(BPT) - America's unemployment rate recently hit its lowest level in seven years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, that's just in time for 2.8 million graduates with bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees to enter the workforce.
However, a college degree does not always lead to gainful employment. Millennials make up 40 percent of the unemployed in the United States, according to Anthony Carnavale, a director and research professor at Georgetown University's Center on Education and Workforce.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative that students select a college or university with the resources to land them a job. While it is important to consider proximity, cost, accreditation and atmosphere, you also want to keep the end goal in mind - a career.
So what else should you look at when researching a school?
1. Make meaningful industry connections.
It's all about connections in today's job hunts, and it's likely the same will be true for the class of 2020 and beyond. In fact, 80 percent of jobs aren't advertised according to Steven Rothberg, founder of CollegeRecruiter.com.
A search on a university's LinkedIn page will reveal the cities, companies and industries in which alumni work. Access to a strong alumni network will help prepare students for a career by opening doors to internships and jobs.
A network of trusted and connected professors is equally as important as a network of successful alumni. During the campus visit, students should ask about the faculty's experience and reputation and make introductions early.
2. Gain real world experience.
Today's employers are on the lookout for students who have found their niche and demonstrated leadership skills in real-world scenarios.
For example, students thinking about a career in engineering should look for schools with programs like EcoCAR 3, a premier collegiate competition grooming the next generation of advanced engineers trained across disciplines - from engineering to marketing. Public relations majors can participate in the Bateman Case Study Competition, where college teams create and implement a full public relations campaign to raise awareness on a selected topic. The National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition offers students interested in information assurance or computer security the opportunity to defend a commercial network against common outside threats.
"More and more we're seeing today's top companies request students from our program because they've gained the hands-on experience that the classroom doesn't offer," says Kristen De La Rosa, EcoCAR 3 program director at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. "We give students the opportunity gain access to millions of dollars of cutting-edge technology and top industry experts to solve complex engineering and marketing challenges. For this reason, almost 100 percent of our participants land a job immediately after graduation."
3. Position yourself close to the action.
While a beautiful campus is nice to look at, that alone isn't enough to justify years of time and money. It helps to be close to an industry hot-spot where internship and volunteer opportunities are plentiful and easy to access.
Studying near industry hubs will help students gain access to mentors, networking events and international conferences, furthering their competitive advantage and adding value to their degree.
Tech-savvy students who dream of launching the next big start-up should position themselves near the action in Silicon Valley, Boston or Austin. For those looking to create the next head-turning design it is best to study fashion and design in New York City or Los Angeles.
Physical proximity to an industry, participation in extracurricular activities and third-party recommendations can help make a student's dream career a reality. Parents and high schoolers should keep these tips in mind throughout the college application process to make the most of college and hopefully land that first job.
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