Higher Education

New Poll: College grads unhappy with the career services they’re getting

More than half say their career offices were unhelpful or only somewhat helpful

Universities and colleges may be seen as gateways to good jobs, but many don’t pass the test on providing students useful career advice, according to a new poll.

More than half of college graduates say the career services offices of their alma maters were unhelpful or only somewhat helpful, compared to 43 percent who say the offices were helpful or very helpful, the Gallup-Purdue Index shows.

The findings suggest it’s not enough for a college to simply offer career services, said Brandon Busteed, who leads Gallup’s education work. “This is very much about the quality of those interactions.”

Helping them find jobs appears to be a big part of what graduates expect from colleges. Those who say their career services offices were very helpful are nearly three times more likely than those who don’t to think their educations were worth the price, the survey says.

And they put their further money where their mouths are. Alumni who find career services helpful are not only more likely to get jobs than those who don’t, but 2.6 times more likely to make postgraduate financial contributions.

Those rating their career services highly are nearly six times more likely to say their colleges and universities prepared them for life after graduation and more than three times more likely to recommend the college to others.

Some of the responsibility is on students themselves, however, said Andy Chan, vice president for personal and career development at Wake Forest University and a critic of typical college career services.

Chan said he routinely hears students tell him they expect the career office to offer them jobs.

“I just met you, you’re a freshman, I’ve talked to you for 30 minutes, and you expect me to get you a job?” Chan said. “Their expectations are off.”

Chan said college deans and presidents should encourage students to meet with career services officials regularly. “That seems like a really simple thing to do, but it’s amazing the number of schools that do not do that.”

Wake Forest and a few other colleges and universities go further, offering college-to-career courses in which students are taught to think about their prospective careers and how to tell their stories to employers.

Students with different majors rely differently on career centers, the survey shows. Engineering and business majors are the most likely to visit; arts and humanities and science majors, the least.

About half of business and engineering graduates report that their college career centers were useful or very useful, compared to one third of arts and humanities grads.

Busteed acknowledged that graduates’ impressions about their time in college may be affected by their relative success in the workforce. Still, he said, “People are pretty good judges of whether they had a quality experience or not. And for those who had a good experience, it certainly makes a really big difference.”

The survey was conducted online and included more than 11,000 respondents who graduated from college between 1940 and the present.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about higher education.

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Mikhail Zinshteyn

Mikhail Zinshteyn contributes regularly to The Atlantic. His writing about education has also appeared in FiveThirtyEight, The National Journal, CityLab and other outlets. Born in… See Archive

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