Career readiness of first-year undergraduates raises questions about pre-university decision making

11 July 2018

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 13.48.35The 2018 AGCAS First-year Student Career Readiness Survey found that many students are arriving at university unsure of their options and without a clear career plan. A recurring factor determining preparation and confidence in first-year students was the careers guidance they received at school.

The findings reveal that less than one third of younger students had clear career ideas before they chose their university course.

Bob Gilworth, AGCAS Research and Knowledge Director, and President-elect, commented: 

‘It is increasingly apparent that meaningful careers and employability engagement has to be based on better understanding of students’ starting points, perceptions and journeys. “I wouldn’t start from there” just won’t do. Our members know this and the AGCAS First-year Career Readiness Survey is an important contribution to that improved understanding.’

Private vs State Schools

A strong social capital gap emerged between private and state schools. Private school students reported significantly higher confidence levels than their state school peers in making appropriate conversations with professionals, delivering job interview presentations and understanding the organisational culture of employers. This variance serves to further heighten the social capital gap between private and state-educated students.

Whilst the reported gap between private and state school careers provision has narrowed, the number of students actually utilising available careers support remains far higher in private schools. Many more students educated at private school reported that they had already attended one-to-one careers guidance sessions and presentations about higher education prior to starting university.

Elaine Boyes, AGCAS Executive Director, Commented:

‘This report suggests the need for a critical reflection of the radical changes to careers provision in secondary education (in England, at least) since 2012. The significant gaps between students from state-funded and private-funded schools cannot be narrowed without policy change, financial investment and supporting resources.’

Careers confidence

Interestingly, first-generation university students' confidence levels were no lower than their counterparts. This is potentially due to more first-generation university students having had part-time jobs both before and during university.

Female students showed a lack of confidence in identifying relevant employers and attending interviews. They also demonstrated a stronger reliance on their social and family networks for advice and guidance compared to their male counterparts.

Mature students are more career-ready

Mature students are more career-ready than younger students but they do not carry with them more social or cultural capital. Time and financial pressures are a major obstacle to some students’ participation in career-related activities, many of which can help build up valuable social capital.

Background to the survey

The AGCAS First-year Students’ Career Readiness Survey has been designed to reflect how engaged and prepared first-year students are with their career planning. The survey, now in its third year and covering 2,008 first-year students from 18 higher education institutions, explores students’ previous experiences of careers support, motivations for course choice, steps already taken to enhance their employability and future career plans. As well as the general factors associated to graduate outcomes found in other major longitudinal research (e.g. LEO), the survey also concerns the students’ lifestyle, social and cultural capital, participation in career-related activities and careers support received and expected.

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