Whether students are enrolling in their first college courses, putting maximum effort into their upper-division coursework, or nearing the end of their educational paths, they’re keeping an eye on their goals. This focus—their reason for attending college in the first place—can spark their motivation even on the days they’re struggling with assignments or stressed by their responsibilities.
But what are those goals? And how does college help them achieve those goals? In our Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked over 3,000 college students about their goals and how they think college will enable them to get where they want to go.
To begin, let’s look at college students’ responses to the question: What are your goals after college?
Going by these results, it’s clear that most students attend college to improve their chances of obtaining a fulfilling career that lets them pay the bills. Among the choices listed on the survey, a good or better job ranked the highest, netting 80% of the student vote. Nearly two-thirds (62%) hope that their college achievements will result in a high-paying job (or, one that pays better than their current job). These results align with students’ answers to a question we previously covered at the Engaging Minds blog: “Was getting a good job your primary reason for attending college?” 73% of students said that yes, this was true for them.
Many students also told us that they have plans for continuing their formal education. More than half (56%) indicated that they’re hoping to pursue an additional degree after they complete their current program. Whether this means they’ll be working towards a bachelor’s degree after earning an associate degree, or they want to attend graduate school after completing their undergrad studies, a good percentage of students have additional educational goals beyond their current college experience.
Five additional post-college goals, as named by college students
As noted above, ten percent of our surveyed students noted that they had additional goals after graduation (aside from those named above). We observed trends among their responses, and we’ve summarized them below:
1. Pursue additional career-focused training, schooling, or certification. As we observed earlier, more than half of our survey respondents want to pursue another degree. But in addition, many students said that, once they finish college, they hope to pursue “certification paths,” a “cosmetology/beautician license,” “additional technical certificates,” “law school,” “medical school,” and other programs that prepare them to practice in fields that require licenses or advanced education.
2. Start a business. Several of the students we surveyed said that they plan to take an entrepreneurial route after graduation. For these students, the knowledge and skills attained during college will apply to the work they’ll put into building their own companies, services, practices, and firms.
3. Achieve personal satisfaction. For other students, the goals are less tangible (but by no means less important). Students listed “happiness,” “greater and broader experience,” “travel,” “work/life balance,” “pride,” “more knowledge,” and “personal completeness/wholeness” among their post-college goals. Others look forward to “doing what [they] want to do,” or a “job where I can grow but still be true to my beliefs,” while still others want to “retire” and “rest on [their] satisfaction of going to school at an elderly age.”
4. Serve and support others. We were encouraged by the students who wanted to use what they’d learned in college for the purpose of “helping others in need” and “pass[ing] knowledge on to others.” Many mentioned that they want to join a national or global aid effort, whether by working for a non-profit or NGO, joining the Peace Corps, or “provid[ing] aid for children and individuals with disabilities in war-torn countries.” Others stuck a bit closer to home, naming such activities as “mentoring,” “start[ing] a family,” “utilizing my newly gained knowledge to help others in my community,” or “passing on knowledge about… my experience in my specific school and helping whoever I can will attend that school in the future.”
5. Secure a better financial outlook. In addition to the 62% who say they have a goal of a high-paying (or higher-paying) job, several students commented that their goal is to “become financially independent.” One student put a date to the goal, writing of a desire to experience “financial freedom in two years after I graduate.”
Students name the top way college enables them to reach their goals
In this same survey, over three thousand students named the key way that they believe college will enable them to achieve these goals.
Nearly half (49%) of the students stated that the degree itself will help them get to where they want to go, whereas nearly one quarter (23%) said that the subject knowledge will be the key to reaching and achieving their goals. Clearly, the majority of students believe that their academic achievements will be the key to achieving their post-college goals.
Other factors proved to be a priority to fewer college students. A much smaller percentage (14%) said that building contacts and networking were the most valuable part of their college experience. And, only 12% said that critical-thinking skills were the key factor in helping them reach their goals. However, this doesn’t mean they devalue critical thinking; in a previous survey from Fall 2014, 99% of students agreed that critical thinking is an important skill, and 92% believe what they learn in class sharpens their critical thinking skills for the “real world.”
Truth be told, most students have many goals in mind when they decide to enter college. Likewise, they undoubtedly recognize that multiple factors will help them achieve their personal and professional goals. But, by knowing and understanding their key goals and priorities, we can be better prepared to help them succeed in those areas that matter the most to them.
Want to help your students achieve their academic goals, as well as their goals after college graduation? Review the tips in the blog posts below, and share your own suggestions in the comments.
