Whether students are enrolling in their first college courses, putting maximum effort into their upper-division coursework, or nearing the end of their educational paths, they’re keeping an eye on their goals. This focus—their reason for attending college in the first place—can spark their motivation even on the days they’re struggling with assignments or stressed by their responsibilities.
But what are those goals? And how does college help them achieve those goals? In our Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked over 3,000 college students about their goals and how they think college will enable them to get where they want to go.
To begin, let’s look at college students’ responses to the question: What are your goals after college?
Going by these results, it’s clear that most students attend college to improve their chances of obtaining a fulfilling career that lets them pay the bills. Among the choices listed on the survey, a good or better job ranked the highest, netting 80% of the student vote. Nearly two-thirds (62%) hope that their college achievements will result in a high-paying job (or, one that pays better than their current job). These results align with students’ answers to a question we previously covered at the Engaging Minds blog: “Was getting a good job your primary reason for attending college?” 73% of students said that yes, this was true for them.
Many students also told us that they have plans for continuing their formal education. More than half (56%) indicated that they’re hoping to pursue an additional degree after they complete their current program. Whether this means they’ll be working towards a bachelor’s degree after earning an associate degree, or they want to attend graduate school after completing their undergrad studies, a good percentage of students have additional educational goals beyond their current college experience.
Five additional post-college goals, as named by college students
As noted above, ten percent of our surveyed students noted that they had additional goals after graduation (aside from those named above). We observed trends among their responses, and we’ve summarized them below:
1. Pursue additional career-focused training, schooling, or certification. As we observed earlier, more than half of our survey respondents want to pursue another degree. But in addition, many students said that, once they finish college, they hope to pursue “certification paths,” a “cosmetology/beautician license,” “additional technical certificates,” “law school,” “medical school,” and other programs that prepare them to practice in fields that require licenses or advanced education.
2. Start a business. Several of the students we surveyed said that they plan to take an entrepreneurial route after graduation. For these students, the knowledge and skills attained during college will apply to the work they’ll put into building their own companies, services, practices, and firms.
3. Achieve personal satisfaction. For other students, the goals are less tangible (but by no means less important). Students listed “happiness,” “greater and broader experience,” “travel,” “work/life balance,” “pride,” “more knowledge,” and “personal completeness/wholeness” among their post-college goals. Others look forward to “doing what [they] want to do,” or a “job where I can grow but still be true to my beliefs,” while still others want to “retire” and “rest on [their] satisfaction of going to school at an elderly age.”
4. Serve and support others. We were encouraged by the students who wanted to use what they’d learned in college for the purpose of “helping others in need” and “pass[ing] knowledge on to others.” Many mentioned that they want to join a national or global aid effort, whether by working for a non-profit or NGO, joining the Peace Corps, or “provid[ing] aid for children and individuals with disabilities in war-torn countries.” Others stuck a bit closer to home, naming such activities as “mentoring,” “start[ing] a family,” “utilizing my newly gained knowledge to help others in my community,” or “passing on knowledge about… my experience in my specific school and helping whoever I can will attend that school in the future.”
5. Secure a better financial outlook. In addition to the 62% who say they have a goal of a high-paying (or higher-paying) job, several students commented that their goal is to “become financially independent.” One student put a date to the goal, writing of a desire to experience “financial freedom in two years after I graduate.”
Students name the top way college enables them to reach their goals
Nearly half (49%) of the students stated that the degree itself will help them get to where they want to go, whereas nearly one quarter (23%) said that the subject knowledge will be the key to reaching and achieving their goals. Clearly, the majority of students believe that their academic achievements will be the key to achieving their post-college goals.
Other factors proved to be a priority to fewer college students. A much smaller percentage (14%) said that building contacts and networking were the most valuable part of their college experience. And, only 12% said that critical-thinking skills were the key factor in helping them reach their goals. However, this doesn’t mean they devalue critical thinking; in a previous survey from Fall 2014, 99% of students agreed that critical thinking is an important skill, and 92% believe what they learn in class sharpens their critical thinking skills for the “real world.”
Truth be told, most students have many goals in mind when they decide to enter college. Likewise, they undoubtedly recognize that multiple factors will help them achieve their personal and professional goals. But, by knowing and understanding their key goals and priorities, we can be better prepared to help them succeed in those areas that matter the most to them.