Career coaching can be a valuable resource for students to turn an education into an occupation. But, our research at WGU and elsewhere shows that these resources aren’t being maximized. A more embedded model is likely needed to better support career coaching and navigation efforts — and help students achieve their full potential. 

Understanding the career coaching and navigation landscape

Over the last couple of years, we have studied students’ interest and engagement in university-based resources that are meant to help them launch and navigate the careers they came to college to find. In these efforts, we have interviewed and surveyed students, studied students’ engagement and satisfaction with two online career coaching providers, and studied the uptake and outcomes of a tech tool that helps students more readily connect with their fellow alumni. We also have observed several micro-credential programs that have direct workforce connections. 

We came away from these studies realizing that many students reap tremendous benefit from career coaching resources, but too few — particularly too few students who have the most to gain — are tapping these resources to leap from their learning to opportunity.

Barriers that prevent students from seeking career coaching support

To help more students see the benefits of career coaching, we need to pay attention to the demand side of the equation. Specifically, we’ve learned:

  1. Students who are going to school and working, as many WGU students do and as many students who live near the poverty threshold do, prioritize their coursework over activities like career coaching/navigation support. Generally, they see career navigation as something to do after they complete their degree.
  2. Career coaching, to the extent that students described it, was typically limited to getting advice and support from someone who is already in their network — a supervisor or manager at their current job. 
  3. Career navigation for many students we interviewed was primarily opportunistic — when a potential job appears, they pursue it. Students typically perceived career coaching to be the relatively limited tasks of help with resume writing and interviews.
  4. The notion of career navigation, as an intentional and strategic exercise, isn’t known to a great many students, especially those who are the first in the family to be entering the so-called “white collar” class of jobs. It isn’t that students don’t want career planning, coaching, and navigation support or that they fail to make the time for it. It is that many don’t realize the scope of what it could look like and offer. 

Building demand and supporting better student outcomes

Given these realities, we hypothesize that building demand will likely require a more embedded model. Students could benefit from exposure to career navigational support as part of the learning activities they are already engaged in for their degree program, creating proactive rather than reactive coaching opportunities.