Only about half of students attending four-year colleges believe their major will lead to a good job, according to a survey by Strada and Gallup. And roughly one third believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in the workplace.
Anxiety over career prep is shared by many liberal arts students, who often hear the question: “What are you going to do with a degree in that?”
In response, a number of colleges are launching initiatives to give students pragmatic career experience while staying true to the liberal arts mission. We’ve rounded up a few ways colleges are doing career prep for liberal arts students.
Strategy 1: Integrate career services into the academic departments
Rather than hoping liberal arts students will walk through the doors of the career center, several colleges have begun bringing career services directly to students.
Grinnell College, for example, assigns every new student a dedicated career center advisor. The institution also schedules a mandatory meeting between first-year students and a career advisor before classes start. As students progress through college, they also join one of seven “career communities” led by faculty who have spent time working in the field. The college hopes the initiative will ensure that all students develop a personalized relationship with career services, explains Mark Peltz, dean for Careers, Life, and Service.
Similarly, Carleton College assigns each student a liberal arts advisor who helps with career development. And the career center assigns a committee of faculty representatives and career center liaisons to each academic department.
Strategy 2: Dedicate a week to career prep
Pennsylvania State University‘s Liberal Arts Career Enrichment Network hosts a week-long event each January to help students develop professional skills and network with peers, alumni, and employers. The events, which are open to undergraduate and graduate students, include employer panels, one-on-one mentoring sessions with alumni, and workshops on how to highlight marketable liberal arts skills.
Other colleges use winter break to offer job-shadowing programs and alumni networking events. For example, Lafayette College sends students to major economic hubs across the East Coast and Midwest to visit alumni and businesses, both for networking and professional development.
Strategy 3: Discuss career prep early and often
Students tend to wait until their senior year to seek out career help. To get students to the career center faster, some colleges fold professional development into students’ first-year experience.
Emerson College, for example, teaches new students about the purpose and utility of a career center through a checklist. The college outlines the activities students should complete during their first year, like meet with career counselors, research study away opportunities, and conduct an informational interview.
Strategy 4: Help students define—and pitch—their brand
At Skidmore College, Professor Paul Calhoun teaches “Presenting the Brand Called Me.” He began offering the course ten years ago after noticing that his students struggled with confidence and public speaking. “Students just plain don’t like to talk about themselves,” says Calhoun. “Some students have never had to.”
With the help of the theater department, Calhoun formed a curriculum involving cover letter best practices and interview prep mixed with dance, improv, and role-play. Each of these components helps students achieve one of the central goals of the course: to craft a personal story to tell during interviews.
Strategy 5: Guarantee job placement—with some rules
To ease students’ (and their families’) worries about the value of a liberal arts degree, DePauw University guarantees every graduate a successful launch into post-grad life.
For any student who doesn’t have an entry-level position or acceptance into grad school within six months of graduation, DePauw, their alumni network, and employer partners will find students a full-time entry level position or offer another semester tuition-free.
Students have to hold up their end of the bargain, too. To be eligible for the program, students have to meet certain academic and behavioral requirements. Commitment advisors guide students through the experiences they must complete to qualify for the program and set themselves up for post-grad success. The experiences include finishing in four years and participating in a co-curricular center at the university.