Career services can be a major difference-maker for online college students. While online college graduates will generally qualify for the same career opportunities as their on-campus counterparts, they don’t always have access to the same services and resources as do traditional students. But these services can make a profound difference in your post-graduate employment prospects by providing direct support in everything from resume creation and interview prep to career mentoring and job placement.
So if you do plan to attend an online college, narrow your list of schools down to those with comprehensive career services. The very Best Online Colleges will typically offer a full suite of student services alongside a comprehensive set of accredited degree options.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. Gone are the days when employers regarded online education with suspicion. The stigma that may have once accompanied the reputation of online college is largely a thing of the past. Provided your online college is fully accredited, few employers will distinguish between online and traditional students, and where they do, it may actually be to your advantage.
Indeed, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve experienced a surge in the number of workers who telecommute for at least some portion of every week. As it turns out, the remote learning, self-guided education, organizational discipline, time-management, asynchronous collaboration, and technical savvy required for online learning actually closely mirror the 21st Century skills increasingly prized by hiring companies.
That said, there is one area in which traditional students may still have a considerable edge. Studying or living directly on campus offers access to a wide range of readily accessible resources and services. In addition to the organic networking that occurs when you share a physical space with your classmates and professors, studying on campus will give you access to both academic and career counselors as well as an array of career fairs, alumni events, internship opportunities, and more. By contrast, many online students either lack access to these resources or are unaware that such resources exist.
This underscores the twofold importance of both providing comprehensive career services to students in online college and creating awareness and outreach around these services.
Career services are a set of support services offered by your college or university and may include, at the most basic level, material support on resumé creation, interview workshopping, and self-assessments for career path determination. Most college career services departments also host job fairs, alumni networking events, and online job posting forums. But more comprehensive career service departments may pair you with a career advisor, provide assistance in your search for an internship, or even provide direct job placement assistance. Even more comprehensive support may include opportunities for career mentorship or job shadowing.
According to the 2020 Online College Students report jointly produced by Wiley Education Services and Education Dynamics, the most popular career services among online college students are resumé creation, support from a career advisor, and self-assessment. Nearly half of all online students surveyed used these services.
While the services above ranked as the most popular, students surveyed for the report noted that the most important services included:
Job shadowing, alumni networking, and internship search assistance are among the least used career services, with 54% to 55% of online students saying they did not use them.
The primary difference between campus career services and career services for online students is the medium used to convey these services. Just as with online education in general, online career services must be offered in a manner which is formulated according to the experience of, and consistent with the expectations of, online students. This is true both from a technical and practical perspective.
In terms of the actual services offered, there may be minimal difference between what online and on-campus students need. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) points out that
Fundamentally, online career centers do not differ from their on-ground counterparts in any significant philosophical way. What we offer is what career development professionals have always offered: expertise in self-exploration and support with career decision-making and the post-graduate transition.
That said, NACE points out that online career services should reflect both an understanding of how their target might differ from the traditional on-campus student and how the methods for reaching this target must be adapted to the same channels that convey the online educational experience. NACE notes that
what the online context changes is our audience and means of sharing our expertise. The technology involved may give a sense of the exotic, but by now we should be gaining some comfort, if not facility, with leveraging a wide range of computer-based tools to help us do our work.
Simply stated, those schools that have mastered the art and science of providing cohesive and effective online education will likely be the same schools that excel at using the online medium to provide cohesive and effective career services.
But it’s also important to recognize a few of the core demographic distinctions between online and on-campus students. The State of Oregon Employment Department reports that
The majority of online college students at the undergraduate (51%) and graduate (70%) levels were employed full time, and 41 percent of all online students were parents.
This distinguishes the career service needs of some online students from those of an on-campus population made up predominantly of recent high school graduates. For instance, a greater proportion of online students are likely to have interest in, and need for, immediate job placement opportunities. For adult learners, or degree candidates with the need or desire to balance education and work, finding an online school with proven job placement services will be a top priority.
Of course, these numbers also suggest that half of all online undergraduate students are, like traditional campus coeds, recent high school graduates. So it isn’t enough to simply suggest that career services for online students must serve a different target. Instead, online career services must reach a wider and more diverse target than do traditional on-campus career services. While the services themselves may be similar, the needs of the target recipient may be broader and more diverse.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that
It should be clear by now that simply having a website or interacting with students on Facebook or Instagram does not constitute operating as an online career center. An online career center functions with a clear, articulated vision to deliver a full suite of career development content tailored to the needs and delivery expectations of the institution’s students.
This includes accommodation for the needs of professionals and job-seekers across a wide spectrum of age groups. Online students may not require a dramatically different set of services than their on-campus counterparts, but they do most assuredly need services that are tailored to the access, experience, and expectations of online students.
Ultimately, the 2020 Online College Students report finds that
Career services may not sway students to enroll in one online program over another, but learners expect them as a fundamental part of the online higher education process. Though some students may elect to use these services in person, as many of these services as possible should be offered online.
In other words, the best online colleges will typically offer a full array of career services, and the effectiveness of these services will be borne out by strong post-graduate employment rates. That said, a quick reflection on the rates at which online students make use of these resources suggests that online schools could be doing a better job at:
Certainly, in addition to helping to improve the postgraduate prospects of online students, these services can also help to create a sense of connectivity and personal engagement for remote learners that can significantly improve the online educational experience.
If you are a working adult and you’re exploring the prospect of online college for the first time, don’t be intimidated. It can certainly be an adjustment, but there are a few manageable steps that any rookie can take to ease the transition. Before you sign on for your first course, check out these 10 Tips for Online Education Beginners.