With college costs and education debt at an all-time high, an increasing number of families are beginning to scrutinize the value of a college education. They are right to do so. The throngs of unemployed and underemployed college graduates are testament to the fact that a college degree no longer assures financial security or professional success. In a previous post, we encouraged our readers to think big picture, and look beyond acceptance to explore whether, and how, their prospective colleges could provide returns on their postsecondary investment. We received a number of inquiries in response, many of which asked us to elaborate upon where families could locate outcomes data on their colleges of interest—which indicate what institutions do, rather than whom they accept. While admission offices are a good place to start looking for such information, few admission reps can specify, for example, where their graduates are employed, where alumni networks are strongest, or at which graduate schools their students have been admitted. For answers to these and other similar questions, families should instead be able to rely upon a college’s career services office.
Ideally, career centers provide information that enables students to find good-fit jobs and make the most of their undergraduate years. In truth, however, too many colleges possess career centers that are understaffed and underutilized, and which do little to help students’ professional prospects. At these institutions, students may earn an excellent education yet graduate without the knowledge and networks to capitalize upon their accomplishments. Given this reality, we encourage you to investigate career service offerings before application. Reach out to the career centers at each of your prospective schools to inquire about employment rates, graduate school placement, and salary statistics. Although career services staff may not be solely or primarily responsible for collecting postgraduate data, they should be able to tell you where and how to access such information.
Moreover, while outcomes data can prove extremely useful, general statistics may not be sufficient to address questions and/or concerns that are particular to you. Perhaps you wish to enroll in an undersubscribed major, work in a specific part of the country/world, or pursue employment in a highly specialized field. In these cases, you’ll need to dig deeper and ask questions that yield information more relevant to your unique objectives, such as: Which employers recruit on campus? Which jobs (in your area of interest) have been posted on the college’s site? Where have students from your desired major(s) attended graduate school? Does the college partner with other institutions to offer job fairs or networking opportunities that provide you with access to professionals in your desired field?
Finally, inquire about how career center staff prepare students for the world of work? How and when do staff engage students? Do staff provide services related to career assessment, resume development, and/or interview prep? What internship and co-op opportunities are available? What percentage of students utilize career services?
As you begin to develop your list of prospective schools, it’s important to remember that college should offer you more than a degree. It should provide skills and experiences that contribute to your professional development—long after anyone remembers or cares to ask about the name on your diploma. With this in mind, look beyond admission statistics and evaluate those who are responsible for connecting you to the opportunities that college is supposed to—but not guaranteed to—provide.
For a list of colleges with excellent career services, please click here.