Student Success

Four Ways to Communicate About Career Development with Families

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June 14-16, 2023

Boston, MA

When it comes to career development for traditional undergraduates, the internship is king. Or is it? As with many things, the answer is “it depends.”  

In this case, it depends on whether you are taking the point of view of the student, for whom the internship is very important, or the parent/guardian, for whom the internship is only modestly important.  

But wait, don’t parents/guardians care about work experience? Eduventures data reveals a key disparity between how parents/guardians and students think about career development. Knowing this can help you communicate your institution’s story more effectively to prospective families. Let’s take a closer look at the research before diving into the four ways your institution can communicate about career development with families. 

Importance of Career Outcomes in College Choice

Eduventures Prospective Student Research™ and Prospective Parent Research™ shows that students and their families are on the same page about the importance of career outcomes in choosing a college. Figure 1 shows that the top three expected outcomes of a college education for both students and their parents/guardians are: getting a good job after graduation, getting a solid foundation for an entire career, or gaining practical career skills.  

Students are slightly more concerned with the immediate job acquisition. But, taken together, 84% of students and parents/guardians list job, career, or skills as an expected outcome. That’s a strong show of solidarity. 


Top Outcomes Expected from a College EducationFigure 1.


By now, it’s obvious to most institutions that the story of career outcomes should be at the center of the discussion with prospective families. Yet, our data also shows that there are some important differences to consider in how students and parents/guardians think about the best pathway to these outcomes.  

Figure 2 shows the top five college experiences that students and parents/guardians think are important.  


Top Important Experiences in CollegeFigure 2.


Let’s focus on the ones that have the most direct bearing on career. The most interesting and perplexing item is the disparity in the importance of internships.  

Students and Parents Have Differing Opinions on Importance of Internships and Coursework

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of students believe internships will play an important role in getting them to college outcomes while only half (50%) of parents/guardians feel the same way. Parents/guardians also see academic coursework (69%) as more important than students do (59%). 

This disparity reveals the different conceptions that students and their families have of the mechanism driving career success: Students tend to have a resume-building approach to career development. Parents/guardians tend to have a door-opening approach to career development.  

Additionally, nearly all (97%) of parents/guardians said that they had a preference about the reputation of the college their child would attend. Pressed further, parents/guardians indicate that high ranking, being known among employers, community respect, and high starting salaries are the most important indicators of reputation (Figure 3). 


Aspects of Reputation that Matter Most in Choosing a College – Parents-GuardiansFigure 3.

The Bottom Line 

The student conception of career development tips toward gaining experience through internships and building a resume that will impress an employer. The parent/guardian conception tips toward academic accomplishment at a reputable school that will open doors.  

In reality, both students and parents/guardians have valid viewpoints. After all, having both hands-on career experiences and a respected degree puts students on the best footing to enter the career of their choice. Catering to both is important to building your institution’s credibility among families as a whole. 

Here are four critical ways to build a communication strategy that addresses both the resume-building and door-opening concept of career outcomes: 

  1. Develop both pillars of your career story. To highlight resume building, emphasize experiential opportunities to demonstrate how students will build skills and professionalism. To highlight door opening, emphasize reputational factors such as being known among employers and respected in the community, and high starting salaries.  
  2. Balance career messaging. Consider framing the discussion on career development slightly differently for students and parents. For students, start with the resume-building and then add in the door opening. For parents/guardians, do the reverse. 
  3. Build your academic program-to-career story arc. Individual academic programs can provide different pathways to the same careers. Show families the specific constellation of experiences that connects every major to a starting career. Think of this story in four acts: academic foundations, experiential learning opportunities, career discovery, and entering career. 
  4. Profile alumni to demonstrate these stories. It’s tempting to highlight highly successful or influential alumni, but these profiles won’t resonate as strongly as stories of young alumni taking their first steps in their careers. Make sure the profiles address the four acts of the program-to-career story arc. 

In the end, you must illustrate the full college to career story with the understanding that students and their parents/guardians have slightly different concepts of the right pathway.  

Never Miss Your Wake-Up Call

Learn more about our team of expert research analysts here.

Eduventures Principal Analyst at Encoura

This recruitment cycle challenged the creativity of enrollment teams as they were forced to recreate the entire enrollment experience online. The challenge for this spring will be getting proximate to admitted students by replicating new-found practices to increase yield through the summer’s extended enrollment cycle.

By participating in the Eduventures Admitted Student Research, your office will gain actionable insights on:

  • Nationwide benchmarks for yield outcomes
  • Changes in the decision-making behaviors of incoming freshmen that impact recruiting
  • Gaps between how your institution was perceived and your actual institution identity
  • Regional and national competitive shifts in the wake of the post-COVID-19 environment
  • Competitiveness of your updated financial aid model

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