Career centers are an integral part of the college experience, providing students and alumni with services ranging from resume assistance to job placement.
In a Gallup survey, 67% of graduates who visited career services were more likely to be employed full-time for an employer or self-employed compared to 59% who did not pay a visit. And of those graduates who said the career services office was very helpful, 49% reported that they had a good job waiting for them when they graduated.
While career centers certainly have their benefits, there are also downsides. However, before delving into the pros and cons, it’s important to learn what career centers are and the services offered to students, alumni, and even faculty.
What Is a Career Center?
A career center essentially serves as a professional development hub for students.
The services provided within these centers include job search workshops, one-on-one support for students and alumni in areas like resume writing and interview practice, job postings and placement, and arranging and hosting on-campus and online career fairs.
Devon Turcotte, a former career center outreach officer and current career coach supporting Gen Z, told The Balance via email that students can start accessing services immediately, once they have a confirmed offer of admission. “It’s not that they are going to rush in the month before school starts and ask if they can have a resume,” she said. “It’s just to have a sense of what the career center does, get that grounding early, and then when they do need the services, they already know where to go.”
For faculty and staff, meanwhile, career centers can support them in their academic programming, and serve as an educational resource so they are better equipped to refer students on where to turn to if they need career support.
Pros and Cons of Career Centers
- Expert advisers
- Free services
- Career fairs
- Career planning and job placement
- Hesitation and apathy
- Limited focus
- Lack of clarity on guidance
Pros of Careers Centers Explained
Many career centers are supplemented by career experts, particularly at the university level, who work within specific departments. This means that while the central career center might provide more generalized support, it also works in tandem with experts in the various academic areas who can provide more program-related support. “It's having those bridges already built as opposed to the student having to run around and find everything, or to go to a community entity that may not have that sort of expertise at that specialized level,” said Turcotte.
Career center services are often free at most colleges and universities, with some of them even offering lifetime access to alumni. Students and alumni can schedule free one-on-one appointments for job search services, discuss career options, and review job listings.
Career fairs, which are often the foundation of recruiting, bring employers, students, and alumni together in one place, making it easier to network and find jobs.
Online career fairs have become more common in part because of the virtual environment in which businesses now operate.
A poll conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 90% of employers have participated in a virtual career fair, up from 35% in previous years.
Career Planning and Placement
Career advisers assist students in determining which educational program to pursue and what companies and industries are more likely to hire graduates. They also assist with internship placements and offer mentoring.
Cons of Career Centers Explained
According to a separate Gallup study conducted in conjunction with Purdue University, just one in six graduates said career centers were “very helpful.” Here are some of the reasons why this may be the case.
Hesitation and Apathy
In a survey of undergraduates at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, nearly half of the respondents—mainly freshman and sophomores—said they haven’t visited a career center because there was “no need to yet.”
Meanwhile, other students might simply be nervous to speak with career counselors about personal matters, and seek other options. For instance, a survey from Gallup and education network Strada found that fewer than 20% of undergraduate students reach out to their school’s career centers for advice on finding jobs, instead choosing to consult with family and friends on their career moves.
The Gallup-Purdue study points out that graduates who were older than traditional-age college students said they found the career services office catered more to students looking for their first job rather than those rejoining the workforce after returning to college to earn a degree. In addition, respondents noted that career centers did little to prepare them for more complex career moves like salary negotiations.
Lack of Clarity on Guidance
Sometimes, the delivery of career services may not be straightforward, resulting in unclear boundaries on who the primary career guide is. Career coach Turcotte said that if there is a central career center and also a career adviser in an academic office, students might sometimes be confused about who they should turn to for assistance.
Making the Most of Your Career Center
Get to Know Your Career Center
All students should receive information about their career center in their admission package. Familiarize yourself with all the services it offers—it’s not just about resume and interview assistance, after all. Some schools are even offering virtual services in light of the ongoing public health crisis.
Approximately 85% of job opportunities are found through networking. This is an opportunity to establish relationships, build trust, and ultimately find a job, so it’s crucial to sharpen your networking skills.
Join Professional Associations
Many professional associations, from the Public Relations Society of America to the American Public Health Association, offer student membership at a reduced fee. By joining one or more associations, you can meet, learn, and develop relationships with industry professionals, stay up to date on industry trends, and stand out to employers.