The college application process is a rite of passage high school students are passing through in increasing numbers. With the cost of college education increasing and the amount of student loan debt exploding, career prospects have unfortunately become an important factor in deciding which colleges to apply to. The economy is too weak, employment opportunities too meager for students to take on tens of thousands of dollars of loan debt without following a set career path. Even students who seek liberal arts education (or, in other words, those students who seek education for the sake of learning rather than for immediate job prospects) can no longer afford to ignore the gloomy reality of today’s gloomy post-grad job market. In order to provide high school students this much-needed information on career prospects, LinkedIn is launching University Pages.
University Pages look similar to other pages on LinkedIn except they contain special sections that cater to the needs of college students. Like other sites designed to help students decide which colleges to apply to, University Pages on LinkedIn provide basic information about schools, including institution type (public or private), address, the number of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty count, in-state and out-of-state tuition, whether the school offers financial aid, a list of notable alumni, and a link to the school’s website. University Pages also display similar schools that might also interest a student. Where LinkedIn University Pages differ from other sites, though, is in allowing students to explore the career prospects of their major.
LinkedIn has allowed 200 universities to launch their Pages, including INSEAD, New York University, University of California San Diego, Fundação Getúlio Vargas, University of Michigan, Villanova, Rochester Institute of Technology, and University of Illinois, and thousands more will be given access to their University Pages in the coming weeks. Below are some of the features of LinkedIn’s new University Pages:
Each university lists two categories at the top of its page, below its header image (a prime real estate location on LinkedIn pages): “Where alumni work” and “What alumni do.” Placing this information in such a prominent position shows that career prospects are the main focus of LinkedIn’s University Pages.
Each category is visualized through a bar chart listing popular employers and careers of the school’s alumni. Clicking either category will bring students to an alumni page of detailed, searchable information. For example on the alumni page for my university, Carnegie Mellon, I see that the cities housing the largest numbers of CMU graduates are Pittsburgh, New York, and San Francisco. I can also see that the largest employers of CMU alumni, outside of Carnegie Mellon itself, are Google, Microsoft, and IBM. The alumni page also shows me that a huge number of CMU graduates (11,128!) work in engineering. Clicking on an industry name allows me to search the LinkedIn profiles of alumni working in that field so I can gain a sense of the jobs people in my major take on when they graduate from my school.
Engage With Schools
Just as other brands on LinkedIn can publish updates to their pages, universities can update their followers with current information. For example, NYU updates its page with links to its NYU Stories series, promotions for study abroad, and a link to a virtual tour of the school. This offers students a more personal and current feel for the university similar to that created by Facebook pages and Twitter profiles. Just like on Facebook and Twitter, students can interact with universities’ LinkedIn posts to ask questions and otherwise engage with the current campus community and the school’s alumni.
A Jumpstart on Networking
By creating their LinkedIn profiles early, before they enter college, high school students will have a jumpstart on building their professional networks on LinkedIn. Now students can begin connecting with their peers from day one of college (or even earlier!), giving them even more time to grow their networks before they graduate college. Whether University Pages serve as more than a ploy, though, to increase the number of active users on LinkedIn by getting users hooked at a young age is debatable.
Changing How We Perceive the College Degree
Though it’s certainly beneficial to encourage high school students to focus on career prospects, placing such high emphasis on college as a means to a career could distract high school students from other factors that should influence their college decisions. Career interests are not set in stone, after all, especially for rising high school seniors who have yet to partake in internships and college-level classes related to their potential, future careers. For this reason it doesn’t make sense to do as LinkedIn says and make career prospects the deciding factor when choosing which college to attend. Take Ellora Israni and Ayna Agrawal, the founders of she++, for example. Neither woman was aiming for a technical degree when she began attending Stanford University, but after a year and a half both women had switched into technical degree programs. If Israni and Agrawal had focused only on colleges where the career prospects of their initial intended majors looked positive, they might not have been able to transfer into the degree programs they later found to be a good fit. It’s common for students to enter college interested in one major only to switch degree programs after their first year. If students use LinkedIn as their primary source of college information, they will be ignoring the most important aspects of a university that allow it to shape high school students into young professionals: campus culture and opportunities for major and career exploration.
College should be more than a time for career training: it should also be a time for personal and intellectual exploration achieved through taking a variety of classes, study abroad, and/or working on extracurricular projects. According to LinkedIn, though, a student should attend a university with the end goal of being employed by Google, or IBM, or another prestigious company. With University Pages, LinkedIn ignores all the learning that happens in between high school and career.
While University Pages shed light on career goals, which should be an important factor when deciding with college to attend, they do not replace other tools students use to familiarize themselves with colleges. Sites like Peterson’s, along with university websites and informational materials, will still be invaluable to high school students searching for colleges that might be the “right fit.” At the very least, University Pages should serve as a way to make high school students aware of the need for viable career prospects. University Pages should not, however, be the sole influencers for students deciding where to apply.
What do you think of LinkedIn’s new University Pages? What value do you think they provide prospective college students?