The GPS Strategy for Achieving Goals
Tips for Students: Prioritizing Time to Achieve Your Goals
Tips for Students: Defining Your Values and Goals
Sample Graduate Application Essay - After
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As a single mother who has confronted homelessness and poverty, I am committed to reforming public education. I have a particular interest in improving the accessibility of schooling to homeless individuals, single mothers, and disadvantaged women of color. As a result of my own experiences, I am familiar with the despair and frustration endemic to individuals struggling to survive. I am convinced that increasing individuals' access to education can make the difference between despondency and hope. I am applying for my doctorate in educational leadership so that I can pursue my life-mission: to make education accessible to all.
I began preparing for this mission by volunteering as an intake coordinator at the Christian Assistance Ministry (CAM). Although I had many responsibilities, the role that consumed most of my time and energy was interviewing clients and assessing their physical and emotional needs. One of my greatest contributions was streamlining and updating the paperwork associated with CAM's intake process. I also generated an updated resource list that included many service agencies in the Houston area. By personally contacting each agency to acquire contact information and to learn about its services, I facilitated greater communication between service organizations and ensured that my clients had access to necessary aid.
In my present position as Research Analyst at SeaNet, my primary role is ascertaining the needs of client networks. As an umbrella group, SeaNet has only limited contact with small business development centers, and my job is to ensure that our organization meets these centers' needs. When I took the initiative to send out surveys asking agencies to rate our group's effectiveness, I received an overwhelming response. The information I compiled was so revealing that it was published in the quarterly report that is sent to our funding agency in Washington, D.C. In addition, I have been involved in a number of special, innovative projects. Recently, I analyzed the availability of renewable energy resources in Southern Texas in tandem with The Economic Development Center, Solar Energy, Brooks Air Force Base, and research universities in Texas.
As part of my master's thesis, I collaborated with Upward Bound, Peace Center, and the Davis Education Foundation to underline the importance of community cooperation in public schools. I also provided informational brochures and handouts detailing other such organizations that could assist with the individualized needs of schools. I was gratified when my efforts resulted in teachers and administrators contacting several of the organizations I had mentioned so that the organizations could start outreach in their educational districts.
Although I have not yet been employed in the educational sector, my master's work, as well as my life experiences, has given me a nuanced and sophisticated knowledge of the educational field. I have acted as a mentor at Davis Middle School for many years and have tutored a number of home-schooled children. When my own children attended school, I was involved in their schools' organizations and often took on a leadership role on educational committees. I served on many boards and was active in assisting both instructors and administrators. Fifteen years of experience has familiarized me with the diverse needs of Houston's students, and it has prepared me to act on their behalf.
My short-term goals include advancing my knowledge of quantitative research using programs such as SPSS and Microcas, and acquiring a sophisticated understanding of how to become a leader in the educational field. I wish to use these skills to promote empirical studies in education that can help direct educational reform.
I am attracted to the doctoral program at Texas A&M for precisely this reason. Only Texas A&M offers the kind of collaborative experience that suits my personal needs and professional goals. Over the past four years, I have seen the department blossom into a challenging and innovative program. I am excited about the program's direction and its emphasis on practical application. I appreciate that every course offers the opportunity for independent research, and that the faculty is open to student suggestions for improvement. The flexibility and patience of the faculty and the talent of the students makes Texas A&M a singular choice for my doctoral degree.
My long-term goal is to use my past experience and Texas A&M training to help make education accessible to all, particularly the underprivileged. Whether I am working in the public or private sector, I look forward to addressing the nation's urgent need to educate its citizens efficiently and comprehensively.
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Click Here for the Edited Version.
I read your personal statement with great interest. You do a good job of showing the reader your diligent preparation for a career in education. By emphasizing your research-oriented background and your practical experience in the educational sector, you show that you have the knowledge and resolve to excel in a doctoral program.
However, there are ways in which your essay could be improved. My comments in this critique describe ways to make your writing more vivid and offer recommendations on how to make your statement more convincing.
Many of the changes I made to this essay were confined to the sentence level. I reworked awkward phrases, varied your vocabulary, adjusted diction, and improved the direction and flow of your writing. I also made subtle but significant changes such as eliminating redundant sentences like, "My purpose for seeking a [doctorate in education] is to expand my knowledge of theory and research as it pertains to education."
I also read your essays with a careful eye toward whether you effectively answered the question. In addition, I closely examined your statements, determining whether more detail or a fresh approach was needed to improve the effectiveness of your essay. Upon review, I feel confident that you addressed all the aspects of this multi-pronged topic, but I have made a number of suggestions for how to improve your essay's delivery.
