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One unconventional factor to consider when choosing a college

Anyone lucky enough to have choices for college has a list of things that are important to them: price, size, location, quality. But here’s an unconventional factor that students may want to start considering at a time when graduating from college with good grades may no longer be enough to get a job. It was written by Laura R. Hosid, who was the associate director of Georgetown University’s Office of Career Services and now works for Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc. in Bethesda, which provides college and career counseling to young people.

By Laura R. Hosid

While many anxious seniors (and their parents) breathed a collective sigh of relief as long awaited college admissions decisions were finally announced, for some families the hard part is just beginning. April is often a time of re-visiting campuses, talking to current students, and making spreadsheets comparing everything from majors offered to proximity to the airport.

To most families, there is inherent value in the personal growth and broad education that students experience at college. However, to many families the end goal of getting a job can be equally important. Those families who consider future job prospects a priority should carefully examine a college’s Career Services programs.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the return on investment of a college education, employment rates at graduation, and which majors earn the highest salaries. But none of these numbers can tell the whole story. Which schools are investing in professional development from day one? Which schools promote access to employers and internships throughout all four years?

In today’s economy, a good GPA at a top school is not enough to guarantee a job. More and more employers are looking for actual experience on a graduate’s resume, primarily in the form of summer or semester internships. Traditionally college Career Services offices have focused on recruiting employers to campus and helping students find post-graduation employment. But what about developing relationships with local businesses and alumni to facilitate internships during the school year? What about teaching professional etiquette – in-person and online – beginning freshman year?

Many Career Services offices have added innovative programming in response to the changing economy. Wake Forest University starts career planning at freshman orientation and just built an impressive new Career Center. Starting this fall, Princeton University will use an algorithm similar to the online matchmaking service eHarmony to match students with alumni for mentoring opportunities. American University provides interactive intern maps to highlight past student internships. And Lawrence University brings in professional photographers to take headshots for students’ LinkedIn profiles.

Another option for students who are serious about gaining real world experience while in college is a school with a co-op program such as Drexel University, Northeastern University, or University of Cincinnati. In a co-op program, students alternate between semesters spent in the classroom and semesters spent working in paid positions related to their field of study. By the time they graduate, students will often have had two or three co-op experiences – good for their resumes, their professional development, and their bank accounts!

While ultimately college is for learning, the type of learning that takes place in quality internships can be just as valuable as some of that which takes place in the classroom. And the self-awareness developed by beginning professional development early can help focus a student’s curriculum and ultimately leave him or her more fulfilled academically. So when making decisions between now and May 1, in addition to evaluating the meal plan options and intramural sports, pay some attention to whether a school’s Career Services office is engaged and proactive starting freshman year.

(Correction: Correcting when Princeton will start using new algorithm.)