Survey: In Academic Outcomes, Students Value Passion As Much As Practicality

When It Comes To Careers, Students Value Passion As Much As Practicality

Passion slightly outranks practicality in students’ desired academic outcomes, according to a new survey on life after college. Asked which outcomes are most important, nearly half of respondents tell Inside Higher Ed that growing their knowledge in a subject area they’re passionate about, making it the top-ranked choice. About four in 10 each say that growing their knowledge across a variety of subject areas and developing specific skills needed for their career matters most, making these the No. 2 and No. 3 choices in a list of eight possible options (students could select up to two options).

Rounding out students’ top five most important academic outcomes are developing the applied (formerly known as soft) skills relevant to any career or job (selected by about one in four) and leaving college with a clear idea about what career they want to pursue (14 percent). Results are consistent across a number of student demographics, but relatively more two-year than four-year college students value growing their knowledge in a variety of a subject areas, at half versus two in five, respectively. In another, smaller difference, four-year students are somewhat more likely to value developing specific skills needed for their career.

The survey by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse, circulated earlier this month, includes responses from 3,000 students at 144 two- and four-year institutions.

When It Comes To Careers, Students Value Passion As Much As Practicality


Beyond these outcomes, the survey asked students about their interactions with their campus career centers, about their career choice influencers, and about academic skills preparation for after graduation. This latter category includes how career exploration and skills development are or should be integrated into the curriculum, and even how engaged faculty members and academic advisers should be in helping students find careers.

Per that latter point, 37 percent of students say that a single professor has helped them explore potential careers or develop specific skills for their eventual careers, whether it was part of a class or one-on-one, while an additional 32 percent of students say multiple professors have helped them in this way. Thirty-one percent of students say no professor has provided this kind of help, however. Students at private nonprofit institutions are slightly more likely than students at publics to say that at least one professor has helped in this way, at 75 percent versus 67 percent, respectively.

Asked about the ideal level of professor involvement in helping them prepare for and launch a career, just 2 percent of respondents say not at all, or zero on a one-to-five scale. The largest share of students—32 percent—choose three on a one-to-five scale, described in the survey as offering to help students think about career options and, where possible, network and build connections in a given field, including with alumni. Some 29 percent of students say four on that scale, described as offering to help students prepare for internships or job interviews and/or providing written recommendations.


As for the ideal level of academic advisers’ involvement in helping students prepare for and launch a career, 65 percent of students say four or five on a one-to-five scale.

More detailed findings and analyses from this new are forthcoming, but here are some additional preliminary findings:

  • About four in 10 students have interacted with their college or university’s career center two to five times, but about three in 10 haven’t interacted with their career center at all.
  • Some four in 10 students each say they’ve gotten the following help or benefited from the following offerings from their college or university career centers, making these the top-used services from a list of 24 possible options: career exploration, choosing a major, recruitment events, and résumé development.
  • Nearly seven in 10 students say they’re aware of what services their career center offers, and at least half of students say career centers generally should offer help in each of the following areas: resume development, career exploration, recruitment events, getting an internship and interview preparation or mock interviews.
  • More than half of students (52 percent) say their program of study includes or requires an internship. Experiential learning and internships also have a big impact on students, with 43 percent of students saying such an experience made them realize they wanted a career in a given field.
  • Parents are the top career choice influencer by far, with 43 percent of students saying their parent or parents have influenced this choice the most.


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