In a previous post, we reported that 92% of the students who responded to our Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey believe that they will definitely or probably get a job right after graduation.

In order to start the post-college job search off with confidence, it makes a great deal of sense to approach college with a plan in mind. As part of the same Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked students: Do you have a defined career plan? 

College students: do you have a defined career plan?


As you can see above, nearly three-quarters of them do have a career plan, which is a positive sign. (Nearly half of those who responded “no” are freshmen or sophomores, which may simply indicate that they are still in the process of discovering which career path they’d hope to pursue.) Even so, this strong showing led us to wonder what motivated these students and helped them to develop and follow a plan for pursuing their career goals.

College students and career planning: What’s their motivation?

To learn more about these students, we asked a follow-up question: “What fuels your career plan the most?” Here are five of the answers that surfaced several times in their responses.

Achievement of financial security
The desire to earn a better living for oneself and one’s family is no small matter. So, unsurprisingly, answers such as “job security,” “making a living,” and “the desire to support myself and my children” appeared several times throughout the survey. Concerns such as “not having to worry about expenses and living costs with a higher paying career,” and the consideration that having a “better educated background hopefully means better paying full-time employment,” certainly weigh on the mind of many, if not most, of those who responded.

Becoming a support and role model for others
Whether by providing material support to family and the community, or serving as a mentor, the goal of “being able to support others” plays a large role in many respondents’ lives. As one student put it: “helping others is what I love to do.” Another student wrote about the desire to “be the person you needed when you were younger.”

“Family” and “children” were mentioned throughout the survey responses, as were comments such as “helping others and seeing the difference I can hope to make” and “making a positive difference” in their communities and in society as a whole.

Desire and motivation to succeed
The feeling of achievement and accomplishment inspires many students to pursue their career plans. Common answers in this vein included “dedication,” “motivation,” “desire to excel,” and a “desire to succeed.” Many of our respondents would also likely echo the sentiment of the one who wrote: “I’ve come too far to stop now!”

Numerous students wrote about their passion. And in the group of survey respondents, many passions were mentioned, including: “art,” “teaching,” “ministry,” “starting my own business venture,” “helping others,” “animals,””I found a major that I really loved and am good at. I’m striving to be successful in my career choice and I’m going to do anything possible to help myself learn and become better at what I’m doing.” “owning my own business in the future,” “writing,” and “providing a voice for those who have none.” For these students, “doing what I love” is the fuel for their plan to succeed.

Attainment of specific opportunities and career goals
When pursued with a plan in mind, a college education can open doors to new and different career opportunities. The drive to succeed in this chosen endeavor provided a common thread among the responses. In one student’s words: “I found a major that I really loved and am good at. I’m striving to be successful in my career choice and I’m going to do anything possible to help myself learn and become better at what I’m doing.”

Many students do have a particular career in mind, and are using college to pursue and achieve the goal of a job in that field. One respondent said, “I get excited knowing that one day, I will be working in a field that I love and helping people to become healthy and/or stay healthy.” Another noted that she “always wanted to do accounting,” and still another said that “I think about being a teacher everyday and that is what keeps me focused.” Several others wrote of their dream of “opening my own business” and putting their skills and knowledge to use as entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, others are hoping to develop knowledge and skills that will help them excel and move forward in their current careers: “I am in the job I dreamed of and love; this degree will only enhance that experience.”

The process (and a love for) learning
For many students, the college experience itself offers many opportunities that spur on their desire to pursue and achieve their career goals. They wrote that specific people, such as “my adviser/mentor/professors in my major,” as well as their appreciation for the education they’re receiving, provide them with the motivation they need. Others noted that college provided the best of both worlds: “getting the best undergrad and graduate education and making connections with professionals within my field.”

Many of the respondents are motivated by the goal of an advanced degree, and cited a desire to earn a master’s degree or Ph.D. And, they want to pass what they’ve gained on to other people: “I believe education is very important so therefore I want to become a professor and continue to educate others.”


To achieve career success, students will do well to start planning how they’ll achieve their goals as soon as they know what it is that they’d like to do. By identifying what motivates them to succeed, they will be on their way towards developing a personally meaningful plan that gets them where they’re hoping to go in the future.

Do you discuss career planning with the students in your courses? Add your thoughts and comments regarding college students and career planning in the comments.