Story Highlights

  • About half of college grads visited their career services office
  • Recent grads are more likely to report using career services
  • 16% report their career services office was very helpful

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While 52% of U.S. college graduates report visiting the career services office at least once during their undergraduate experience, they are equally likely to say their experience was "not at all helpful" (16%) as they are to say it was "very helpful" (16%). Overall, just under eight in 10 graduates who visited a career services offices say it was very helpful, "helpful" or "somewhat helpful."

Career Services Office Helpfulness Among College Graduates Who Reported Visiting the Office
How helpful was the career services office to you?
College graduates
Very helpful 16
Helpful 27
Somewhat helpful 36
Not at all helpful 16
Don't know/Cannot recall 6
2016 Gallup-Purdue Index

The findings are among those released Tuesday in the Gallup-Purdue Index Report 2016, based on more than 11,000 interviews with U.S. adults aged 18 and older with at least a bachelor's degree, conducted Aug. 22-Oct. 11, 2016. The study was conducted as part of the third year of the Gallup-Purdue Index -- a nationally representative survey that has interviewed 70,000 different college graduates over three years.

Recent Grads More Likely to Use Career Services

Recent college graduates are more likely than those who graduated earlier to report visiting their school's career services office. Sixty-one percent of graduates who received their degree since 2009 say they visited the career services office at least once during their undergraduate experience, while 32% report they did not and 7% were unsure.

Part of the reason for this gap in recent versus earlier graduates' reports is that a larger percentage of earlier graduates may be unable to recall their experience with the career services office. However, it could also stem from real changes in college students' interactions with career services over time and the fact that colleges' career services' offerings have evolved dramatically in past decades.

Percentage of College Graduates Who Say They Visited Career Services Office, by Time Period
While attending [University Name], did you visit the career services office at least once?
Yes No Don't know/Cannot recall
% % %
Up to 1949 30 44 26
1950-1959 30 52 18
1960-1969 35 49 15
1970-1979 40 44 16
1980-1989 52 33 14
1990-1999 53 33 14
2000-2009 55 33 11
2010-2016 61 32 7
Total 52 36 12
2016 Gallup-Purdue Index

Although recent graduates are more likely than graduates who earned their degree years earlier to recall having visited their career services office, those in various groups who visited the career services office similarly recollect the program's effectiveness. About two in five graduates who received their degree in each decade between 1980 and 2016 say that the career services office was very helpful or helpful to them.

Career Services Office Helpfulness Among Those Who Reported Visiting Office, by Time Period
How helpful was the career services office to you?
Very helpful Helpful Somewhat helpful Not at all helpful Don't know/Cannot recall
% % % % %
Up to 1949 30 14 5 25 26
1950-1959 24 33 31 6 5
1960-1969 21 34 33 6 6
1970-1979 16 30 37 12 5
1980-1989 17 26 36 15 5
1990-1999 18 25 35 16 7
2000-2009 13 26 36 18 7
2010-2016 17 26 37 17 3
Total 16 27 36 16 5
2016 Gallup-Purdue Index

In most graduation groups, those who visited their career services office were about equally likely to rate it as not at all helpful as to rate it very helpful. However, graduates from the 1950s and 1960s were much more likely to report a very positive experience than a very negative one.

Quality of Career Services Is Crucial

Graduates who visited their career services office are not much more likely than those who did not to believe their university prepared them well for life outside of college, to say their education was worth the cost and to recommend their university to others. However, graduates who recall having a high-quality experience with their career services office are markedly more likely to rate their college experience positively. For example, graduates who rated their experiences with career services as very helpful are 5.8 times more likely to strongly agree that their university prepared them for post-collegiate life, nearly 3.0 times more likely to "strongly agree" that their education was worth, and 3.4 times more likely to recommend their alma mater.

Quality of Career Services Experience and Retrospective Evaluation of University
Yes, did visit career services No, did not visit career services Career services "very helpful" Career services "not at all helpful"
% % % %
My university prepared me well for life outside of college 34 26 58 10
My education was worth the cost 49 49 72 24
Extremely likely to recommend alma mater to family, friends or colleagues 45 38 68 20
2016 Gallup-Purdue Index


Americans with a bachelor's degree can expect to earn about $1 million more than those with a high school diploma over the course of their careers. However, the unemployment rate for college graduates in the U.S. aged 25 and older is now nearly double what it was in 2000, compared with an overall employment rate that is only one percentage point higher in 2016 than it was in 2000. As a result, schools must adopt new programs and policies to better prepare their graduates for a changing and competitive job market.

Career services offices often provide this support, which can include stimulating student interest in disciplines they had previously not considered, helping students select a major field of study, helping students secure employment while enrolled in college, and preparing students for finding a job upon graduation through mock interviews and resume workshops.

Getting students in the door of their school's career services office is only half the battle colleges face. The other half is making sure the experience is as meaningful as possible. The quality of the interactions students have with their career services office has a significantly greater relationship with the likelihood that students report having felt prepared for life after graduation than whether they simply visit at all.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup-Purdue Index study are based on web interviews conducted Aug. 22-Oct. 11, 2016, with a random sample of 11,483 respondents with a bachelor's degree or higher, aged 18 and older, with internet access, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of bachelor's degree or higher, the margin of sampling error is ±1.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

The Gallup-Purdue Index sample was recruited via the Gallup Daily tracking survey. The Gallup Daily tracking survey sample includes national adults with a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using RDD methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the next birthday. Gallup Daily tracking respondents with a college degree who agreed to future contact were invited to take the Gallup-Purdue Index survey online. Gallup-Purdue Index interviews are conducted via the web, in English only.

Learn more about how the Gallup-Purdue Index works.