4 ways to help work-study students succeed after graduation

As pressure mounts to better prepare students for careers and improve alumni outcomes, many institutions are looking to make on-campus employment more beneficial for student workers.

More prospective students are focused on a career after college. What are their other wants?

Work-study is often just one component of comprehensive student financial aid packages, though an important one—replacing additional money students may have otherwise had to borrow. Roughly 700,000 students receive federal work-study subsidies each year, which represents one in 10 full-time, first-year undergraduates across the country.

The benefits of campus jobs extend far beyond the financial ones. Participating in work-study allows students to work on campus who may otherwise have had to find a job elsewhere, or not worked at all. Working on campus provides a number of advantages to students that can improve their employability after graduation. It often provides access to roles more connected to student interests and career goals, professional experience in an office setting, and opportunities for mentorship and guidance from career educators.

The outcomes associated with working on campus back this up: Students who participate in federal work-study are 2.6 percentage points more likely to be employed after graduation.

It’s not surprising that as pressure mounts on institutions to better prepare students for careers and improve their alumni outcomes, many institutions have begun investing more energy and focus in how on-campus employment can be made even more beneficial for students. Student employment represents a huge opportunity to make progress on these critical institutional goals, and EAB recommends the following key elements of an impactful student employment experience.

Set clear expectations with multi-purpose training

Many institutions capitalize on student attention at the beginning of the year by developing comprehensive training sessions. These training sessions go beyond the nuts and bolts of student employment usually covered at orientation and include information on professionalism, workplace skills, and resume building. These sessions prepare students for success not only in their campus job, but also in future employment. They also instill high expectations around professionalism and accountability in students, which has led to better performance in their roles.

After learning about similar efforts at a peer institution from our Reimagining Experiential Learning webconference, Missouri University of Science & Technology formed a committee to pilot an all-encompassing student employee training. It was so successful that they have expanded it and now offer comprehensive training to all student employees on gaining transferrable skills. Last year, 87 students participated, and 93% reported that the training helped them prepare for their position on campus.

Focus on transferrable skills

A training session is a great way to start the conversation about the importance of transferrable skills with students, but it need not stop there. Some institutions have experimented with rewriting student job descriptions to include a focus on the skills they are expected to gain, and others have employed periodic supervisor check-ins to encourage and track progress across the year.

Support career exploration

One often overlooked benefit to campus employment is the opportunity for students to assess their strengths and development areas, as well as explore their areas of interest, in a professional environment. Support students in this endeavor by structuring conversations with their supervisors to provide guidance around career exploration, as they have done at the University of Iowa.

Provide resume guidance

Even when they have a valuable and meaningful experience working on campus, many students don’t highlight that on their resume. That means future employers don’t recognize the value of their work or understand the skills they’ve gained. There is a lot more potential support to provide to students both during and after their time working on campus to help them articulate the value of their work in a compelling way, increasing their chances of landing an interview after graduation.

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