More colleges are finding ways to connect students with career services early on.
On a typical weekday, up to 10 tour groups may traipse through Colgate University’s new Benton Hall, the home of the Center for Career Services, which is on the main academic quad. “Again, and again, I hear a simple ‘wow,’” said Michael A. Sciola, associate vice president of institutional advancement and career initiatives.
That reaction might have something to do with the sweeping view from the hilltop, across the Chenango Valley in Hamilton, New York, from the centerpiece conference room. Or it could be the soaring 25 1/2-foot ceiling in the main lobby, striking granite floors and wood paneling. But it’s quite likely stirred by the steady buzz of student activity within its walls.
The $16.4 million, 17,000-square-foot Benton Hall at Colgate, which opened in July, is painstakingly wired with cutting-edge technology and is designed to help students prepare for life after college through fellowships, internships, graduate school or career counseling.
“Parents who come on a tour want to see where their kids are going to sleep, eat, where the library is, where they are going to work out and where they are going to prepare to find a job — almost every parent asks that,” said Brian W. Casey, Colgate’s University’s president.
Like most parents, Dewey and Patricia McKay of Villanova, Pennsylvania, visited numerous colleges with their son, David, as he was going through the college admissions process last year. “At each school, we wanted to not only learn about academics and student life, but we also wanted to hear about outcomes for the students after they finish their four years,” Dewey McKay said.
During their Colgate visit they met with Teresa Olsen, assistant vice president, and director of career services, who talked about the strong network of Colgate alumni who support students through internships and jobs, and the coordinated efforts among career services, professors and coaches.
“In contrast, when we visited other colleges, we were directed to speak with students or administrators, who were simply not knowledgeable enough to give us insight,” Dewey McKay said. He added that since they would be spending a significant amount on their son’s education, this was “game-changing” to them. Colgate’s 2018-19 tuition with room and board is about $70,000.
David McKay is a freshman at Colgate, majoring in economics. He is a member of the men’s Division I rowing team, and he has already met with career counselors.
Nowadays, it’s apparent to college administrators that many parents want more for their children from college than just an education. As a result, finding ways to get students to connect early with career service support has become a goal at many institutions around the country.
And they are doing so in many ways, from discussing career options with students starting in freshman year to ramping up mentorship opportunities and raising donor funds for student internships. And there’s a rapid uptick in virtual career assistance via proprietary access to job-oriented websites and apps.
Even so, it’s not always an easy sell. “Students are not there to get a job,” said Mimi Collins, director of content strategy at the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “Their focus is their studies and, frankly, their personal life. There’s a lot of noise competing for their attention. But it’s probably the only time in their life they are going to have access to that level of professional service, collected for them for free.”
Today’s intense focus on outcomes and jobs has resulted in a realigning of campus priorities. “You can’t leave career development to chance,” said Susan Brennan, assistant dean of the career development office at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “More schools are acknowledging that, and you are seeing an organizational shift from career development reporting in to student affairs to now reporting in to academic affairs. There is an understanding that it is part of the educational process.”
Barnard College, the women’s college in Manhattan that is part of Columbia University, last spring started Beyond Barnard, a major reorganization of its career services office.
“One thing I realized right off the bat was that we really needed a one-stop shop where students could go to think about their experiences at Barnard outside the classroom, whether it was internships or fellowships, or work-study and a pathway from that to what was next after their time at Barnard,” said Sian Beilock, Barnard’s president since July 2017.
That the office now reports to the provost and the dean of the college “elevates it and tells an important story that this is part of the academic experience,” Beilock said.
For Stefani Shoreibah, 19, a sophomore at Barnard who is majoring in art history and also pursuing a premedical path, her campus routine is regularly touched by Beyond Barnard events — from speaking at a recent STEM Network Panel to personalized academic advising.
“With advising from Beyond Barnard faculty, this past summer I successfully completed a 10-week paid internship as a student researcher at the Watson Clinic Cancer and Research Center of West Central Florida,” said Shoreibah, who is from Lakeland, Florida. “The Beyond Barnard advisers and I developed a strategy to start my undergraduate research at a local medical practice close to my home and branch out from that experience.”
Beyond Barnard will hold more than 2,500 one-on-one advising appointments this year and upward of 125 programs on topics like career exploration and job applications, research opportunities across disciplines and mentoring opportunities that connect students with alumnae, according to Beilock. “And we are committing more than $1 million over the next three years to expand internship opportunities for students.”
Virtual outreach, though, is all the buzz. Georgia State, for example, is collaborating with Roadtrip Nation, a website that offers resources designed to help students connect their interests to careers, to create a community “where Georgia State alumni can share their stories with fellow and future alumni to learn from each other,” according to their webpage.
Online platforms like Handshake are transforming the way students and employers are communicating and connecting. The San Francisco-based company, begun in 2014, helps those students whose schools have partnered with it to learn about jobs and internships, regardless of where they live. Students create profiles similar to the ones they might create on LinkedIn, which can highlight academic achievements, previous jobs, volunteer work, interests and skills.
The web-based browser and app then custom match students, based on the algorithms of what they have entered in their profiles, with regular emails and texts to grab their attention about recommended internships, workshops, career fairs, recruiting events on campus and job opportunities with more that 250,000 employer connections. So far, the career-services platform is in use at over 500 colleges and universities.
Another online tool available through career services offices at colleges such as Loyola Marymount is VMock, a résumé critiquing service. Students upload their résumé and get immediate feedback on how to improve it. The university’s career center team sets the stage by plugging in some of the data and parameters they recommend for their students.
“Technology is clearly becoming a bigger player in how students use us,” said Suzanne Helbig, associate vice provost, Division of Career Pathways at the University of California Irvine. Helbig, for example, is working on a contract with Big Interview, a virtual interview app that allows students to record a video interview with pre-entered questions and send it for analyses to a career adviser, professors and peers.
In the end, even with all the virtual hand-holding and help, it comes down to the human connection, and old-fashioned networking. “While technology is really a great resource, students still like the human touch, individual adviser feedback and peer-to-peer feedback,” said Ann Garner, executive director of Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood Career Center, in Baltimore. “There is something about talking to a person face-to-face that is really important, despite all the strides we have made with technology.”
Colgate’s Casey is well aware of the meaning of a personal connection when communicating with students. Part of his weekly routine is to wander around campus with Emrys, his dog (which has his own Instagram account with more than 2,000 followers).
“Walking the dog is the best way to talk to students,” he said. “Last week, for instance, I asked one student about his summer internship at a law firm. His answer: ‘Found out I don’t want to be a lawyer.’ That’s learning.”