College Planning 101: What Do Employers Look for in College Graduates?

Cliff Morgan | US College Planning

While attending college is often a fun experience and almost always plays a significant role in the transition to adulthood, there is one over-riding reason that students pursue a college degree.

That reason is simple: to prepare for a fulfilling career.

Ultimately, students and their families value college because attending college opens the door to a wide variety of career options that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

So given the importance of college in creating career opportunities, doesn’t it make sense to find out exactly what prospective employers are looking for when they hire college graduates?

We think so, and that’s why today we’re highlighting a recent survey of employers that was published by

A new employer survey from the Association of American Colleges and Universities strongly suggests that employers want recent college graduates to be broadly educated.

The surveyors interviewed 318 employers with at least 25 employees and in which at least a quarter of new hires hold either an associates or bachelors degree. Here are some key findings:

93 percent of employers said that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate degree.

95 percent say they prioritize hiring college graduates with skills that will help them contribute to innovation in the workplace.

80 percent of employers agree that regardless of their major, every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.

95 percent of those surveyed say that it is important that new hires demonstrate ethical judgement and integrity, intercultural skills, and the capacity for continued new learning.

Employers also said that they strongly endorse such educational practices as collaborative problem-solving, internships, senior projects and community engagement.

More than four in five employers say that in evaluating applicants they find it helpful if job candidates have a digital portfolio, along with the usual resume and college transcripts.

Two in three employers believe most college graduates have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in entry-level positions, but only 44 percent believe they have what is required for advancement and promotion to higher levels.



Interestingly, in many cases it appears that employers are less interested in the specific degree earned, and more interested in the skills and abilities that the graduate has developed. (Of course, highly technical careers, such as engineering, will typically require more specific degrees).

So what does this tell you, as a college student? It tells you that, though choosing a major that is relevant to your career plans is important, what really matters are the skills and abilities that you develop. Don’t look at your classes as simply a “means to an end” (the “end” being your degree), look at them as opportunities to develop problem solving skills, communication skills, critical thinking skills, and so forth. After all, that is what your future employers will be looking for.

If you’d like to learn more about college planning, we would love to help. Please get in touch with us today! 

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