How College Choices Affect Career Outcomes

June 9, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

Finding a job related to one's major and attending a selective school will help students earn more post-college, while high-impact college experiences may lead to a job that offers non-monetary benefits.

Finding a job related to one’s major and attending a selective school will help students earn more post-college, while high-impact college experiences may lead to a job that offers non-monetary benefits.

New research from New York University (NYU) and Loyola University Chicago examined data from the 2012 Education Longitudinal Study to find out how graduates fared in their jobs.

The researchers were particularly interested in how high-impact experiences—which they defined as internships, studying abroad, senior capstones, research outside of class, and community-based projects—could predict career attitudes and reported levels of learning and challenge on the job. While their findings suggested these experiences have a “small and inconsistent influence” on career outcomes, some were associated with good outcomes down the road, a NYU press release noted.

For example, the researchers found a positive relationship between students involved in a senior capstone experience and having a supportive work environment. Also, internships and community-based projects tend to point students in the direction of jobs serving a social purpose and offering new challenges.

A more consistent predictor of career success was the student’s institution. Students who attended more selective schools tended to earn more money in the years immediately following college than peers who went to more accommodating schools. Some selective schools reported 16% to 18% higher earnings, according to the researchers.

In addition, students who worked in a job related to their major saw 15% higher earnings. Business and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors typically saw similar earnings, but business majors reported lower levels of learning, satisfaction, and challenge on the job.

The researchers said they did not wish to discourage high-impact experiences. Instead, they suggested these experiences do not necessarily guarantee career gains.

“We had anticipated finding more consistent and stronger evidence that high-impact practices have a positive influence on earnings and other aspects of career success,” said study author Gregory Wolniak, director of the Center for Research on Higher Education Outcomes at NYU Steinhardt, in a press release. “Our findings suggest that to earn more and enjoy the attitudinal outcomes we examined, students would benefit from support in securing jobs related to their majors.”