Unfortunately, career counseling is often considered an ancillary service on college and university campuses. While institutions may tout it as a vital component of student life and support, students typically either never use it (since they assume they don’t “need” it) or put off coming in until their senior year, when they’re panicking about job prospects. This has a significant detrimental impact on students, many of whom graduate without a clear career strategy or the skills they need to define one. You’ve likely seen the transformative impact actively pursuing vocational advising can have on a student’s current and future success. That’s why we believe career counseling should be a core, mandatory part of every curriculum. 

The Sobering Statistics

To understand why integrating career counseling into the collegiate curriculum is ideal, let’s first consider the current state of affairs. According to The Atlantic, “fewer than 20 percent of undergraduate students reach out to their school’s career centers for advice on finding jobs or finding and applying to graduate programs.” This means that just about one in every five students is taking advantage of crucial career planning offerings.

More specifically, a survey on University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign undergraduate students found that amongst engineering majors, “more than 70% of students” who used career services were “juniors and seniors. On the other hand, freshmen (50%) and sophomores (38%) made up the majority of the non-user group. This suggests a considerable gap in usage between underclassmen and upperclassmen.” Even when students do take advantage of vocational advising, they do so late in their college careers, when they have less time to expand their skills and adjusting pathways becomes much more difficult. As a likely result of their reticence to use their career centers, “a new Strada-Gallup survey on career readiness” revealed that just “a third of college students feel prepared for [the] job market and workplace,” as per Ed Surge.

Furthermore, a recent Gallup and Strada report revealed that “few college students feel confident that they actually have the skills and knowledge desired in the workplace.” It would seem they’re correct about their lack of certain professional abilities – according to Inside Higher Ed, when Michigan State’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute surveyed more than 800 employers, it found that “the people hiring (or turning down) liberal arts students for jobs believe those recent graduates are equipped with the workplace competencies they need, but were not able to articulate and demonstrate their abilities in job interviews, and did not learn several key technical and professional skills that are highly valued by employers.”

In short, the current system is vastly underutilized, leaving students without the workforce ready capabilities they need and want to succeed in the world of work.

Why Students Don’t Use Career Counseling

While it’s obvious to us that college students need vocational advising as soon as possible to help them with the professional struggles they face after graduation (as well as the academic issues they grapple with during school), the students themselves don’t usually agree. The most common reason they fail to seek out career counseling is that they don’t think they’re prepared to consider their professional lives just yet.

In the survey on University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign undergraduates, the top reason “non-user” students did not take advantage of career services was “No need to yet (I am not ready to utilize their services).” Students will typically put off seeking vocational guidance as long as they can. This is somewhat understandable since they’re often juggling a variety of courses, extracurriculars, and social commitments. In addition, the concept of planning one’s academic and professional future can be daunting, especially to an 18-year-old. Typically, if a student can avoid an obligation, he or she will. Just imagine how few students would register for, say, math and history general education courses if these were avoidable electives.

When career counseling is an optional “bonus” service at a school, it’s much easier for students to delay using it, semester after semester. Thus, when they do come in, they’re seeking help with mounting problems rather than making proactive plans that help them avoid these conundrums in the first place.

What Happens When Students Do Get Career Counseling

The Gallup and Strada survey found that even a modicum of career counseling makes a notable difference in students’ outcomes. As a recent Ed Surge piece pointed out, students who discussed their career options with at “least one professor, faculty, or staff member…were more likely to express feelings of career readiness. Thirty-nine percent of those students responded that they are confident they will graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the job market. In contrast, only “25 percent” of students who “didn’t have a faculty or staff member initiate a conversation with them about their career options’ felt optimistic about their workplace preparedness. Similarly, 41 percent who’d had a conversation about their career possibilities “said they are confident they will graduate with the skills they need to be successful in the workplace” compared to 28 percent who didn’t.

Just having one conversation with an educator can transform students’ feelings about their professional prospects. This indicates that a truly rigorous intervention approach could be transformative for thousands of young people.  

Advantages of Required Advising

Making career counseling mandatory for all college students would likely benefit all involved. It could:

  • Ensure that all students get the vocational guidance they need. Students wouldn’t be able to put off career counseling if it was a requirement from freshman year onward.
  • Make career counseling a key part of campus culture. If every student was engaged with vocational guidance from day one, it would become a general part of campus life and culture, rather than a fringe, “extra” activity that stressed upperclassmen participated in.
  • Prevent upperclassmen from struggling with educational and professional crises. Making career counseling mandatory would help juniors and seniors avoid aspirational disasters, so they wouldn’t have to turn to the career center just to help them cope. This, in turn, would free up advisors’ time for proactive planning with newer students, further improving the quality of career counseling across the board.
  • Encourage academic coursework to become more integrated with vocational preparation. Making career counseling a vital part of the college curriculum would likely motivate administrators, educators, and advisors to more thoroughly consider the connections between their departments. This interdisciplinary work would probably enhance every aspect of students’ experiences.

These are just a few advantages that could come along with making career counseling a requisite part of the curriculum. To discover more about the current condition of career counseling and learn more strategies to improve it, download our white paper, Are Your Students “Waiting to Fail”?.

Should Career Counseling Be Mandatory?

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