Whether students are enrolling in their first college courses, putting maximum effort into their upper-division coursework, or nearing the end of their educational paths, they’re keeping an eye on their goals. This focus—their reason for attending college in the first place—can spark their motivation even on the days they’re struggling with assignments or stressed by their responsibilities.
But what are those goals? And how does college help them achieve those goals? In our Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked over 3,000 college students about their goals and how they think college will enable them to get where they want to go.
To begin, let’s look at college students’ responses to the question: What are your goals after college?
Going by these results, it’s clear that most students attend college to improve their chances of obtaining a fulfilling career that lets them pay the bills. Among the choices listed on the survey, a good or better job ranked the highest, netting 80% of the student vote. Nearly two-thirds (62%) hope that their college achievements will result in a high-paying job (or, one that pays better than their current job). These results align with students’ answers to a question we previously covered at the Engaging Minds blog: “Was getting a good job your primary reason for attending college?” 73% of students said that yes, this was true for them.
Many students also told us that they have plans for continuing their formal education. More than half (56%) indicated that they’re hoping to pursue an additional degree after they complete their current program. Whether this means they’ll be working towards a bachelor’s degree after earning an associate degree, or they want to attend graduate school after completing their undergrad studies, a good percentage of students have additional educational goals beyond their current college experience.
Five additional post-college goals, as named by college students
As noted above, ten percent of our surveyed students noted that they had additional goals after graduation (aside from those named above). We observed trends among their responses, and we’ve summarized them below:
1. Pursue additional career-focused training, schooling, or certification. As we observed earlier, more than half of our survey respondents want to pursue another degree. But in addition, many students said that, once they finish college, they hope to pursue “certification paths,” a “cosmetology/beautician license,” “additional technical certificates,” “law school,” “medical school,” and other programs that prepare them to practice in fields that require licenses or advanced education.
2. Start a business. Several of the students we surveyed said that they plan to take an entrepreneurial route after graduation. For these students, the knowledge and skills attained during college will apply to the work they’ll put into building their own companies, services, practices, and firms.
3. Achieve personal satisfaction. For other students, the goals are less tangible (but by no means less important). Students listed “happiness,” “greater and broader experience,” “travel,” “work/life balance,” “pride,” “more knowledge,” and “personal completeness/wholeness” among their post-college goals. Others look forward to “doing what [they] want to do,” or a “job where I can grow but still be true to my beliefs,” while still others want to “retire” and “rest on [their] satisfaction of going to school at an elderly age.”
4. Serve and support others. We were encouraged by the students who wanted to use what they’d learned in college for the purpose of “helping others in need” and “pass[ing] knowledge on to others.” Many mentioned that they want to join a national or global aid effort, whether by working for a non-profit or NGO, joining the Peace Corps, or “provid[ing] aid for children and individuals with disabilities in war-torn countries.” Others stuck a bit closer to home, naming such activities as “mentoring,” “start[ing] a family,” “utilizing my newly gained knowledge to help others in my community,” or “passing on knowledge about… my experience in my specific school and helping whoever I can will attend that school in the future.”
5. Secure a better financial outlook. In addition to the 62% who say they have a goal of a high-paying (or higher-paying) job, several students commented that their goal is to “become financially independent.” One student put a date to the goal, writing of a desire to experience “financial freedom in two years after I graduate.”
Students name the top way college enables them to reach their goals
In this same survey, over three thousand students named the key way that they believe college will enable them to achieve these goals.
Nearly half (49%) of the students stated that the degree itself will help them get to where they want to go, whereas nearly one quarter (23%) said that the subject knowledge will be the key to reaching and achieving their goals. Clearly, the majority of students believe that their academic achievements will be the key to achieving their post-college goals.
Other factors proved to be a priority to fewer college students. A much smaller percentage (14%) said that building contacts and networking were the most valuable part of their college experience. And, only 12% said that critical-thinking skills were the key factor in helping them reach their goals. However, this doesn’t mean they devalue critical thinking; in a previous survey from Fall 2014, 99% of students agreed that critical thinking is an important skill, and 92% believe what they learn in class sharpens their critical thinking skills for the “real world.”
