College Career Counseling Offices

I had dinner last night with Mark Presnell, the Director of the Johns Hopkins University Career Center.  As an active Hopkins alum, I have been involved with several facets of the school, including the Career Center, over the past 2 decades.  Mark was visiting Los Angeles and asked me to introduce him to alumni interested in assisting him in finding jobs and internships for students.

counseling2Career Counseling offices have become more important, mainly to parents, in the college search process.  Parents and students want to be assured that there will be a job at the end of the potentially expensive investment in a college education.

The Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago, for example, promised parents at an information session I attended last fall that his goal was to ensure that students would not return to live at their parents homes after graduation.  And he must be succeeding, because Presnell told me last night that U Chicago’s career counseling office is one of the top in the nation for job placement.  He singled out Washington University in St. Louis and Penn State as stellar in this area as well.

“Students are driven to majors by the prospect of employment after graduation,” said Travis Railsback, Executive Director of the University of Alabama’s Career Center, whom I met last week during a visit.  So you should ask, when you visit colleges, about their career center and major advising programs, which are all connected to that important first job after college.

Career Counseling offices can give you several metrics that can help you decide how effective their work with your student has the potential to be.  For example, Presnell has 12 full-time staff members, who booked 4,000 appointments with 1,300 unique individuals last year.  At Alabama, there were 6,000 appointments with 4,000 unique individuals, which tells you that on average, Hopkins students who take advantage of the career office come in about three times, whereas at Alabama, the average is one and a half visits per student.

What do career counseling offices do?  At Hopkins, Presnell says their work is divided into three categories:

  • Career counseling:  Helping students define their values and look in the right direction for jobs
  • Career advising:  assisting them with specific skills, like creating their resume, interviewing, networking
  • Job placement:  This is where Presnell’s relationship with alumni becomes important.  The alumni network is, for many colleges, an excellent starting point for recent grads – some colleges have legendary alumni networks.  The office also holds regular career fairs and members of his team build relationships with employers in many different sectors.

Researching career counseling offices is an important step in knowing how a college will provide a link between your child’s education and the next step, if s/he is not headed to graduate school.  Check out the resources available (see this page for Hopkins’ Career Center’s handouts for students) and ask about how frequently students are advised, how large the staff is, how many graduates are still looking for jobs 9 months to a year after graduation, what the average starting salary of graduates is.  Most strong career centers will track all of this data.

For Hopkins’ class of 2012, data was collected between June, 2012 and March, 2013.  57% of the graduates from the schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering responded:

  • 46% full-time employed
  • 35% enrolled in graduate school
  • 8% part-time, volunteer work or other unpaid work
  • 8% actively job searching
  • 3% applying to graduate school

Average salaries among students with full-time employment: $39,703 for Arts & Sciences alumni and $56,202 for Engineering alumni.

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