It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that career goals play a significant role in students’ decisions about their academic majors, their internships, and their extracurricular activities. But would students say that their career aspirations are the main factor in the choices they make regarding their academic paths?

In our recent Student Engagement Insights survey, conducted in Spring 2015, we asked students a number of questions regarding their career goals, especially as they related to their college plans. We asked: Was “getting a good job” your primary reason for attending college?

Of the 3,257 responding students, 73% said yes, this was true of them.
was getting a good job your primary reason for attending college

In addition, we asked: Is your major/program specifically tied to the job you want to get?

Here, 88% of those respondents said yes.
Is your major or program specifically tied to the job you want to get?
We found the difference in the responses between the two questions noteworthy. Comparing these numbers, we saw that 15% of the surveyed students did choose a major based on a desired career outcome, but their overall decision to go to college wasn’t primarily based on “getting a good job.” From this, we conclude that some students believe that what they study in college will help them earn a career of value… but in and of itself, the decision to attend college is driven by another (perhaps more personal) goal or dream.

Considering these results as a whole, it’s clear that a great majority of students choose to attend college, and choose to follow a particular academic path, because they hope this investment will “pay off” in their careers. But how do they go from this career focus to a career path? Let’s consider some questions they can consider as they prepare themselves for the job search.

Questions students should ask when they’re looking for jobs that suit their career goals

While in college, students likely know about the fields that interest them, and know the majors and coursework that will help them enter that field. However, they may not yet know the specific careers or job paths they should pursue.

In their book Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of Work, Francine Fabricant, Jennifer Miller, and Debra J. Stark suggest five questions that students should research and answer when exploring potential careers:

  • What careers use the skills that I want to use most?
  • What careers are common for people with my preferences?
  • How can I learn more about the relationship between my values and career fields?
  • What are common entry-level positions in these fields?
  • What are the educational and experiential requirements for entry-level positions? (Fabricant et al., 103)

If students take the time to thoughtfully consider their responses to these questions, they’ll have a good sense of where to begin their job searches, and they’ll be more aware of what they’ll need to do to get started in their chosen fields.

Choosing a college major and career: more tips for students

For additional suggestions that can help students choose an academic path that suits their desired career path, review our previous posts, “Tips for Students: Choosing a College Major that Fits Your Career Goals” and “Tips for Students: Choosing a Career.”

And, to gain more understanding of the factors that drive students’ career plans, read “College Students and Career Planning.”


Reference: Fabricant, Francine, Jennifer Miller, and Debra J. Stark. 2014. Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of WorkBoston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Some content in this post ©2014 Cengage Learning.