Why only 40 percent of college seniors feel prepared to launch careers

According to McGraw-Hill Education’s third annual "Workforce Readiness Survey."

College men were slightly more likely than women to say they felt prepared to start careers.
College men were slightly more likely than women to say they feel very prepared to start their careers. –(Edmund D. Fountain/The New York Times)

If you’ve just graduated college and don’t feel ready to enter the workforce, you’re not alone.

According to McGraw-Hill Education’s third annual “Workforce Readiness Survey,” only 40 percent of college seniors this year feel that college prepared them for launching their careers.

The educational publishing company partnered with Hanover Research to poll 1,360 U.S. college students during March and April 2016 using an online survey.

Students and graduates were asked a variety of questions about how satisfied they were with their college experience, and what areas they thought their school could improve to better prepare students for the workforce.

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While only about a quarter of this year’s college seniors reported feeling “very prepared” to begin careers, McGraw-Hill Education found that some students were more likely to feel unprepared than others.

For example, arts and humanities majors were more than three times as likely as other students to report that they feel “not at all prepared” for their careers (18 percent of arts and humanities majors, compared to less than 6 percent of all other students).

Women were also slightly less likely than men (19 percent compared to 24 percent) to say they feel “very prepared” to launch their careers.

Meanwhile, students in STEM majors were the most likely to feel optimistic about their career prospects (73 percent), compared to arts and humanities and social science majors, who were the least likely to feel that way (61 percent of each).

The results of the study point to a few different reasons why so many students don’t feel prepared.

While students report that they are increasingly satisfied with their overall college experience (79 percent in 2016, compared to 65 percent in 2014), an increasing percentage report that they would have preferred their schools to provide more internships and professional experiences, more time to focus on career preparation, and more alumni networking opportunities.

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This could reflect the growing awareness college grads seem to have that planning and having outside-the-classroom experiences are the keys to launching a successful career.

For example, 71 percent of college students surveyed said that planning for a rewarding career while they are still in college is “extremely important,” compared to 66 percent in 2014.

On the bright side, the “Workforce Readiness Survey” also showed that students are pretty aware of what skills employers want most.

When asked to identify skills that make them attractive job seekers, students were more likely to cite their interpersonal skills (78 percent) than any other attribute, including grades/GPA (67 percent), a degree in a marketable field (67 percent) and internship experience (60 percent).

This response reflects the findings in a recent report by PayScale and Future Workplace, which found that only half of managers feel that employees who recently graduated from college are well prepared for the workforce. Their reasoning? Many job candidates lack soft skills such as writing, public speaking, and critical thinking.

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