Don't make the same mistakes they did

Top 5 Things College Grads Would Have Done Differently

by Jill Tyndale

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It's no secret the job market has been tough on college grads in recent years, and a report from Rutgers University offers a peak into what these grads wish they had done in college to better prepare.

The report, "Chasing the American Dream, Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession," was released by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. It found that two-thirds of college graduates would have changed something about how they approached college, if given the chance. Not surprisingly, given that only 51 percent of grads surveyed were working full time, many say they wish they had focused more on career preparation while in school.

The recession may have hit college grads particularly hard, but in a recovery, college students can benefit from a focused approach to their education. So what can you learn from yesterday's grads? Here are the five most common things they wish they got to do over.

1. Choose a different major

The number one thing grads wish they could change? Their major. More than one-third (37 percent) of grads would have been more careful about what major they chose. Research shows that college students don't carefully consider job opportunities, work-life balance or salary potential when thinking about college majors, but all quickly become major factors once grads hit the job market.

The most common majors students wish they had pursued were professional majors, such as education or nursing (41 percent) and STEM majors (29 percent).

2. Done more internships or worked more

Next on the list? Getting more experience. Twenty-nine percent of grads said they wished they had worked part-time or done more internships in college. According to the report, grads who had completed an internship felt more prepared for the professional world. Almost 70 percent said college prepared them extremely or pretty well for career success, while only 57 percent of those who didn't complete an internship felt that way. Additionally, 65 percent of those who had interned felt college prepared them for the job market compared to 44 percent of students with no internship experience.

Internships and work experience are a great way to develop some of the intangible skills that employers expect. Students who had an internship rated their skills higher in a range of areas, from communication to teamwork to critical thinking. The biggest boosts were for leadership and written communication skills, with grads who had completed an internship being 12 percent more likely to say college had prepared them extremely well in those areas.

Another bonus? The report found that starting salaries for grads with internship experience averaged $30,000 compared to $26,000 for those who hadn't.

3. Started job search before graduating

Twenty-four percent of grads wish they'd started their job search sooner. Although most employed grads, about 75 percent, had found a job within six months of starting their search, the report suggests those jobs were far from ideal for many. Grads had to settle for earning significantly less than they had expected (24 percent), working below their education level (27 percent) or working outside their area of interest (23 percent).

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4. Taken more career-oriented classes

Not surprisingly, computer and technology classes were number one on this list, with 56 percent of grads wishing they had more tech training under their belt. Other classes grads wished they'd buckled down for include business/finance (36 percent), quantitative skills (34 percent) and writing classes (24 percent).

5. Chosen a different college

Only 14 percent of grads wish they had gone to another school altogether. But a large majority (65 percent) felt they would either need more education in the future or had already gone back to school for more training to better prepare them for the job market.

It can be a challenge to figure out how to get all the training you need in college to hit the ground running once you graduate and still sneak in some time for a little fun. If you need help connecting the dots between your passions, your college classes and your future job opportunities, arrange to get some personalized advising at your college's career center.

Updated July 2017

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