So, what do you want to be after college?

Published: November 2, 2021

A woman leans against a concrete short wall and adjusts her sunglasses while her backpack is by her feet.

“So, what do you want to be after college?”

Though the answers to this question may range from lofty career goals to plans for immediate employment, one thing remains constant: a robust understanding of self is integral to each student’s success in identifying, planning for, and reaching these goals.

The National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition – a core partner of the Advising Success Network – is conducting case studies (like this one) exploring advising practices on campuses across the country. This work has illuminated programmatic and systematic innovation around student advising, as well as the many themes, bright points, and stars that connect across an institution to form the grand constellation of student supports through advising. A forthcoming case study collection focuses its sights on how career advising can support equitable student success, and early insights point to the importance of:

  • cross-functional collaborations;
  • courses structured around professional and identity development;
  • targeted interventions;
  • and integrating student identity development into the advising relationship and process.

To close equity gaps for students from low-income backgrounds and Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and Pacific Islander students, higher ed must ensure career advising experiences that promote their exploration of self and the ability to identify their strengths and goals. Not only does this approach advance equitable career outcomes, but it is a tool to improve historically marginalized students’ experience within postsecondary institutions.

Understanding our students is a pre-req to designing the ideal career advising experience. When we understand how student identity is shaped by experience, both on and off campus, we can then create institutional spaces and interactions where those identities are not only celebrated, but integral to the institution’s commitment to fostering a learning environment that supports robust identity development and exploration. To empower students to understand the value of postsecondary education, successful career advising (and advising in general) needs to help students make connections between the academic material they learn in courses and pair it with the rich and vibrant multitude of experiences beyond the classroom. A student who can form those connections and articulate them is a student who has a strong understanding of self and of the career skills and competencies they have gained and mastered during their institutional tenure.

Next time we ask a student, “so, what do you want to be?,” here’s hoping that the we follow up with: “and how can I support and help you to become what YOU want to be?” Together, as a campus community, let’s make sure we support their reach for the stars.

This post was authored by Isaac Portillo, Graduate Assistant for ASN and Research at The National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.