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Starting Early Matters: Career Programming for Underclassmen

Greetings and salutations from England. I’m writing from a little cafe sandwiched between a book store and a hotel on High Street in Oxford. The architecture is stunning, as you might expect, and Harry Potter was filmed just around the corner. Thought you’d want to know.  

Anyway, enough about me. This week I want to discuss the importance of underclassmen involvement in career programming. Recently an article was written by Janet Lorin, a higher education columnist for Bloomberg, on this very topic. The purpose of this blog is to discuss both why and how schools have started moving to this model. 

The Problem

The cost of higher education has been rising for years. I know this. You know this. We all know this. In fact, to be specific, the cost of attending a public university in the United States has increased by an average of 28% since 2007-2008.

Many parents and prospective students, as a result, have begun to make college decisions based on potential job outcomes. And who can blame them? With the cost of attending a first-rate private institution having soared to an average of $60,000 a year, it’s hard to think of a reason, any reason, why parents and prospective students shouldn't take outcomes into consideration.  

This is what Janet Lorin’s article is all about. Because of the increasing pressure to produce, and the potential enrollment mishaps of not producing, career centers nationwide have begun focusing on engaging students in career programming from the very beginning: freshmen and sophomore year.

Places like the University of Michigan, Carleton College, Princeton University, and Stanford University, are all starting earlier. 

Here's what they're doing: 


At Princeton they're getting rookies involved through something called a “princeternship.” The difference between this Princeton idosyncrasy and a traditional internship consists in the fact that the former is completed for a shorter period of time and only during school breaks. Instead of playing XBOX or binge-watching Netflix, students get a valuable look into the ins and outs of a specific profession. As Janet Lorin points out, last year the program attracted 45 students. 


Carleton College, in the beautiful and bitterly cold Northfield, MN, runs a similar program. Over holiday break students are given the option to complete an externship. Fittingly named, the externship program requires students to shadow an alumni or parent volunteer at their workplace for 1-4 weeks. Students are even given the chance to further immerse themselves through a homestay. Again, by doing this students glean important insights into their career preferences and avoid the Netflix binge-watching phenomenon. I assure you, this phenomenon is real.


The University of Michigan encourages freshmen to begin considering their career preferences early by motivating them to sign up for, as Janet Lorin sites, the “My First Appointment” program. This program is designed to get students thinking about potential careers through setting them up with career counselors for "general" appointments. This way students begin articulating their preferences from the very beginning. 



Stanford, in probably the most impressive move of the bunch, has dedicated three staff members exclusively to underclassmen issues. These staff members, and Stanford’s program in general, provides it’s underclassmen with an array of great resources. For instance, the career center has weekly meetups just for freshmen and sophomores. At these events students get access to a variety of resources and advice from upperclassmen, career counselors, alumni, and professionals in the community. 

The End

Getting underclassmen involved in career programming is pivotal. This is why we highlighted Janet Lorin's article; it talks about why colleges and universities are moving to this model and provides a number of concrete examples of how to go about creating programming directed at underclassmen. 

The first step to improving student outcomes is to get students to express and articulate their interests. Students that do this earlier spend less time worrying and more time woking towards their goals. Because of this, these students tend to be better prepared as seniors. In short, engaging underclassmen can help increase both student well-being and student outcomes. Sounds like a win-win to me. 

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Ben Pauley
Ben Pauley

Community Manager interested in career services and higher education. Loyal University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate. Go Badgers!