7 essential elements of the modern career center

Students are pursuing higher education with career outcomes in mind, and many begin their college journey with the goal of landing a job by graduation.

But students often overlook a major professional development resource on campus: the career center. Nearly a quarter of students (27%) have never once visited a career center during their tenure.

To improve career services on campus—and get students thinking about their careers earlier—PSE Information Systems released a report detailing the current career services landscape and outlining the criteria that that make career centers most effective.

According to a survey of career professionals at 67 participating institutions, here are the seven essential elements of the modern career center:

  • Evaluate services often
  • Measure student satisfaction to improve services
  • Measure student outcomes
  • Collect student data on face-to-face services
  • Embed career topics in programs
  • Promote career-related student-faculty dialogue
  • Collaborate with campus stakeholders

But how can campuses integrate these elements into their career services? Writing for University Affairs, Suzanne Bowness shares a few ways colleges are revamping and modernizing their career centers:

1: Catch students' attention earlier

Students tend to wait until their senior year to seek out career help. But several career centers are working to intervene earlier. "We underwent a review and a shift about 10 years ago from helping new grads to look for work to helping students in university conceive of their career path as early as first or second year," says Tony Botelho, director of career and volunteer services at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

Botelho adds that SFU works to teach students how their course choices and extracurriculars relate to various career paths. "We want to support them in gaining some clarity in terms of how to navigate this experience," he says. "We debunk notions of linearity. Some of our messaging is that almost any degree can lead to almost any occupation."

Queen's University helps students gain clarity with co-curricular major maps. The co-curricular maps align students' professional and academic ambitions, outlining the career-related experiences students should complete during each year of study. Each map also offers a list of 30 or more potential careers for each major and a list of technical and soft skills that students can expect to acquire by studying that major.

Keep reading: 5 steps to build a co-curricular major map

2: Allow students to test-drive careers

In addition to showing students future career possibilities, many colleges are also allowing students to try out different career options through experiential learning, writes Bowness. For instance, the University of Waterloo's co-op program helps students determine which careers they might be interested in.

"Because people are engaging in the workforce from an early point in their studies, they are finding their own ideas and assumptions about where they might fit are validated or challenged right from the beginning," says Jennifer Woodside, director of the university's Centre for Career Action.

3: Integrate career services on campus

Rather than hoping students will walk through the doors of the career center, several colleges have begun bringing career services directly to students. For instance, some colleges are partnering with academic departments, student clubs, or other on-campus services to reach more students. Others are creating satellite offices on campus to serve special populations, like international students, for example.

And many career centers are working to include career prep in the classroom, either for in-class workshops or career-integrated learning programs. "Getting into the classroom is kind of the Holy Grail for most service departments because that's where you have a captive audience, literally," says Peter Dietsche, president of PSE Information Systems.

4: Go virtual

Arguably the most efficient way to reach the greatest number of students is online. At Université Laval, students can meet with career counselors online. And at University of Manitoba, students can connect with academic advisors and career services through an online portal. They can also access online job boards and an event calendar.

Several universities are also developing technology platforms that allow students to connect and chat about careers. And Queen's has launched a social media campaign on Instagram to get students to embrace the extracurricular experience (Bowness, University Affairs, 2/20).

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

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