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College Students Feel Unready for Careers but Upbeat About Job Prospects

Most college students really don't feel fully prepared for their professional careers, according to new research from McGraw-Hill Education. Four in 10 (41 percent) believe they're only "moderately prepared"; two in 10 (23 percent) consider themselves "slightly prepared"; and one in 10 (8 percent) feel "not at all prepared." The level of preparedness varies by gender (men show more confidence) and year in college (as the year goes up, so does the optimism — until the fifth year, when it shrinks).

Students who have identified a career path for themselves are twice as likely to feel "very" or "extremely prepared" than those who haven't (33 percent vs. 15 percent, respectively).

Those results surfaced in a wide-ranging workforce survey sponsored by McGraw-Hill Education and performed by Hanover Research. Researchers analyzed a total of 5,354 surveys from current college and university students in an effort to provide a picture of how prepared students feel about entering the workforce and to examine the hopes and concerns they have about their post-graduation lives.

The top five skills learned in college by the greatest number of respondents encompassed:

  • How to think critically about problems (70 percent);
  • How to communicate well with peers and bosses (68 percent);
  • How to manage time well (67 percent);
  • How to work in a group (66 percent); and
  • How to multitask and manage multiple priorities at one time (66 percent).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the skills learned by the smallest number of respondents were:

  • How to plan personal finances and/or manage a budget (30 percent);
  • How to network and/or search for a job (34 percent);
  • How to use technology specific to an industry (37 percent);
  • How to act in a job interview (38 percent); and
  • How to analyze issues "holistically" (42 percent).

Almost two-thirds of students (63 percent) reported that additional internships or professional experiences while in college would be most beneficial for building these skills. Forty-nine percent also indicated that additional access to career preparation tools would make them feel better prepared for post-graduation jobs.

However, most respondents said they never or rarely use the career resources offered by their institutions. This, the report's authors noted, suggested "a disconnect between desire and execution." For example, while 84 percent of students said their schools offered job fairs, 78 percent had access to career advisers and 75 percent could get résumé support, only 38 percent said they used job fairs "occasionally" or "often," 46 percent said the same about career advisers and 36 percent tapped résumé support to the same extent. Women tended to be more aggressive about using job search resources than men.

The latest generation of college students are more likely to prioritize "living a well-rounded, happy life" over "finding a well-paying job" — cited by 91 percent and 73 percent of respondents, respectively. A full seven in 10 (71 percent) also noted that it was "very" or "extremely" important to show social responsibility and "give back."

Survey participants were optimistic about finding a job after graduation that aligned with their career goals. Seven in 10 students (71 percent) said they expected to do so within a year of graduation; 33 percent anticipated having such a job arranged before graduation. The primary segments students are heading into include business (30 percent) and healthcare (25 percent). Every other industry was named by less than 10 percent of respondents.

Among the 57 percent of respondents who are already seeking post-graduation jobs, most spend less than five hours a week in the activity.

The full report and a summary of results are available on the McGraw-Hill Education website here (registration required).

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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