Saddening: Women say colleges not preparing them for a career

New report sheds light on 2016’s college seniors’ feelings about career-readiness —and they’re not great.

Only four in 10 (40 percent) college seniors, and a similar number of college students overall, feel their college experience has been helpful in preparing for a career—and percentage that drops to 19 percent for women when asked if they feel very  prepared for their career overall .

These are just some of the all-too-real findings part of McGraw-Hill Education’s recently released third annual Workforce Readiness Survey, conducted by Hanover Research among 1,360 U.S. college students during March and April 2016, using an online survey.

Looking to national conversations, the growth of career readiness programs and past reports over the last two years, the perceived importance of preparing for careers while in college appears to be on the rise, yet certain college students – including humanities majors and women – continue to report lower career confidence than their peers, found the report.

“Despite the increasing cost of attending college, it continues to be a great investment for young people to make in their futures if they graduate,” said Peter Cohen, McGraw-Hill Education’s group president of U.S. education. “It should be our collective goal to maximize the experience–whether in community colleges, four-year colleges or graduate programs–so students can feel confident they’ll have a successful career after finishing their higher education journey. While no two students’ career aspirations are the same, every college graduate deserves to enter the workforce with the confidence that their degree was worth the investment.”

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Some of the differences in perceived career preparedness among specific groups include:

  • Men are more likely than women (24 percent compared to 19 percent) to report that they feel “very prepared” for their careers, even though women are more likely to report that they are “satisfied” with their college experience (82 percent compared to 74 percent).
  • Arts and Humanities majors are more than three times as likely as other students to report that they feel “not at all prepared” for their careers (18 percent of Arts and Humanities majors, compared to less than 6 percent of all other students).
  • Students in STEM majors are the most likely to report that they are optimistic about their career prospects (73 percent), while students in Arts & Humanities and in Social Science majors are the least likely (61 percent of each).
  • Students in community colleges are as likely to feel prepared for careers and be satisfied with their collegiate experience as students at four-year colleges.

(Next page: More career-readiness findings from the report)

Clamoring for More Career-Readiness via the Institution

While students report that they are increasingly satisfied with their overall college experience (79 percent in 2016, compared to 65 percent in 2014), an increasing percentage report that they would have preferred their schools to provide:

  • More internships and professional experiences (67 percent in 2016, compared to 59 percent in 2014).
  • More time to focus on career preparation (59 percent in 2016, compared to 47 percent in 2014).
  • Better access to career preparation tools (47 percent in 2016, compared to 38 percent in 2014).
  • More alumni networking opportunities (34 percent in 2016, compared to 22 percent in 2014).

Students Themselves Focusing More on Career Prep 

According to the report, college students are more focused on preparing for their careers than they were just a few years ago:

  • 71 percent of college students now report that planning for a rewarding career while they are in college is “extremely important,” compared to 66 percent in 2014.
  • More than 61 percent report that they have pursued a major that will help them to secure a job after graduation, compared to just 48 percent in 2014.

Hedging on “Soft Skills” and Majors

In planning for their job search, students value their “soft skills,” but indicate that those skills could be developed further:

  • When asked to identify skills that make them attractive job seekers, students are more likely to cite their interpersonal skills (78 percent) than any other attribute, including grades/GPA (67 percent), a degree in a marketable field (67 percent) and internship experience (60 percent).
  • The majority say they haven’t learned how to network or search for a job (59 percent) or how to conduct themselves in a job interview (58 percent) during college.

A significant portion of students also says they are unsure their major will help them get a job:

  • Two in five say they are happy with their major but are unsure that it will get them a job when they graduate, and 22 percent say choosing a more relevant major would make them feel more prepared for their professional career.
  • Only 41 percent report that skills in their major are in high demand, and only 20 percent say companies often recruit graduates of their major directly out of college.

Technology Seen as Beneficial for Career-Readiness

Some students see benefits of classroom technology that extend far beyond the classroom:

  • 85 percent of college students feel that having used technology in classes or to study has helped to make them a better job candidate, and 89 percent use study technologies at least occasionally.
  • Business and Economics majors are most likely (65 percent) to frequently use study technologies, defined as any digital or online program or application that allows you to learn classroom concepts.

Many more findings, as well as methodology and detailed infographics can be found on the report’s homepage here.