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Voice of the Graduate

By Marc Hendel, Senior Researcher and Data Analysis Manager

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In May 2013, the international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company released a report on the disconnect between college and work — results of a survey of recent graduates and near-graduates. The report is well-written and presented in two- or three-page, easy-to-read sections. At the end of each section, discussion questions provide relevant topics for all stakeholders — policymakers, college faculty and staff, and any other parties interested in improving outcomes for college students. It is worth downloading the report to read and think about these questions.

The survey was completed in October and November 2012 by more than 4,900 former customers of Clegg, Inc., an online textbook rental company. The respondents included representatives of all school sectors and included those who graduated between 2009 and 2012, although some respondents were still in school when they took the survey. To ensure representativeness, the data were weighted by region, gender and type of institution during the analysis phase.


The eight section titles give an idea of what is addressed by the survey:

  • Overqualified (Graduates hold jobs that don't require a college degree.)
  • Underprepared (College did not prepare them well for the working world.)
  • Regrets (Graduates were unsatisfied with major and/or school choice.)
  • Haven't Done the Homework (They did not use data before choosing a school and/or major.)
  • Disappointed (Available job choices at graduation were not what graduates expected.)
  • Can I Help You? (A large proportion of graduates that had not planned to do so were working in retail/hospitality.)
  • Liberal Arts? (Liberal arts majors fare worse in all metrics in the report.)
  • Do It Yourself (Students did not use available resources when searching for a job.)


The conclusions from the survey are somewhat disheartening, but they do generate interesting discussion points. For example, nearly half of the respondents indicated that the job they currently hold does not require a college degree and those who graduated from public universities are 11% more likely to state that they are overqualified for the job they currently hold. Graduates in STEM fields are most likely to feel the opposite way of the overall trend — they tend to feel that the job they currently hold can only be obtained if one has a college degree. Respondents with degrees in visual and performing arts were least likely to feel this way. Because of this, many are earning much less than they had anticipated before graduation.


One-third of the college graduates responding to this survey indicated that they felt that their college experience did not prepare them to function adequately in a professional environment. The feeling of inadequacy is more pronounced in graduates from two-year colleges, with 40% of respondents from that sector not able to agree with the statement that college prepared them well for employment.


The willingness of the customer to use a product or service again is often a strong indicator of satisfaction. Many graduates demonstrated dissatisfaction by indicating they had regrets with their choice of school and major, and more than half indicated that if they had the chance to do things over they would select a different school, a different major or both.


A strong movement has encouraged schools to provide potential students with information about graduation rates, placement rates and other important information that should be used to help potential attendees make good decisions about school choice and choice of major for their personal circumstances. Despite the importance of researching these metrics:

  • Nearly half of the respondents (49%) did not look into graduation rates before making a decision about which school to attend.
  • Nearly 40% did not look at placement rates or average starting salaries before selecting a school or major.

Date: July 2013

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