Many students today report their college degrees did not adequately prepare them for life after college. Expecting to find jobs in their chosen career, they are dissatisfied with their employment results upon graduation.
According to a survey by McGraw-Hill Education, only 40% of college seniors feel prepared to pursue a career after they receive their degree. Students in liberal arts fields are the most likely to report a lack of career planning and preparedness.
McGraw-Hill’s research shows that the majority of students across majors recognize the need for internships and other experiential learning, the opportunity to take advantage of career services and training for the job market, and better professional networking opportunities while in college. In fact, 71% of students in their survey view career planning as an “extremely important” aspect of their college education. They reported the need for assistance in identifying transferable skills from their majors and how to promote their background to potential employers.
How High Impact Practices Prepare Students for Life After Graduation
While I’m frustrated by the results of the McGraw-Hill survey, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way. In the increasingly competitive job market, there are things we can do to prepare the next generation to enter the workforce and have successful careers.
One way we can do this is through the implementation of a number of “high impact practices.” These practices are a variety of educational opportunities for students that involve in-depth academic inquiry, collaborative learning, and experiential education.
Administrators and faculty at many colleges understand the limitations of lecture-based learning, and work to create enhanced academic experiences for undergraduates on their campuses. These programs may include first-year experiences, service learning, capstone projects, hands-on research, study abroad opportunities, and internships. These high impact practices allow students to learn the value of teamwork, develop leadership skills, and apply classroom learning to real life problems.
The goal is to create more well-rounded graduates who are better trained to face the challenges of a 21st century world.
Importance of Internships
When we consider the needs of students preparing to embark upon new careers, internships have the most direct benefit.
Internships (as well as cooperative education, or co-ops) have been around for decades, but they were not high priorities for many academic institutions that focused resources on classroom learning.
In contrast, internship programs take students off campus, giving them real-life experience in their chosen career field. As a form of temporary job experience, students apply for internships at private companies or nonprofit organizations, and work part-time as they continue to take classes, or in the case of co-ops, students take a semester off and work full-time. In both types of programs, students receive supervisors or mentors who provide practical training and guidance throughout the programs.
Interns not only receive practical work experience, but they also gain opportunities to learn more about their intended profession and network with others in the field who may serve as future employers. As a result of their experience and new connections, many students can leverage their internships and co-ops into full-time careers.
As the job market tightens up, employers don’t want to take chances with untested college graduates. Having at least one internship or co-op experience while in college can dramatically improve a student’s chances of getting hired. In fact, as reported by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in 2015, 56% of students who had an internship or co-op received job offers upon graduation in contrast to 36% of students without internships.
The Type of Education Matters
There’s little question that internships are critical to improve students’ chances in the job market. However, graduates’ ongoing success will depend on their ability to adapt to changing professions and to function within an increasingly global and technological society.
In 2015 the Roosevelt Institute in New York published “Creative Schools for a Thriving Economy” in which the authors argued that schools should teach creativity instead of “routine cognitive skills.”
This research reinforces my own belief that we need to fundamentally change the nature of higher education. By pursuing an education that incorporates high impact practices like writing-intensive classes, research, and capstone projects that incorporate the entirety of a student’s academic career, college students learn how to synthesize a variety of different information. Through service learning and study abroad programs, students interact with people from different countries, cultural and economic backgrounds, and begin to appreciate diversity. And through collaborative courses, first-year experiences and learning communities, they learn how to work with others to creatively solve problems from an interdisciplinary approach.
How Can College Students Become Better Prepared?
It’s no longer enough to attend classes and get good grades.
Instead, college students should consider what kinds of extracurricular, interactive, and hands-on experiences their universities offer. They should take advantage of programs that promote interactive learning, education beyond the classroom, and interdisciplinary projects. Furthermore, prospective college students should research what kinds of programs potential campuses offer, choosing schools based not just on campus culture but also on the forms of educational opportunities provided.
For all college students, it’s imperative that they focus on becoming excellent writers and knowing how to work collaboratively. They should take advantage of learning communities and other programs that challenge them intellectually and socially. Most of all, they need to make internships and co-ops a priority during their college years so that they have professional experience on their resumes along with their degrees.
By reimagining college education, and encouraging students to be active participants in their degrees, we can better prepare them for life after they graduate.