It’s an all too common story: Around the middle of senior year of college, students become overcome with a sudden, acute dread that the "real world" is imminent. Despite a hazy enthusiasm for post-college life, many are blanketed with fear—especially those students who took out student loans and are now expected to pay them back. They feel an intense pressure to get a job, and fast.
While some students wait until graduation is just a few weeks away, others have jobs lined up months before their peers start searching. And a recent EAB research study suggests that those students are at a big advantage. When a student starts thinking about post-college employment may have a material impact on whether they are gainfully employed for the first five years after graduation.
Learn what else our data scientists uncovered about what students can do to improve their post-college outcomes:
The post-graduate outcomes research project and methodology
As the public continues to question the value of college, post-graduate outcomes remain top of mind for students, parents, and administrators. However, this issue proves tricky to understand (and manage) for several reasons. First, there's no uniform definition of a positive post-college outcome. For some it's just a job, for others it's a job that requires a bachelor’s degree or a position related to a students' field of study. Second, there's limited research on factors that are positively correlated with success after college.
At the request of many Student Success Collaborative members, EAB spent a year researching which activities, experiences, and decisions increase graduates' chances of gainful employment. We surveyed 6,000+ alumni from five member colleges and universities—mostly large public schools—to better understand student outcomes.
Since "post-graduate outcomes" doesn’t have a commonly accepted definition, our data scientists partnered with the five schools to develop an agreed upon definition, which we're calling EAB’s Gainful Employment Score.
The Gainful Employment Score is a weighted benchmark accounting for four factors:
- Does a person have a job?
- Does that job require a bachelor’s degree?
- How does their salary compare to benchmarks?
- How satisfied are they with their jobs?
View more details of our methodology
We looked at 51 variables, removing those where we didn’t have full coverage across schools or a limited sample size. We organized them into six categories, such as student attributes, social experiences, academic performance and experience, work experience, and job search activities. While we looked at demographic variables, this post focuses on what we learned about factors within a student’s control.
Insight #1: The early bird…gets the job?
Turns out, the common senior-year instinct to panic about starting to search for jobs has some merit. Our analysis shows that students who began searching for employment 6-12 months prior to graduation had a 10% higher Gainful Employment Score compared to those who started later, while students who started more than a year out saw a 15% bump. Across the 50+ variables we analyzed, the timing of job search initiation was the most highly correlated with positive outcomes.
Unfortunately, most students are not beginning their search at the right time. We found that 16% of students began their search a year out, while 34% began at the 6-12 month mark.
Insight #2: Engaging with employers early is effective, but elusive
It makes sense that students who secure internships are more likely to be employed after college. But how important is it? Our research found this to be the second-most important factor contributing to a high Gainful Employment Score. Specifically, students who had a paid internship during college were 14% more likely to get a good job after graduation.
However, only 32% of students surveyed fell in this category.
Similarly, students who attended an on-campus recruiting event with a prospective employer were 13% more likely to get a good job, but only 29% of students did so.
We know that part of the issue is about education and awareness: In many cases, students don’t know what they don’t know. Schools that integrate their career preparation and advising efforts are better able to inform students about the importance of certain activities, like finding an internship or starting to search for jobs early.
Your students’ career journey should start in their advisor’s office
Insight #3: Co-curricular participation should not be overlooked
One area our research partners pushed us to analyze was the relationship between co-curricular participation and post-graduation outcomes. Does it matter what leadership activities and extracurricular programs a student is involved in? If so, which ones? How much does it matter?
Due to variation in data collection methods, activity types across schools, and student interests and majors, it was more challenging to isolate cohort-wide insights. Despite this variability, co-curricular experiences generally led to an increase of 5-15% in a student’s Gainful Employment Score. Co-curricular experiences that often inflected the score included things like participation in an academic student organization or Greek life.
Across our study, participation in some co-curricular experience was the third-most impactful factor contributing to students who had high Gainful Employment Scores.
Apply these insights for better post-graduate outcomes
While our early research cohort participants found these insights helpful, what they truly clamored for was a clear understanding of how to apply the insights to facilitate better post-graduate outcomes for their students.
Luckily, EAB has studied this at length, and we have detailed actionable steps you can take. For example, we’ve illustrated 10 ways students can enhance the marketability of their college experiences and our best practice research study shows how to integrate academic and career advising. But like most major changes, lasting transformation is most likely to happen when people, processes, and technologies are all aligned to the same goals. For that reason, we are exploring ways to embed capabilities that reflect what we learned in our outcomes research into our student success management system, so schools can deliver a return on education—a great academic experience, meaningful jobs, and lifelong learning and success.