7 ways liberal arts colleges are doubling down on career prep

Only about half of students attending four-year colleges believe their major will lead to a good job, according to a recent survey by Strada and Gallup. And roughly one third believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in the workplace.

These sentiments are 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 liberal arts colleges are launching initiatives to give students pragmatic career experience while staying true to the liberal arts mission, writes Kelly Field for the Chronicle of Higher Education. In a series of recent articles, Field profiles a few of these programs:

1: Make career advising mandatory

At Grinnell College, career advising starts their first year with the assignment of an "exploratory adviser." As students progress through college, they must 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.

Learn more: Liberal arts and career prep don't have to be oil and water

2: Make career advising easy

Students often claim they're too busy for career advising. So Agnes Scott College and Hendrix College offer career development workshops immediately before and during breaks. For example, Agnes Scott's "Peak Week" is offered just before Spring Break and includes a variety of leadership development opportunities, such as visits with local employers.

3: Begin career development early

Hiram College requires students to visit the career services during their first year, and then again at three more critical points during their college experience. President Lori Varlotta explains that the goal is to "help them create an integrated narrative of their undergraduate experience."

Two more ways to integrate professional development into the liberal arts

4: Train faculty

Students who consult faculty members about their career options feel better prepared for workplace success than students who don’t, according to the Strada and Gallup survey. So the Council of Independent Colleges and the Association of College and University Educators recently opened a program that will certify 500 faculty members across 25 colleges in career guidance. "We know that faculty members are among the most influential adults in students’ lives, so we’re trying to capitalize on that," says Richard Ekman, president of the council.

5: Make career development affordable

Unpaid internships are hard to swing, especially for low-income and first-generation students. So Claremont McKenna College and Mount Holyoke College are offering stipends and sponsorships to students who accept unpaid or low-paying internships.

6: Gamify career prep

Augustana College gives a four-year checklist where they can keep track of the skill-building activities they've participated in, such as meeting with a career coach or attending a workshop. Students earn points for each activity, and participants who earn 100 points will be invited to an end-of-year banquet.

7: Get upper-level students back on track

Bates College is working to bridge the gap between a liberal arts education and career prep by offering courses and programs that apply lessons to real-world problems. For example, "Life Architecture" is a course offered to upper-level students who are undecided about their plans after college. The course not only teaches students how to find mentors and network, but also encourages them to reflect on who they are and what brings them a sense of purpose (Field, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/2 [1]; Field, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/2 [2]).


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