Career Development Starts Early at the University of Maryland-College Park With a Credit-Bearing Class
Those of you who come to this site might know that I worked around college career development centers in my past life. Through these associations I have learned a great deal about how the resources of a college, and not only career development centers, can help students to find employment that matches their intellectual and personal interests.
A good career development center will have strong liaison relationships with faculty, student affairs professionals, alumni relations officers, and often peers at other colleges to help their students make contacts with as many potential employers as possible. The very best career development centers reach out to students as early as the freshman year, although most of the newest students have no idea what they will want to do after they finish college.
The University of Maryland-College Park has one of the very best career development centers among the larger research universities. Entry-level hiring professionals ranked Maryland 8th among public and private research universities, according to a Wall Street Journal survey conducted in September of 2010. But, more important, career and leadership development are a part of the university’s academic and extracurricular programs as early as freshman year.
A large school such as Maryland will have more comprehensive career services than most smaller schools, especially given its location near a major city, Washington D.C., so desired by recent college grads. But it is tough to imagine a school of this size–Maryland has around 26,000 undergraduates–offering a credit-based career development course that is targeted to be delivered to every first-year and second-year student. Yet this university plans to do precisely that.
During the past academic year the University Career Center at the University of Maryland-College Park offered a 1-credit graded online career development course called The Psychology of Getting Hired to a pilot group of around 500 students, around half in the fall, half in the spring. The class was listed as a 100-level course for freshmen and sophomores. The university has enough instructors to offer the class to as many as 1,000 students, targeting first-semester sophomores in the fall, second-semester freshmen in the spring. This course, organized around a series of two-week modules, requires students to develop a resume as well as participate in at least one mock interview. It also teaches students how to use social media, write effective cover letters and e-mails and research potential employers. With no textbook to buy the course was essentially free to full-time students.
Credit-bearing and free were certainly good reasons for students to sign up for this course. But so was the opportunity to develop and refine a resume and learn what it takes to ace a job interview. When the career center surveyed students who took the class in the Spring of 2015, they learned, from 293 students that:
- Eighty-nine percent of the students had learned how to use the career development center’s web site for their job search vs. 29 percent before the class started;
- Eighty-nine percent of the students reported that they knew how to make their resume stand out with employers vs. 29 percent before the class started;
- Ninety percent found that they had received helpful feedback on their resume, while 91 percent felt that they had a strong resume that was ready to present to employers;
- Ninety-two percent of the students felt that they understood the key skills that are required to get hired, while 90 percent understood the interview skills that they needed to get hired
- Eighty-nine percent of the students believed, that after taking the course, that they knew how to use LinkedIn to find and network with alumni versus 43 percent before the start of the course; and,
- Eighty-three percent of the students believed that the university’s career development center had excellent resources for career development versus 47 percent before the start of the course.
Most important, the students who had declared a major were enrolled in various colleges within the university. Liberal arts students took this class as did students in pre-professional programs. The liberal arts students, as well as those who are considering a major, need a course like this as much as the aspiring accountants, computer scientists, engineers and teachers. They probably need it more, given the research they need to do about employers and jobs.
Maryland is not the only school that offers career development courses, even credit-bearing ones. But it is probably the first that one day wants to offer a course to every second-semester freshman as well as every first-semester sophomore, though first-semester freshmen and second-semester sophomores would likely be welcome, too.
I know that there are academics who frown about the idea of college career development centers offering a course such as this for college credit, let alone a grade. However, college administrators answer to others besides their faculty. Their students and their parents are their customers, too. Parents are more engaged with colleges than ever before, and they want those colleges to better prepare their sons and daughters to pay for school, find meaningful work experiences, gain admission into further education, and find full-time jobs.
Mere possession of a degree, even with excellent grades, is not enough for most college students to find rewarding work. Employers are seeking more polished entry-level graduates than they did in the past. Managers have less time and patience for on-the-job training. They are looking not only for academic excellence and strong communications skills; they also want entry-level hires with experience and enthusiasm.
The best way that a college can meet these challenge is to educate its students about “real life” as soon as possible. That includes providing the tools to help them get the job or the further education that they want. The schools that take on this challenge, such as Maryland, will be rewarded with more successful graduates as well as greater alumni loyalty.