Career preparation is a core component of the college experience — but nearly half of college students don’t feel confident that they have the skills and resources to land their first job, according to a Forage study.
Moreover, many students are foregoing traditional university-centric resources, including career centers, career fairs, and, to a lesser extent, professors in their career research, the study found. In fact, it’s more common for students to tap family members and social media as a resource.
Forage, in partnership with Knit Research, surveyed 1,000 students pursuing a four-year undergraduate degree at a U.S. college or university in April and May 2022. Respondents were evenly distributed across each of the four class years.
The survey found that, despite a lack of confidence and resource satisfaction, students largely believe career preparation is important. For example, 71% said that understanding how to frame their skills and experiences to land a job is very or extremely important.
- The top resources college students use to research careers are family members (52%), social media (45%), and YouTube (44%). Only 24% of students have tapped career centers.
- Nearly half of college students (47%) are not confident or only somewhat confident that they know how to get a job after college.
- Over half of college students (57%) are not confident or only somewhat confident about finding relevant work experience during college.
- 65% of college students said understanding how industries and companies work in the real world is very important or extremely important to them, but only 30% said they are very satisfied or extremely satisfied that they have the tools or information to do this.
In this article, we further explore:
- The Resources Students Use for Career Research
- Students’ Confidence in Their Future Careers
- Students’ Job Search Skills
- How College Students Spend Their Time
The Resources Students Use for Career Research
Our survey found it’s more common for students to use social media, YouTube, and LinkedIn for career research than it is for students to consult professors, career fairs, and career centers.
Of the career research resources affiliated with universities, students most commonly reported reaching out to professors (37.4%). Nearly the same number of survey respondents reported having asked professors for help with career research as reported having asked their friends (37.3%).
Students also used job boards and company websites for career research more commonly than career fairs and career centers. (The study took place during April and May of 2022. Some in-person services may have been unavailable in the preceding months due to the pandemic.)
More needs to be done to encourage students to visit campus career services offices, says Colin David Pears, founder and executive director of Highpoint Education. Career advisers and counselors on staff at institutions are “the best (and frequently most underutilized) resources students have available to them,” he says.
“Educators need to proactively and persistently outreach to students, inviting them into the career development process whenever possible,” says Pears. “They need to embrace social media and peer-to-peer networks that can help students connect with their expertise in ways more fitted to their learning and communication modes.”
Students are susceptible to receiving unreliable information if they do career research without the guidance of a mentor, he says.
“This doesn’t mean that students should avoid taking to social or talking to friends and family about career options, but they should balance what they’re hearing against the advice of a trusted mentor or adviser who has genuine expertise,” Pears adds.
Students’ Confidence in Their Future Careers
- 53% of college students are confident or very confident that they know how to get a job after college.
- 43% of college students are confident or very confident that they know how to find relevant work experience during college.
- 48% of college students are confident or very confident that they know how to find the right career path.
Though it varies by major, just more than half of college students are confident or very confident that they know how to get a job after college. A 2017 survey from Strada Education Network found similar results regarding students’ career confidence.
Confidence levels vary by major with, perhaps unsurprisingly, undecided students being the most likely to say they are not confident at all that they know how to get a job. (Nearly one in five students undecided on a major chose that answer.)
Humanities/arts/communications, science, and social sciences majors were also less likely to say they are very confident (23%, 20%, and 18%, respectively). Conversely, 47% of finance majors, 30% of mathematics majors, and 29% of engineering majors surveyed are very confident that they know how to get a job after college. These majors align with some of the most in-demand and growing industries.
“It’s very common for students to have concerns about employment and employability after graduation, and for good reason,” says Pears, citing educational costs, student debt, and economic uncertainty as factors.
Concerns about employment can motivate some students but drive others to avoid thinking about their future careers, Pears says.
College faculty and staff should help students “connect the dots” to understand how the skills they develop in their classes are applicable to internships and other experiences that will help them reach their career goals, he adds.
“One of the most powerful ways that faculty and staff can buoy students’ confidence is by simply helping them to benchmark their progress over time, shining a bright light on how much they’ve grown and accomplished,” Pears says.
Students’ Job Search Skills
Students recognize the importance of developing specific skill sets to succeed in their job searches. However, they are largely unsatisfied with the tools and information available to them to identify, hone, and leverage these skills.
Notably, only 30% of students reported that they are very satisfied or extremely satisfied with the tools and information available to them to understand how industries and companies work in the real world.
Given that relatively few respondents used career centers and career fairs for career research, and few are satisfied with the career resources available to them, it’s hard to say whether students are dissatisfied with the university-affiliated career resources at their disposal or simply unaware that they exist.
Pears advises that students build relationships with advisers and career counselors early in their college careers to get the most benefit from these resources.
“When student-staff relationships are stronger, good advice and guidance is easier for staff to give and easier for students to recognize,” he says.
How College Students Spend Their Time
On an average week in the month preceding our survey:
- Nearly all students (99%) spent time studying and doing school work, with 36% spending over 11 hours, 52% spending between three and 10 hours, and 10% spending two hours or less on these activities.
- 93% of students spent time online on social media or gaming.
- 19% of students spent over 11 hours per week hanging out online, with 10% spending 16-plus hours per week doing so.
- 65% of students spent time working a job in an industry like retail, with 24% spending over 11 hours doing so.
- 47% spent time working in a professional internship or career-specific work experience, with 7% of students surveyed spending more than 16 hours per week doing so.
- 71% spent time on career-related research and applications, with 24% of students spending less than one hour per week and only 0.7% spending more than 16 hours per week on these activities.
- 60% of students spent time on career-related extracurriculars.
Unsurprisingly, college students highly prioritize their studies and work. Nearly every student surveyed spent some time studying in an average week in the month before they completed the survey, with a strong majority spending at least three hours per week. Most students also spent some time in an average week working a job in an industry like retail.
Students also spend a lot of time online. After studying and working, hanging out online was the next most common activity for students to spend over 16 hours per week doing.
Though 71% of students spent time on career-related research and applications, the majority of them spent less than two hours per week on it.
Pears advises that students undertake career research as a “co-curriculum” that runs parallel to their academic curricula and builds toward a career semester by semester. Students should focus on exploration in their first two years, then narrow their career focus during their junior and senior years.
“Ultimately, balancing coursework and career research comes down to starting early and budgeting your time effectively,” Pears says.
Learn more ways to get career-ready with Forage’s guide to career planning.
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