Crisis of Confidence: Current College Students Do Not Feel prepared for the Workforce

2017 College Student Survey

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The 2017 College Student Survey, a new nationally representative survey of current students examining their perceptions about preparation for the workforce and the career-related support they receive from their institutions. Representing the views of more than 32,000 students at 43 randomly selected four-year institutions, the survey reveals a crisis of confidence among most students regarding their readiness to launch careers.

Key Findings

From verbatim responses, the research team identified themes and coded the self-reported learner motivations. Below are some of the key findings:

Student confidence in their workforce preparation differs across majors.


Nontraditional students feel more prepared than traditional students.


Students who receive career-specific support feel most prepared for the workforce.


Nearly four in 10 students have never visited their school’s career services office of used online career resources, including more than one-third of seniors.


Career services are particularly helpful for underrepresented and underserved student populations.


Students receive helpful advice about courses and programs from academic advisers, but less so about careers and postgraduate options.

Universities can push students to seek out conversations with faculty members about career options. In doing so, universities open a dialogue between faculty and students about the relationship between academic studies and future careers — one that stands to benefit all parties.

“Higher education’s promise of social mobility hinges on students graduating with confidence, purpose and the skills needed to land their first job,” said Bill Hansen, president and CEO of Strada Education NetworkSM and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. “Students are telling us they feel underprepared to enter the workforce while employers bemoan the skills of recent graduates. That signals demand for new career advising and work-relevant learning models that support more successful transitions from education to employment.”

Importantly, the findings also point to solutions, revealing that students who have these three career-focused experiences at their institution are significantly more confident about their preparation for the workforce:

  1. Speak often with faculty or staff about their career options;
  2. Have at least one university official initiate a conversation with them about their career options; and,
  3. Believe their school is committed to helping their students find a rewarding career.

Additional survey insights include:

  • Student confidence differs across majors. Students pursuing science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) degrees report the most confidence about their job prospects with 62% strongly agreeing their major will lead to a good job, compared with 40% of liberal arts majors, 51% of business majors and 58% of those in public service majors like education, social work and criminal justice.
  • Nearly four in 10 students have never used their school’s career services resources. Overall, 39% of students have never visited their school’s career services office or used its online resources, including more than one-third of seniors.
  • Career services and advisors are helpful for minority, first-generation and older students. Black, Hispanic, first-generation and older students are all far more likely to rate the guidance they received from their career services office and academic advisors as very helpful.

“Students aren’t prepared for work – and they know it,” said Brandon Busteed, Executive Director, Education & Workforce Development at Gallup. “The fact that 88% of freshmen say, ‘getting a good job’ is the reason they go to college, yet only a third strongly agree they are getting the skills and knowledge they need to succeed is a mandate to improve how institutions approach everything from their academic curriculum to advising.”

When it comes to education after high school, Americans know what they value and why. At Strada Education Network, we are listening to what they have to say and leveraging their insights about experiences and outcomes to forge more purposeful pathways between education and careers.

Gallup strategically partners with institutions to conduct custom research and implement best practices that create environments in which students and employees thrive.

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