In times gone by, colleges tried to attract students by pouring extra money into cool things like rock climbing walls and gourmet food services. But oh, how things have changed! With student loan debt climbing frighteningly high, savvy colleges are now rushing to improve their career services, with the goal of improving their graduates’ job placement rates. And for the first time since the financial crisis, career offices at colleges across the country are receiving increased operating budgets, according to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
So the next time you tour a prospective college, make the Career Center one of your most important stops. Quality of career services should also be a major criteria by which you evaluate a college. While it’s tempting to be impressed by spacious dorms and custom made omelets, remember the reason you are (or should be) going to college in the first place – to get an education that launches your career.
Here are some questions to ask when you visit Career Services at a prospective college:
What services are available?
A career center is only as good as the services it provides, so ask if students get the things that really count, such as 1:1 help with narrowing their focus, interview coaching and connections with alumni. Does the college have a job shadowing or mentorship program? What about career fairs hosted at the campus? Many colleges also allow grads to continue using the Career Center to access job listings and career counseling – ask how long graduates have access to the career center.
When does career preparation begin?
Many colleges don’t begin career services until junior or senior year, and others leave it up to the students to visit on their own. Ideally, you want a college that requires students to begin career prep in their first year, and keeps them engaged throughout their time there.
What about internships?
According to reports from the NACE, at least 24% of internships lead to job offers. A career-savvy student will seek out internships while in college, to gain relevant experience and contacts in their chosen field. Ask how the college helps to connect students with internships and what percentage of students get them.
How is the office staffed?
Walls of books and lots of job listings may look impressive, but what really makes a difference is the 1:1 attention. Ask about the caseload of each career counselor, and how many hours they are able to devote to each student. It’s also helpful to learn what sort of training and expertise the counselors have. A good career center will be staffed by certified career counselors and have individuals who specialize in such things as social media and encouraging employers to recruit at the college.