High school students ask some big questions about their future when they apply to college. Chief among them is: What do I want to be when I grow up? Also: Will my career be personally rewarding? Will it benefit others? Will it sustain me financially? Will it allow me to pay off my student loans and live a life of comfort?

Today’s enrollment leaders understand that the path to answering these existential questions requires the selection of not only an institution, but also a specific major. What is less understood, is how much support prospective students expect to receive in pursuit of their career goals—a concept called career articulation.

Is it the same for all majors and career interests, or does it vary?

The chart below, based on data from Eduventures’ 2017 Prospective Student Survey, shows what we mean by career articulation—how directly connected students feel a major is to a specific career and how much support they think they need to get there.

We placed each major, with bubble size representing popularity, in a quadrant based on the breadth of students’ career interests (the number of professions they might consider after they graduate from college) and level of career development support they expect from their institution (the number of elements they chose).

Career Articulation of Majors

(click to enlarge)
*Bubble size = count of students interested in pursuing undergraduate major
*standardized scores

Overall, the average number of professions students list is 2.6. Those interested in health professions are narrowest in their career aspirations, listing an average of 2.1, while students in public administration have the broadest interests, listing an average of 3.7.

When it comes to career development support, all students do expect their institutions to step up, but to lesser or greater degrees depending on major. The average number of supports expected out of a possible 19 suggested in our survey was 7.2. Students interested in personal and culinary services, for example, expected fewer supports on average (5.9) than those in public administration (8.3).

While there are certain pillars of career development support that a majority of students agree on, there are critical differences between students based on their major and career interests. To create career development recruiting messages that will speak to students in specific majors, let’s look at some examples.


Education majors, as you might expect, have narrow career interests and expect lower levels of career support services. They know they want to be college-level teachers, but are open to a few related career pathways like counseling, writing, and teaching.

Education: Top Professions of Interest

*Students could select as many career interests as they wanted

Compared to the national average, education majors have a much greater desire to apply classroom learning in the real world and learn the skills that their employers are looking for. These students are itching to get into their student teaching classrooms and to learn the ropes of the school districts they will be working in. They’re not that interested in connecting to alumni and they probably believe they are a strong fit for teaching, whether that is true or not.

Greater desire forLesser desire for
Opportunities to apply classroom learning in the real worldExpert advice from alumni in chosen field
Help learning about the skills employers look forAssessment of fit to potential career
Funding of paid internships
Graduate or professional school matching

*Listed in order of importance


Engage these students with a clear and simple outcomes message that emphasizes student teaching opportunities, effective teaching methods, and the opportunity to get to know the systems and districts that will employ them.

Biological/Biomedical Sciences

Students interested in biological or biomedical sciences have slightly broader professional interests than education majors, but higher expectations for career development support. The bulk of these students (63%) are interested in medical or dental professions, but a number of them are considering nursing (31%) or life science (26%) as careers. The specialization toward biology versus biomedical engineering certainly matters here. Many of these students believe they are headed to medical school, but they will not necessarily get there.

Biological/Biomedical Sciences:Top Professions of Interest

*Students could select as many career interests as they wanted

For many biology/biomedical students, the graduate school match is very important, as is the integration of their academic coursework into their career goals. Advising for students in biological and biomedical sciences should strongly link academic coursework to graduate school pathways and eventual career goals. These students seek out internships of all kinds and value the input of alumni and others in their chosen field

Greater desire for
Graduate or professional school matching
Integration of academic coursework with career goals
Help finding internships
Funding of paid internships
Expert advice from alumni in chosen field

*Listed in order of importance; nothing was less important than national average


Recruit students into biological and biomedical programs by demonstrating strong academic and career integration that results in graduate school placement. Internship programs, both funded and unfunded, should feature prominently. This is one group for whom the imprimatur of alumni in their chosen profession matters.

Social Science

Students interested in the social sciences are relatively wide open on professions of interest and have high expectations for career services. Much of their professional interest lies in the public sector professions of government (50%), politician/civic leader (45%), and ancillary professions like legal professions (32%) or non-profit/advocacy (25%).

Social Science: Top Professions of Interest

*Students could select as many career interests as they wanted

Social science students want a high degree of career development support; in short, they want it all. Their desires include internships and networking with employers, integrating coursework, tapping into alumni expertise, assessing fit, and career exploration. The desire for wide-ranging support, coupled with wide interest in careers, paints a portrait of a student on a thoughtful search, and a desire for an institution to be a thoughtful partner in that search.

Greater desire for
Help finding internships
Networking and communicating with employers
Integration of academic coursework with career goals
Expert advice from alumni in chosen field
Assessment of fit to potential careers
Graduate or professional school matching
Career exploration
Opportunities to apply classroom learning in the real world

*Listed in order of importance; nothing was less important than national average


Career development messages for social sciences students must express an open and expansive level of support. Start with all the basic messages: learn what skills employers are looking for, find internships, and get a job. For this student, though, you must go beyond: make connections, integrate coursework with career, and help assess career fit.

The Bottom Line

What do these three different examples tell us about the “what do I want to be when I grow up” question in recruiting? They tell us that that major selection, as a point of entry to a college career outcome, is not a simple story.

There are different degrees of articulation. The more we know about how a specific major articulates to careers, the better we can discuss the career development story in recruiting. And, perhaps more importantly, the better we can help enrolled students make the career connection over the course of their student experience.

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