Career Preparation Among Seniors

Brendan Dugan

During their last year of college, roughly half of the 3,700 seniors who completed a set of items on career preparation indicated they at least sometimes used career services resourcesto learn about careers (53%), attended a career fair (49%), or attended a talk or panel discussion about careers (43%), while about three in five interviewed or shadowed a professional in the field (60%) (Figure 1). (Of course, many may have explored career options prior to their senior year.)

Most seniors were highly confident in their career and post-graduation plans, although results varied by field of study as some (e.g., business, education, engineering, and health professions) are more explicitly linked to specific occupations than are majors in the arts and sciences. Students in the arts and sciences were less likely to claim knowledge about their career options and to say their career goals had stayed about the same since starting college (Figure 2). On average, these students talked less often with professionals in the field about their career interests but did so more often with academic advisors. Overall, and perhaps of more importance to educators, 93% of seniors believed their learning was relevant to their career paths.

We combined three items – being knowledgeable about career options, knowing what one would like to do after graduation, and having a specific career in mind – into a scale called “Confidence in Career Plans” and examined its relationships with a range of factors such as academic discipline and consulting others about career plans, while controlling for student and institutional characteristics. As one would expect, having conversations about career interests with professionals in the field, academic advisors, and family members was positively, albeit modestly, related to higher confidence in career plans. Having those discussions with career services staff was related, but weakly.

Students majoring in the arts and sciences expressed somewhat less confidence in their career plans. Yet, having the highest educational expectations (e.g., Ph.D., J.D., M.D.) relative to a bachelor’s had a strong, positive relationship with career plan confidence, and arts and science majors were nearly twice as likely as those in professional fields to expect to attain such degrees. It may be that students in the arts and sciences express higher certainty in their specific career plans and what they would like to do after they graduate when they have further education in mind.

Despite not taking full advantage of career preparation resources, seniors have a favorable outlook about the variety of career and employment options available to them. Those who do avail themselves of these institutional resources are even more likely to be confident in their options, and even students in fields less directly tied to specific occupations expressed certainty about the next phase of their adult lives.

Find this and other stories from NSSE data in 2018 Annual Results!