College is really just a stop along the path to the rest of your life. With all of the anxiety about college admission, getting into the “right” college, and succeeding in school, we sometimes forget that these four years simply lead students to the next phase of their lives. But what happens in college certainly affects that next phase. Surprising new information indicates that it is the experiences that the student has – many of which are in his control – that may matter more than where the student attends school
A new research study, conducted jointly by Purdue University and Gallup, Inc. attempted to look at the relationship between college experiences and college graduates’ lives post-graduation. The study was conducted early in 2014 and surveyed nearly 30,000 U.S. adults who had completed at least a bachelor’s degree.
The Gallup-Purdue study attempted to examine workplace engagement and current well-being of college graduates. Workplace engagement was defined as being” deeply involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work” and well-being/thriving was defined as “strong, consistent, and progressing in all areas of their well-being.” Isn’t this what we want for our children as they become adults?
Interestingly, this study found that experiences in college mattered more for the long-term outcomes for college graduates than where they went to school. And, even more significant for college parents as we send our children to college, several of those important college experiences may be under students’ control. We need to talk to our students about how they can ensure that they participate in these important experiences during the college years.
Unfortunately, this study concluded that only 3% of all of the graduates studied had all of the types of experiences that Gallup finds important for engagement and well-being afterward. How might that percentage change if students are encouraged to make sure those experiences happen?
The first area which this study examined had to do with student support on campus. 63% of graduates surveyed said that they had had at least one professor who made them excited about learning. 27% felt that they had professors who cared about them as a person, and 22% felt they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams. Only 14% of graduates felt that all three of those conditions existed.
Students need to be made aware of the importance of connecting with faculty members. Other studies have supported the notion that student/faculty connections matter. However, faculty members cannot be expected to be solely responsible for establishing those important relationships. Encourage your student to connect with faculty members by making use of office hours, seeking advice from faculty members, connecting with academic advisors, and pursuing faculty members who may be able to mentor students in particular areas.
32% of graduates surveyed said that they had worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete. 29% had an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom, and only 20% said they were extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations. Only 6% of graduates claimed that all three of these areas were true for them.
The experiential area is one over which students may have even more control than the area of support. Extracurricular involvement and activities serve an important purpose in helping students to feel engaged, providing leadership opportunities, and giving students an opportunity to apply skills and knowledge learned in the classroom. Students who view extracurricular or co-curricular activities as unimportant or peripheral lose out on necessary experiences. Talk to your student about both extracurricular activities and the importance of internships and encourage him to start early to talk to faculty members and to visit the Career Development Office to plan for one, or more, internships. Students who wait for an opportunity to knock on their door will likely miss out.
Your student’s experiences in college, outside of the classroom, are, to a large extent, under her control. It is important that students be aware, early on in their college career, that their actions will not only influence their college experiences, but that those experiences will have lasting effects after college.
The bottom line – your student’s future
Finally, only 3% of graduates felt that they could agree with all six of the above areas. Only 3% felt they had received the support from faculty that was important and that they had engaged in experiential activities that made a difference. This might be seen as a condemnation of the national college experience, but might also highlight the fact that many of these outcomes are in the hands of students. Their college experiences, like so much of their lives, will be what they make of them. Help your student understand the importance of these experiences and begin now to think about how he can change his future through his actions now.