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College Experience Tied to Success

When it comes to being satisfied with work and life after college, it’s not where you go to college, but what you experience in college that matters, finds a study from Gallup and Purdue University.

Researchers surveyed over 30,000 U.S. college graduates about their job engagement and overall satisfaction with life.  The study found that the type of college attended – public or private, small or large, very selective or not very selective – had little effect on a graduate’s long-term work satisfaction or sense of well-being.

Instead, researchers found strong correlations between the types of experiences students have in college and their odds of being engaged at work and thriving in other areas of life.

Specifically, college graduates were more likely to report feeling engaged in their current jobs if they’d had one or more of these key experiences in college:

- An internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom.

- Actively participated in extracurricular activities on campus.

- Worked on academic projects that took a semester or more to complete.

- Had a professor who cared about the student as a person.

- Had a professor who made them excited about learning.

- Had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams.

Students who reported having had three or more of the above experiences more than doubled their odds of work satisfaction after college. 

Additionally, the study found that finishing college in four years doubles the odds of work satisfaction for working graduates.  

Commitment to work is an important indicator of whether or not a graduate feels they are thriving in other areas of well-being, such as feeling socially connected, healthy, and financially stable.  The study found that a college graduate’s odds of thriving in other aspects of well-being are 4.6 times higher if they feel they are engaged at work.  Not surprisingly, if graduates felt that their college had prepared them well for life outside of college, they were 2.5 times more likely to express satisfaction with other aspects of their well-being. As with work engagement, however, the type of college attended had little correlation with other aspects of well-being.  

Another key factor in the future well-being of college graduates is student debt.  The study found that the higher the amount of student debt, the worse graduates scored on well-being. Only 4% of graduates owing between $20,000 and $40,000 in student debt were thriving in all areas of well-being, compared with 14% of those who did not take out loans to pay for college. 

What implications does this study have for students and parents weighing college options?  “When it comes to finding the secret to success, it’s not ‘where you go,’ it’s ‘how you do it’,” note the study’s researchers. “These elements – more than any others – have a profound relationship to a person’s life and career.”

Resource: The full Gallup-Purdue University study, Great Jobs Great Lives, can be downloaded at this link:

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by The College Advisor, and prepared for our clients and their families.


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