Academic and Career Connections

By Andrew Brereton, Executive Dean for Student Success

Most students attend college with the idea that completing a degree will help them to achieve their career goals.  In fact, the CIRP survey of the freshman class of 2017 revealed that 85% of respondents indicated that “being able to get a better job” is a “very important reason” to attend college.  I can attest to the fact that it is on the minds of parents too.  I cannot count the number of times that parents at admissions events have asked me about the kinds of jobs that our students get, or the percentage who are employed after graduation.  So, for our students and their families, there is a strong connection between academics and careers.

However, it is also true that most majors don’t translate directly into a career.  There are certainly a number of majors – e.g. Accounting, Engineering, Nursing, etc. – in which students are very consciously preparing for a particular career path through their academic program, but the majority of students don’t have a direct line from their undergraduate major to a particular job.  This is true for many students in the Arts and Humanities, and Social Sciences, but there are also many Science and Math majors, who may love their disciplines, but who aren’t interested in pursuing “typical” science careers via graduate or professional school.  For all those students who don’t have a ready-made path from academics to careers, they will need help in finding their way beyond college.

Someone needs to help students to understand and articulate what they are getting out of their education, and to plan out a path for success that stretches beyond graduation – and this needs to happen while students are making decisions about their academic programs.  Traditionally, the functions of academic advising and career preparation have been separate, but this specialization and segregation of services does not necessarily serve students well.  The connections between academic decisions and professional success may not always be obvious to students, especially to first-generation students.

The establishment of connections between academic and career advising has emerged as a recognized best practice in higher education. A 2009 publication from NACADA stated that “Integrating career and academic advising is an important consideration for advisors who seek to better assist students as they make decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.”  A 2012 EAB study of advising practices argued that an integration of the two types of advising is more student-centered; stating that, “from the student perspective, it makes little sense to structure advising sessions about major selection separately from conversations about career possibilities.”[1]

In light of this trend toward integration, many colleges and universities have employed a variety of strategies to strengthen the connections between academic and career advising.  Some schools have co-located academic advising and career services.  The University of Wyoming’s ACES Center, and Wheaton College’s Filene Center are examples of this strategy.  Physical proximity allows the staff members of different offices to collaborate and share information more easily.  Other institutions have developed information resources that help to make clear connections between academic choices and career paths for students.  Agnes Scott College has developed a number of “Major to Career Roadmaps” and Queen’s University has developed a series of “Major Maps.”  Using these maps, students can readily see not only a typical course sequence for their academic major, but also common career choices for students who graduate in their major.  A number of colleges and universities have implemented various technological systems that enhance collaboration among advising units by allowing different offices to share appointment notes and make referrals.

A few schools have taken the academic-career connection to its logical conclusion by moving to a completely hybridized advising model that creates a one-stop shop for student success.  James Madison University’s Career and Academic Planning office has a unified, cross-trained staff, as does the University of Nebraska Omaha in their Academic & Career Development Center (ACDC). Tulane University was cited as a highly successful model of hybridization in the EAB study “Next Generation Advising.”  Tulane has worked over the last several years to build stronger connections between academic and career advising.  These efforts included the establishment of a team of hybrid advisors who provide both services to students.  Tulane saw a 4% increase in their first-year retention rate, and have attributed this gain, in part, to their work in restructuring advising.[2]

Wheaton College’s curriculum emphasizes bright lines to careers through elements such as Liberal Education and Professional Success (LEAPS) pathways, The Wheaton Edge, and a variety of experiential learning opportunities (internships, study abroad, leadership programs, makerspaces, performance, research, service learning, etc.).  It fosters intentional choices and planning for the future as students reflect on their learning, and set new goals in conjunction with advisors and mentors.  The close connection between academics and professional development, and the coordination between Academic Advising and Career Services, has resulted in consistently strong career outcomes for our graduates.

 

[1] The Advisory Board Company, “Next Generation Advising: Elevating Practice for Degree Completion and Career Success”, 2012; pg. 67.

[2] Ibid. pp 68-69.