Career centers should support students when goals change (opinion)

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“I was starting to get really preoccupied with the idea of ​​getting into marketing. I knew I was going to have a lot of challenges with job prospects, and I was starting to see companies with hiring freezes and friends with canceled offers. – Student in class ’21 at Wake Forest University.

She wasn’t the only one. Due to the pandemic, many students faced and continue to face the possibility of having to pivot on their career project. And while students change their minds about what they want to do after graduation isn’t unusual, the pandemic has forced that choice on some. Now, students who were initially planning on getting a full-time job are considering graduate school, they may be rethinking their career choices, and some are even deciding to graduate sooner or later than they did. initially predicted.

In the latest Student Voice survey by Inside higher education and College Pulse, with support from Kaplan, 2,000 undergraduates were asked how the pandemic has changed their decisions about when to graduate and what to do after graduation. diploma.

  • About one in four students have decided to graduate sooner or later than originally planned.
  • About the same number of students decided to change what they wanted to do after graduation.

The pandemic has taken its toll on many people, and students are not immune to the stress and fatigue of the situation. For many, classes suddenly went virtual, and it was not an easy transition for all students. When I asked a junior from Wake Forest how the virtual lessons were going, she replied, “The lessons are more difficult, like there is more work than ever before”.

“Mentally and emotionally, the students were struggling and continue to feel the effects of the pandemic,” says my colleague Heidi Robinson, assistant vice president of vocational education and training.

In addition to navigating virtual learning, students also faced instant loss of social life and the coordination of lessons across different time zones. Some students may not have been able to access the virtual content, while others needed a mental break. “The students were trying to survive the challenges of distance learning, or wait and see if they could access a more typical college experience, even if it meant extending another semester,” says Robinson.

Then there were others who decided to graduate earlier. Some students, fearing financial instability and unwilling to incur another semester’s tuition fees, decided to enter the workforce instead of spending the traditional four years as an undergraduate student. Still others, tired of the restrictions and lack of social life on campus, saw no need to stay when they already had enough credits to graduate.

As might be expected, more students chose to go to graduate school instead of entering the workforce. Students experienced a similar situation during the Great Recession of 2008. When the economy is good, more students enter the workforce, and when there is uncertainty and instability, graduate schools see an increase in applicants. and inscriptions. Some schools registered a 35 percent increase in the number of applications compared to the previous year. Wake Forest saw a 3% increase in the number of students enrolled for the class of 2020 compared to the previous class.

Here are three essential strategies that career centers can offer students when career plans change.

1. Provide a process.

When there is chaos, it is best to bring clarity. This is exactly what the Office of Personal and Professional Development at Wake Forest University has done with Ready7, a step-by-step process for students to prepare for career and life.

“Students want to know what it means to be ready for life after graduation and the steps to get there,” says Robinson.

Students can navigate the steps in Ready7 on their own – seven of them, to be exact. The process guides students to be fully prepared for their careers and lives by being more self-aware to eventually develop life and leadership skills. “The sooner students begin and develop the skills in this process, the more prepared they will be for life after college and the more adaptable they will be if they have to make a job or career transition or if unforeseen changes, such as pandemic, upset the norm, ”continues Robinson.

2. Enlighten students on transferable skills.

Here’s what we tell students every day, says Robinson: “You are not married to your major. Students often believe they need to have a job or career that most directly relates to their field of study.

For example, most college students assume that finance students will always go to work on Wall Street or that a studio arts student becomes an artist. But we have had sociology majors who have become financial analysts and Spanish majors who have become logistics coordinators. Engaged and active students learn transferable skills no matter what their specialty is, and we teach students how to tell their story, showcasing those skills and using them wherever they go. This way, if a student is considering changing their career path, they can do so with ease and confidence that they are qualified for their new direction.

3. Educate students about the market.

“Educating students in the marketplace is one of the most important and impactful ways to support students, not just during a pandemic,” said Stuart Mease, executive director of employer relations at Wake Forest. Mease and his team closely monitor market trends, timelines, who is hiring, changes in hiring practices and more. This information is then disseminated to students through targeted messages such as our Career Paths aimed at students interested in some of our most sought-after industries; it contains weekly career resources, tips, opportunities and events.

In addition, career centers can support a student’s change of focus by offering historical results from previous class years. When the pandemic hit, some industries and employers instituted hiring freezes. This forced the students to re-evaluate their career choice.

“It takes them off the beaten track,” explains Mease. By presenting this data to students, “we are able to help students search and apply more broadly instead of being linear in their career search. “

During and outside the pandemic, career centers can better prepare students by offering a defined process from college to career, identifying their transferable skills and educating them in the market. With these key strategies and essential information, students will be well equipped to navigate their career decisions.

Read additional analysis from the Student Voice survey on pandemic career preparation.


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