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Your students’ career journey should start in their advisor’s office

June 14, 2018

One-third of college seniors never visit a career center.

It’s a shame, because recruiters often lament the weak connection between recent graduates’ resume content and applicant aspirations. Why is a candidate with a seemingly nontechnical background applying to an engineering role? How did another candidate’s summer internship at a medical office contribute to the marketing competencies listed under “Skills”?

More than ever, public trust is eroding in higher education’s ability to provide its graduates upward mobility and prospective students are increasingly prioritizing career preparation over institutional prestige. The question is how can academic advisors, faculty mentors, and administrators—everyone who believes in your student’s potential—ensure their graduates are best positioned to secure employment?

The divide between academic advising and career counseling


of schools have academic advising and career counseling operating separately
of schools have academic advising and career counseling operating separately

Despite increased attention on colleges’ ability to deliver a return on education, at approximately 76% of schools, academic advising and career counseling continue to operate in separate universes. While most schools have guardrails in place to ensure students receive academic advising throughout their college career, it is far less common that schools have parallel policies to get students career counseling during their time on campus. Students end up picking classes or majors that don’t align with their professional path—or even worse, make academic plans without thinking about their intended career at all.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2016-17 career services benchmark report, most students only meet with a career counselor in the semester before graduation (if at all) . By then, the most a career counselor can do is help format a resume or practice a mock interview—too late to address the academic misalignment that prevents a student from securing the job they want.

Given the mounting focus on career outcomes, progressive colleges are intentionally integrating career development and academic advising as part of a broader student success strategy.

How progressive schools close the gap

Schools like James Madison University and Clark University are creating hybrid academic and career advising roles. Hybrid advisors at these universities are trained to help students to choose the classes, majors, and extracurricular opportunities that will lead them to succeed in school and land the job that they want after graduation. When advisors see mismatch between a student’s chosen major and their desired career path, they work with them to explore alternative majors or develop a different professional path.

Case study: Hybrid intake advising

James Madison University pushed the process of “hybridizing” career and academic advising to its most integrated form: merging the two offices into a single advising unit. The initial reason for the merger was to increase overall academic advising capacity, but this has also helped improve students’ career counseling experience. Fewer advising interactions were lost through unsuccessful referrals and it ensured that academic and career planning conversations happened cohesively—similar to how students understand the conversation in the first place.

Integrating career and academic advising

Case study: Cross-functional support center

Clark University’s student support center goes beyond just the integration of career and academic advising: It streamlines the entire student experience by unifying academic and career advising, writing support, study abroad services, entrepreneurship support, and community engagement under a single director.

Previously, specialized staff from each of these offices were retrained as LEEP (Liberal Education & Effective Practice) advisors, a new role that was responsible for many different aspects of student support and success. Now, a student is able to speak to a single advisor about their major, minor, internship, study abroad, and career goals.


of Clark alumni work in a job that requires a college degree.
of Clark alumni work in a job that requires a college degree.

Since the switch, student services doubled the number of student interactions. And within six months of graduation, 97% of Clark alumni work in a job that requires a college degree.

Your career services department does not have merge with the academic advising office to improve students’ career readiness. But all advisors and counselors should ask students to articulate their interests, skills, values, and goals to craft intentional academic and career paths, and to ensure every students knows how to gain the skills they’ll need to land their first job.

That way, the next time one of your students walks into an interview, they’ll be able to clearly explain how their college experience brought them there—and how it’s set them up to be successful post-graduation.

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