The overall content of your essay was strong, but its expression was awkward at times. I agree that your essay needs a "stronger sense of purpose," and I believe that the reason your essay feels "wishy-washy" is that you do not have strongly-articulated goals. Broad career objectives like, "establishing a network of scholars and future administrators participating in a rigorous intellectual process," are too vague; you need to give your reader a precise sense of what you want to do.
Your essay will be much more persuasive if you articulate specific intermediate and long-term career goals. Because you have already accomplished significant work in the educational field, the committee will expect you to have clearly-defined objectives in your doctoral studies. Given your experience, you may want to discuss your specific plans for your dissertation.
Here are my specific comments on each individual paragraph of your essay:
Your introduction suffered from an excessive reliance on circular logic ("I seek an education because I am interested in education. I want to fine-tune my research skills because research skills are important to a career in education."). Sentences like these obscure rather than clarify your goals, and I sought to make your writing more active and transparent. I eliminated your entire first paragraph and incorporated your discussion of "purpose" into a new engaging introduction.
I also liked this paragraph's allusion to your role as a "reformist." Nonetheless, I felt that this passage would be stronger if you did more to define this term. What do you want to reform? Can you give concrete examples?
"I have struggled hard to get myself out of this situation..."
I liked the passion you convey in this sentence, but you need to maintain a formal, almost reserved voice in academic writing. See my suggestion for alternative wording that does a better job of capturing your experience and of demonstrating how that experience has influenced your decision to seek an advanced degree.
This paragraph did a good job of describing your work at the Christian Assistance Ministry. Nonetheless, your argument digressed somewhat during your discussion of the difficulties faced by social workers. This paragraph is most effective if you focus on your accomplishments and on the needs of your clients.
Also, please note that even though the refined paragraph is more concise than your original, it still retains all the significant content. The ability to condense and synthesize information is highly prized by admissions committees.
This paragraph required more up-front details. You mention some diverse research experiences, which is good, but you should also cite the title of your position and describe your primary responsibilities.
Because the name of your company implies that you do small business development, a reader might be confused by your research in seemingly unrelated fields. Be sure that I accurately conveyed the essence of your professional responsibilities in my revised version of this paragraph.
To ensure that your description of the learning center is intelligible, I added more details to place this discussion in context.
"I am also an advocate of 21st Century Learning Centers that would provide a safe refuge for the millions of latch-key children in this country that go home to an empty house on any given school day."
You need to be more exacting in your transition sentences. By using a transition sentence like this, the reader assumes your entire paragraph will describe your work with latchkey children. As a result, your treatment of other topics catches the reader off guard.
"I also provided information in the form of brochures and handouts about other such organizations that could assist in the needs of their own schools."
This sentence does not tell the reader enough about your experience. Whenever you write, be sure that a reader who is unfamiliar with your accomplishments will understand the subject, object, and action of each sentence.
Please note that the term "advocate" could apply to either paid or unpaid work. You should specify the exact capacity in which you worked, especially as this is important to placing your accomplishment in perspective.
Finally, if you have time, you may wish to rework this section. A thorough description of one particular project (perhaps your thesis topic) would be much more persuasive than a list of numerous activities.
I do not think this paragraph adds much to your essay. You need to prove your qualifications through examples rather than simply describe them to reader.
"I have a very hard working and decisive character that has earned me a 4.0 GPA."
This sentence is a good example of an uncorroborated assertion. Although you are undoubtedly hard working and decisive, you need to prove it to the reader through concrete examples.
Paragraphs 6 to 8
As I mentioned in the first section of my critique, your essay will be stronger if you cite more specific goals. See my suggestions in the text, and be sure to elaborate on your specific areas of interest.
I suggest concluding your essay with the description of your long-term goals. Reemphasizing your desire to make education accessible to all is a great way to conclude your essay, and it brings your statement to a resonant close.
Overall, this is an excellent start to a compelling essay. Keep in mind that although the committee allows you to write up to five pages, three double-spaced pages is usually adequate. Feel free to add more detail, but make sure your text is concise and transparent. You might consider "writing" ideas and then "rewriting" them. Too often, authors put ideas onto the page, but do not render those ideas compellingly. Giving your sentences a bit of extra effort, and giving your experiences a bit of extra reflection, will result in a persuasive essay that compliments your accomplishments and character.
I wish you the best of luck in the admissions process.
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