The Secret to Getting a Job After College: Pick a University That Offers Experiential Learning
The approach of most higher education institutions is completely backwards today. Rather than first year college students picking their classes based on their goal of a specific dream job, they end up picking classes based on what the University deems to be generally required, the classes their friends are signing up for, and what time a class would require them to get out of bed in the morning.
Students spend their first few years of college taking “General Education” required classes which they are told will be useful to them in any job they choose — things like social sciences, art and music, literature, history, foreign language, and math (’cause all of those are really necessary for every job that exists…right?). Then, after they have suffered through a few years of classes on several topics they will never, and I do mean ever use again in their life, they finally get to start picking classes in the area they think they might have an interest in. Now keep in mind that at this point they typically still have had little to no education on the actual jobs that exist in each industry, nor what those jobs entail doing day to day, nor have they been exposed to actually see people working in those jobs firsthand. Nonetheless they must choose one so they can spend a few more years taking classes on their chosen area of interest until they graduate with a degree, at which point they go out into the world only to discover that either their understanding of what jobs existed was way off, or they get a job and find out they hate doing it. And all of that for the mere price of four years college tuition and housing. Awesome!
No…not awesome at all.
When asking our High School and early University Students what they want to be when they grow up, the overwhelming answer is, “I don’t know”, because they honestly don’t know! But whose fault is that? We ask our young people to decide what they want to be when they grow up but we give them almost nothing in the way of educating and exposing them to their options.
For example, if you were to poll high school and first-year college students nationwide and ask them what actual jobs exist in the field of “Marketing” I would venture to guess that the majority of them have absolutely no idea. Why? Because no one has taught them. Sure, they are taught that the field of Marketing exists, but they are never taught what actual jobs exist in that field, nor what each jobs day-to-day duties would entail, nor are they taught what specific skills they will need to learn in order to obtain one of those jobs.
Let’s take another example such as the field of Software Development. Students are taught that they can become a computer programmer, but students aren’t taught about all the other jobs that exist in that field — such as doing User-Interface Design where you design and draw screens for what a software program will look like, or a Spec Writer who is tasked with writing the specifications for how the software should flow and what each button should do when pushed. Perhaps if we were to spend time teaching about these additional jobs in the Software Development field we might even entice more of our young ladies to get interested in pursuing this field. In my own experience of running a software company, I found that women often exceled more than men did in the creative and user-experience based aspects of software development, yet we struggled to find women who had gone into this field because at a young age it was never really presented to them as one of the options to consider.
We might do a great job of teaching students how to add one plus one, but we fail miserably when it comes to helping them understand why knowing how to add those numbers matters to their life, and how they could possibly apply that specific knowledge to be able to make a living for themselves someday.
If we truly want to affect change in our educational system the High Schools and Universities must flip their approach:
First, during High School students need to be taught about the real-life jobs that exist in each industry. Then, as a basic requirement for the first year at every College, students need to be given opportunities to have exposure to the jobs that they think they would have an interest in so they can see firsthand what doing that job everyday would look like before we expect them to make a determination of what they want to be when they grow up.
Universities need to make experiential learning the very first General Education Required Class for every student during their first year of college. Doing so will give students a vision of their future and get them excited about a specific field of study right out of the gate. They will also have a better understanding of what classes to choose in order to learn those actual skills needed to get into the particular job they want. Just imagine the difference it would make in the lives and future of our young people, as well as the difference it would make for all the prospective employers looking to hire them when they graduate.
According to a McKinsey study fewer than half of employers today feel that new graduates are adequately prepared for entry-level positions. Employers need higher education institutions to both deepen the relevance of their curriculum as well as do more to prepare their graduates for the working world. Part of preparing the graduates for the working world is helping them learn the skills most in demand today which are problem solving, teamwork and communication (see survey findings). Each of these skills is best learned through the hands-on experience gained through experiential learning opportunities.
Employers play a crucial role in the success of these programs which develop their future workforce. Employers must actively partner with Universities to offer internships and project opportunities for the students. Through these programs Employers get first pick of future candidates, and the success of these programs is shown (see previous Forbes article) by the fact that more than half of companies with 100 or more employees end up offering full-time jobs to their interns.
No doubt the future of higher education is going to belong to those institutions who provide students experiential learning opportunities first and foremost. One example of such an institution is Knod. Graham Doxey, who founded Neumont University, a project-based learning experience, is taking experiential learning one step further with a program based wholly online. Knod not only provides an immersive, hands-on experience for students, but also the relationships to build a career and livelihood — all while earning a bachelor’s degree. Knod focuses on the experiences, not the theories. Students sharpen their experience chops by working with real companies on real projects as part of their learning, not as a tangential activity.
The most memorable and valuable experiences of our formative years don’t happen in the classroom — it is in doing that we learn our greatest lessons and ultimately reap our greatest rewards.
This article was written by Amy Rees Anderson from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.