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  • Writer's pictureAurora Hoffman

Do Students Feel Prepared for Life Beyond Academia?

Updated: Jan 26

Aurora Hoffman is a recent graduate of Northern Arizona, now a Park Ranger and Volunteer Coordinator for Arizona State Parks. An accomplished columnist, she shares her thoughts on data collected around student perspectives around academic preparedness and professional anxiety.


The U.S. job market is still in recovery after the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of September 2023, 9.6 million positions await to be filled according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 3.5 to 4 million college graduates are expected to join the labor force in 2024. However, students are feeling underprepared for this transition from academia to the workplace. Anxiety can swell with any change however, the underlying cause for this widespread panic is more relevant to the future of the job market. 


Research conducted by LaunchPoint polled graduate and undergraduate students about their perception of how college has prepared them for their desired career paths. The data revealed that the average students’ image of themselves is greatly misaligned with how they perceive their peers. Over 60% of participants responded that they did not have the relevant skill set to be able to compete in the modern job market.


The scholars were asked to identify which skills were underdeveloped or even missing now that they were applying for jobs beyond academia. The top three responses included: technical skills, conflict resolution, and interpersonal communications. Students during the same survey were then asked to identify skills that were most developed by their peers. Students felt that other graduates had indeed developed technical skills, teamwork, and attention to detail.


This data exemplifies a direct inverse relationship between how soon-to-be-graduates perceive their technical skill set versus how they perceive the technical skills of their colleagues. 


Another LaunchPoint survey looked at the employer's perspective and found similar results. When asked similar questions, participants were aligned with what they felt caused graduates anxiety with 62% of respondents choosing ¨not having enough relevant skills.¨ This trend concurs with what many believe about the current college generation entering the job market. An article from the Harvard Business Review places the blame on the current U.S. educational system, stating that ¨There’s a direct disconnect between education and employability, where employers view universities and colleges as the gatekeepers of workforce talent, yet those same institutions aren’t prioritizing job skills and career readiness However, does this anxiety from both employer and student reflect reality? 


According to a 2023 report by LinkedIn, the most in-demand skills were not degree-related. The report stated that management, communication, and customer service were the top three most sought-after skills in an employee. All of which are soft skills that are gained through work experience instead of academia. When it comes to technical skills, critics say that university curricula cannot keep up with the advancing technology that companies are currently using. 


The Society for Human Resources Management interviewed managers in the industry and they found that most students are being taught irrelevant skills or out-of-date procedures. “Maybe a student took an Excel class at college, maybe level 1 or level 2. Then he goes to work and is asked to do modeling in Excel and [has] no idea how to do it," said Fiore, who is a tax managing partner for the U.S. Eastern region at EY in New York City. "Today's businesses have used Excel as a common language for years, so most people now are very advanced at using it." 


“Sue Bhatia, founder of Rose International, a staffing agency based in Chesterfield, Mo., told of one graduate—from a top computer science school—who was overwhelmed after taking his first job in cloud computing. "He had taken three required calculus classes that didn't prepare him for his job," she said. "A traditional classroom can only teach so much when it comes to emerging technologies." 


When the university curriculum does not align with what employers are seeking in the job market, it is no wonder why students are feeling underprepared for the transition from graduate to employee. This surmounting anxiety impacts 60% of college students. While scholars may feel a need to excel in their classes, perhaps a better use of their time would be to pursue extracurriculars. Clubs, part-time jobs, and internships provide soft skill experience that employers are currently seeking. Employers universally want candidates who have a positive attitude, who are emotionally intelligent, and do not let setbacks get in their way. Employers would rather see graduates with creative problem-solving skills than graduates who were trained incorrectly by out-of-date college classes. 


These newfound trends point toward extracurriculars having equal, if not more, value to a recent graduate’s qualifications. Soft skills such as communication, customer service, and leadership are highly sought after in the modern job market. Cultivating these soft skills will help students feel more confident when applying for jobs and reduce anxiety as they face the transition from student to worker. In addition, if colleges continue to refuse to update their curriculum, employers will continue to dismiss degree-educated employees. 


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