This is the fifth in a series of articles about experiences in college that can affect graduates’ engagement and well-being after college. Be sure to read the first four posts in the series as well: Part 1 — Getting Excited, Part 2 — Feeling Cared For, Part 3 — Having a Mentor, and Part 4 — Long Term Project.
A recent poll of nearly 30,000 college graduates conducted jointly by Purdue University and Gallup, Inc. looked at the relationship between college experiences and college graduates’ lives post-graduation. The study examined workplace engagement and graduates’ sense of well-being as well as factors influencing students’ life while in college.
According to the results of this study, six factors emerged as important influences on graduates’ engagement and well-being. Over a six week period, our series, College Experiences That Lead to Well-Being After Graduation will examine each of these factors and how students can take control of their college experiences to make sure that they participate in the activities in college which will help them in the future. We hope parents will share these ideas with their college students to help them work to pursue these important experiences.
I had an internship or job that allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom
Less than a third (29%) of graduates responding to this survey strongly agreed that they had experienced an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning. Some of these students probably did not participate in any internship at all, but some may have had an internship that they did not feel connected to their classroom experiences.
According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) nearly 50% of employers would like to see an internship on applicants’ resumes. So clearly internships are important and valuable.
Since, obviously, many students are not participating in internships, the important question becomes why? Why the disconnect between the experiences that employers value and the experiences in which students are participating? Are colleges not providing opportunities or not helping students find appropriate internships? Are students not taking advantage of opportunities made available by institutions? If not, why not?
Or are students participating in internships, but not seeing any value in the internships or not seeing any connection to their classroom learning? Is the problem with the internship itself, in the connection between internship and classroom learning, or with the classroom learning itself?
Clearly, this finding raises many questions. And according to the Purdue/Gallup poll, having a meaningful internship or job that allows students to apply what they are learning is one of the key factors influencing graduates’ ability to thrive after college. Therefore, finding the answers to these questions is important.
It will not necessarily be an easy task for institutions to examine both their internship programs and the learning taking place in their classrooms. Schools need to make meaningful internship opportunities available to students, and then encourage students to take advantage of those opportunities. Internship programs need to assure that their internships provide real opportunities for students to apply what they have learned, and that students do not engage in menial tasks only. Learning contracts and/or direct work with site supervisors may help.
Colleges also need to consider whether at least some of what students are learning in the classroom is applicable to real word situations. Although the college classroom is not intended to be solely internship preparation, helping students see the relationship between what they learn in the classroom and their real world experiences is crucial.
Students, however, also need to bear some responsibility for ensuring that they have the chance to engage in a meaningful internship or job that allows them to apply what they learn in the classroom. Students should choose at least some classes that will help them prepare. Students should begin to work with a Career Services or Career Development office early in their college careers to begin to put the appropriate pieces in place. Students should participate in activities and/or join professional associations that will allow them to network and begin to make contacts in their chosen industry. Some of these contacts may lead to later internships. Students should conduct informational interviews with professionals in their chosen field to find out what classroom learning will be important. And finally, students should aim to start internship opportunities as early as allowable so that they may have the option of participating in multiple internships.
Students need to remember, too, that a relevant job may also provide this important connection between the ”real” world and the world of the classroom. If their institution does not have a well-established internship program, students may seek a part-time job or summer job that will allow them to apply their learning. If the institution does not foster these opportunities, students may need to seek these opportunities on their own.
The connection between the learning that takes place in college classrooms and the work that students do after they graduate is receiving increasing attention. It is appropriate and important that the world of higher education examine this connection. But it is equally important that students examine this connection as well — and make sure that they seek those opportunities which will help them thrive after they graduate.