market rank relatively low on the list, at No. 8 and No. 10, respectively. We also asked students in a follow-up flash survey just how their parents are influencing their career choices (if at all), and the findings further illuminated the differences between first-generation and continuing-generation students when it comes to parent influence.
- More than four in 10 students say their internship or experiential learning helped them realize what tasks they enjoy, while close to two in 10 say it made them realize what they don’t enjoy (the latter point being important information, too). Nearly three in 10 students each say an internship or experiential learning project helped them realize they’re suited to a particular field and that they want that particular job. These results are similar when narrowing the group down to students who have had internships specifically. This suggests that both internships and other kinds of experiential learning help inform students’ career preferences. Class format seems to make some difference in what Student Voice respondents take away from experiential learning of any kind, however, with just under four in 10 students who took all their classes online in the fall saying their experience made them realize they want a career in a given field, compared to more than five in 10 students who took a mix of online and in-person classes and closer to six in 10 students who took all their classes in person.
- What about artificial intelligence and preparing for work? In a follow-up flash survey of 1,250 two- and four-year students at 49 institutions, three in four say their institutions should be preparing them to use AI in the workplace, at least somewhat. Asked how much the rise of artificial intelligence has influenced what they’re studying or plan to study in college, 14 percent of students over all say it’s influenced them a lot. An additional 34 percent say it’s influenced them somewhat. The Class of 2027 is most influenced, with two-thirds saying AI has at least somewhat impacted their academic plans. Similarly, 11 percent of students over all say that the rise of AI has significantly influenced their career plans, and an additional 31 percent say it’s influenced their career plans somewhat. The Class of 2027 is again most impacted, with 61 percent saying the rise of AI has affected their career plans to some degree. Nearly three in four students also say that their colleges or universities should be preparing them for AI in the workplace, and this is relatively consistent across class years and other student demographics and institution types. As for just how that should be done, the No. 1 priority is being taught the ethics of using AI, with nearly three in four students choosing this. The No. 2 choice (62 percent) from a list of five options is prioritizing core skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving. A close third choice is teaching the ins and outs of using AI, meaning students are also eager for practical training (60 percent). Relatively few students say their institutions should prepare them by encouraging career paths less likely to be impacted by AI.
In which innovative ways is your institution weaving career preparation into the curriculum or fostering student engagement directly with career services? Drop us a line for possible future coverage.