Secrets of the top 5 campus career centers

Seren Snow, staff writerSeren Snow, staff writer

Each year, the Princeton Review asks 137,000 students at 382 institutions to rate their colleges' career services.

As 83% of provosts say they're focused on helping students get "good jobs" this year, I set out to understand what makes the top-ranked career services offices so special—and what other colleges might be able to learn from them.

Below, I've listed the top five institutions on the Princeton Review's list of best career services, along with some of the strategies they use to support students.

*Note to readers: EAB congratulates member institutions that appear on the Princeton Review's list. Member institutions listed here are marked with an asterisk.

1. Clemson University* (Clemson, SC)

According to Neil Burton, executive director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Clemson University, university-sponsored career development events play a huge role in the success of its students. Students recognize the value of the event, as well. Across the last six years, there has been a 54% increase in career fair participation.

Part of the reason the fair is so successful is the high number of employers who visit. More than 300 companies showed up to recruit Clemson students this fall alone. Deb Herman, director for employer relations and recruiting for Clemson's career center, points out that around 65% of students who attended this fall's career fair left with at least one interview.

Job outcomes are one of 4 metrics progressive schools use to manage student success

2. Bentley University* (Waltham, MA)

Bentley has focused on getting students involved in career preparation early in their academic career. One way they do this is through a six-week career development seminar for first-year students that's focused on career development. This past school year, 99% of students at Bentley chose to enroll in the course, despite the fact that it's optional. To increase participation, Bentley leaders partnered with academic advisors and international student advisors to ensure they discussed the importance of career development with students.

According to Susan Sandler Brennan, associate vice president for career services at Bentley, students are drawn to the course because they know it will be a good investment in their future. She says the seminar has played a central role in building a culture of career development at the institution.

Transform student employment (and other experiential learning) into meaningful career development

3. Northeastern University* (Boston, MA)

Maria Stein, the institution's associate vice president for university career and co-op services, attributes the institution's high ratings to the wide variety of services they offer, which include walk-in critiques of LinkedIn profiles and quick-turnaround advice for evaluating a job offer. "If it's important from a career management perspective," she says, "then we're offering it."

Northeastern's career development office has also built strong relationships with more than 3,000 employers. One of the ways they leverage those relationships is through an employer-in-residence program, in which employers spend one day per week on campus, answering student questions in an informal setting.

How two universities found new employer partners—without leaving campus

4. Emerson College* (Boston, MA)

The career services staff at Emerson emphasizes experiential learning as the critical element of career preparation. Staff members have created a Career Readiness Plan, which gives students a checklist of activities to do during that year. For example, the plan encourages first-year students to meet with career counselors, research study away opportunities, and conduct an informational interview, among other steps.

Emerson also embeds career development in academic programs. For example, when the college launched a Comedic Arts program in 2016, it partnered with the Upright Citizens Brigade, a Los Angeles-based improvisation group to offer classes, professional development seminars and opportunities to connect with comedic performers. 

5. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, MA)

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) focuses on helping students get as much hands-on experience as possible. WPI students complete project experiences that might involve immersing themselves in the art and literature of a certain region, tackling real-world problems in their local community, or partnering with industry leaders in their field. WPI is also adding dozens of new co-op experiences, which allow students to work full-time for 4-8 months.

WPI officials say careful academic planning is essential to supporting students, enabling undergraduates to complete projects, co-ops, or even a master's degree during their four years on campus (Silvarole, USA Today, 2/10; Clemson report, accessed 10/18; Clemson release, 10/9; Carlson, Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/18; Northeastern University release, 07/15/2013; Kornwitz, News@Northeastern, 10/01/2015; Emerson site [1], accessed 10/18; Emerson site [2], accessed 10/18; Emerson release, 06/17/2015; Saunders, Connecticut Post, 06/17/2016; WPI release, 10/31/2016; WPI site, accessed 10/31; Princeton Review ranking, accessed 10/31).  

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