Truth be told, most students have many goals in mind when they decide to enter college. Likewise, they undoubtedly recognize that multiple factors will help them achieve their personal and professional goals. But, by knowing and understanding their key goals and priorities, we can be better prepared to help them succeed in those areas that matter the most to them.
Want to help your students achieve their academic goals, as well as their goals after college graduation? Review the tips in the blog posts below, and share your own suggestions in the comments.
The GPS Strategy for Achieving Goals
Tips for Students: Prioritizing Time to Achieve Your Goals
Tips for Students: Defining Your Values and Goals
When you start college it seems like you have an eternity to make up your mind about what you will do after graduation. While some people might have known since freshers’ week where they were going after college, many don’t begin to consider it until their final year.
There are plenty of options facing final-year students, from graduate programmes to working abroad to further study. Whether you’ve always known what you want to do after finishing your degree or are only recently thinking about it, it’s important to know what all your options are and what will work best for you.
There is a basic choice: work or further study. But even within those you have a number of paths, so it is important to figure out which fits with where you want to go in life.
Career guidance centres, graduate offices and career fairs, either on campus or organised by groups such as Gradireland, are hugely useful. You should use them to talk to relevant people, pick up information and figure out the best route for your preferred career path.
Talking to people who went on to work or study in the area you are interested in is also a good way to try to plan the next step. Universities and colleges usually have former students they can put you in touch with if you are considering further study, while many companies will be happy to put you in contact with people from their graduate programme to tell you about their experience.
Taking that first jobAfter three or four years of study, many students are happy to see the end of assignments, exams and a diet made up of cereal and baked beans. For those, entering the world of work is the logical route and it seems this is a good time to be a graduate looking for a job.
“I’m very optimistic for graduates at the moment,” says Ger Lardner, senior careers adviser with Dublin City University’s Student Support & Development Centre.
Lardner has seen an increase in the number of companies recruiting graduates in the last number of years, with “talent wars” between multinationals across all sectors.
“Companies are looking for the best and brightest students . . . There’s been a huge increase in IT in the last two years, but finance and business are still very strong. There’s an increase in companies looking for languages as well, but in general the companies want very good students in all disciplines. They want a mix of creative and quantitative people, who can bring different talents to the company,” Lardner says.
Along with companies meeting students at graduate fairs, they are also going into colleges to recruit. DCU is already booked up with lunchtime recruitment sessions right into the middle of its second semester. And while it might not be for everybody, there are certainly a lot of benefits for fresh-faced graduates going straight into a job.
“One advantage is that you get to use your skills very quickly without them going to waste,” says Lardner. “If you want to bed down in this country and establish yourself, you’re making your network and your contacts at a very young age, which does benefit you.
“Also some students want to travel and they are plenty of large organisations in particular that want their graduates to travel, it is part of the job. Kingspan for example would say to graduates, ‘Don’t apply if you’re not willing to get on a plane’. Even though they are Cavan-based, they operate in a global environment. So if you want to work and travel you can be smart about it and do both.”
Going straight from your undergraduate course into employment also gives you the chance to figure out your strengths and weaknesses. You will get the chance to identify if there’s a particular part of the sector you might want to specialise in, or find out if it’s even the right type of work for you. That’s something you can often only get with hands-on experience.
For those working there’s also the chance to continue studies with a part-time postgraduate course, which may be funded by your work. Some people may even have their company pay for their further education, along with getting study leave and bonuses for good performance in exams.
Moving abroadThe end of your undergrad is also an optimal time to move country or even continent, doing anything from teaching English, to engineering to interning in law firms. It’s an opportunity to see a new landscape, make new friends and embrace a totally different culture. It’s also a chance for many to embellish their CVs.
Lisa Collender, marketing manager with Usit, which offers one-year graduate visas, says going abroad gives graduates a real insight into the working environment of another culture. This experience really stands to them when they return to Ireland a year later and look for work.
