What Do ‘Good’ College Career Counselors Do?
Career services offices have come under criticism in the education press. Prior to starting this site, I worked with college career counselors at over 300 schools of different types, two-year and four-year, liberal arts and pre-professional. The vast majority of college career counselors are caring and sincere people, and do their best with the resources they have. Most of the criticism is not warranted.
Like any other profession, career services has its best practices. The very best college career counselors seek students out early in their freshman year. They do this either as part of the orientation program before classes or within the introductory courses that are part of their college’s first-year experience.
College career counselors also:
Encourage, in fact, often require, students to register with the career center’s jobs database.
Their database includes part-time “survival jobs” and College Work-Study jobs. It also includes the internships and full-time positions that may interest these students later in their education.
Encourage and assist students to develop a resume.
Most students enter college with little in the way of work experience while in high school. However, they have other experiences through extracurricular activities as well as skills that might qualify them for part-time work. A resume improves the chances for a student to sell their prospective boss on their skill set.
Help undecided students towards an academic as well as a career direction.
Good counselors know the degree requirements for every degree program under their purview. This is especially important for students who may have a rough idea of what they want to study, but are not totally sure. They will have some understanding of possible occupations that fit for each major as well as access to a database of contacts who have consented to meet with students.
Be there to help students who have had a discouraging start to their education.
Many freshmen initially choose a major based on what they think a profession will be like, as opposed to what it is actually like. Engineering may sound like a high-paying, inventive and creative profession at first, but students must go through a rigorous grounding in chemistry, math and physics. A student may find that s/he, for example, loves math, but does not love science as much. Or that engineering problems, as defined in an introduction to the field, are not as exciting to solve as “big picture” science problems. That student may also find that s/he wants to be an engineering, but has a tough time keeping up with the work in large-lecture classes. A good counselor helsp a student consider other majors, fields, and possibly other colleges.
Support the faculty.
This is especially important at smaller schools where students are taught by professors who have heavier teaching loads than they might have at a large research university. Faculty at a smaller school do not always have the time to keep with labor market and job information. Sometimes career services and the faculty join together. Their collaboration helps create credit-bearing and paid opportunities with local employers that have both an academic and a job-related component.
There is one thing, however, that college career counselors will not do any student, and that is hand them a job.
Career services offices place an emphasis on helping a student learn what their career interests might be, and how to pursue them with the help of faculty, contacts and prospective employers. They are not “job placement” offices that match candidates with employers. Even the large universities that have extensive on-campus recruitment programs give the employer the choice of candidates to interview; the employers set their own standards. While a counselor can offer them guidance, and possibly encourage a company to take a look at someone that they believe to be a strong candidate, they cannot force an employer to interview anyone.
And a final point. The job search for a student seeking a summer internship, a co-op or a full-time job is a job unto itself.
On-campus recruitment helps students in majors such as accounting, computer science, education, engineering and nursing. But it will not be a “be-all, end-all, for-all” for other majors. The job search for such students is self directed. Those who begin to search early in their senior year for their first full-time job or work towards that goal through a formal internship or part-time position are more likely to succeed than the students who panic during the last semester of their senior year.
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