“A lot of it is to do with work ethic. We have, for example, a graduate in America who is doing five different things alongside her placement; for example she’s involved in meetings for start-up companies. There’s an appetite among graduates who go out on a visa to get involved outside of the workplace,” Collender says.
“These people are also constantly networking and when they come back to get into the workplace here, they are almost a few steps further up the ladder. They’ve gone to a different country, most of them go on their own, and so they have stood on their own two feet and have got a job or an internship. They have these contacts and experience on their CV, and it really opens doors for them when they come back to start their career in Ireland.”
Conversion coursesOf course, after three or four years of college, some students may discover they want a complete change from where their undergraduate degree was taking them. There is a growing number of postgraduate conversion courses in colleges around the country. They offer a second chance for graduates to take control of their career path and go in a totally different direction. They usually last one to two years and can, for example, take science graduates into marketing, business and arts graduates into law and engineering students into web design.
“When choosing a conversion course it’s key to ask the reason for doing so,” says Dave Kilmartin, head of the Career Development Centre with Dublin Institute of Technology.
“Is it to change career path? Is it to enter a certain profession? Or is it just out of interest in the academic area? Underpinning this is the question of the individual’s definitions of career motivation, fulfilment and success. The course will ideally bring you closer to realising these core aspects of career decision-making.”
Kilmartin advises anyone considering a conversion course to speak to previous participants on the course: find out what opportunities it opened to them and what the reputation of the course is among employers. He also urges people to consider the financial aspect of a conversion course, which can cost anything from €3,000 to €15,000 and more.
The biggest benefit of a conversion course is that it allows you to enter an area of work that you are passionate about and truly interested in, rather than slogging away for years in an area or profession you care nothing about.
Conversion courses are usually highly valued by employers as they often favour candidates with a broad educational background.
Your degree will give you transferable skills that you can bring with you into your new area, while the course itself will give you the skills necessary for the sector you want to enter.
Kilmartin says a change in career direction can ultimately represent personal strength and determination, and can distinguish you from other graduates when applying for a job.
PostgradsFor those who are not quite ready to turn their backs on academia, the option of a postgraduate course, either taught or research, can also offer opportunities further down the line for graduates.
“Irish education is typically a three-year undergrad, whereas if we look to Europe or North America a standard undergrad is four years,” says Peter McNamara, professor of management at the School of Business at Maynooth University.
“Employment data show your employment options increase rapidly either through a postgrad or a job placement. When I give careers talks, I would always advise students that they consider a three-year degree followed by a postgraduate if they don’t immediately get the employment of their dreams, because it really heavily helps.”
Both a taught postgrad and a research postgrad can be beneficial in enhancing your employability. The main thing is to figure out which type of postgrad will help you to fulfil your career expectations and what structure suits you best, as both have a number of merits employers will appreciate.
A taught master’s usually has a very structured programme, similar to an undergraduate degree, with lectures, group work and regular assignments; students are expected to complete a major thesis or dissertation by the end. They usually equip people with strong teamwork and communication skills, as well as upskilling students and giving them a greater insight into their chosen area. They typically last one year and incorporate a work placement.
“A postgrad placement is the real key,” says McNamara. “It gives students very relevant knowledge that employers use to screen whether to hire them or not. Another route by which employers scope them out is saying, ‘How did you do in your postgraduate? Did you demonstrate an ability to get on your postgrad degree? Did you pick a relevant postgrad degree? How did you perform in that?’”
A research postgrad usually takes longer than a year and is less structured, with students carrying out most of their work independently.
“A research master’s, often leading to a research PhD, is a very different offering,” says McNamara. “It’s for somebody who has a deep interest in their chosen subject and really wants to do some original research and expand their knowledge of a particular issue. So, in the case of a business research student, they would be going out there collecting data, trying to really understand what the business or area they are looking into is about.”
For research students collecting data, it can get them out of the library and making contacts. Networking in this way can prove useful when looking for a job after the postgrad. A research postgrad also allows the student to know more about that area than anyone else in Ireland, or indeed internationally, and so it’s also the route into academia. It can also open a lot of doors to consultancy or being a specialist in a particular area.