What college leaders need to know about the career expectations for the class of ‘24

After entering college at the height of the pandemic, this class isn’t looking for tradeoffs when it comes to work-life balance.
Kevin Grubb
Kevin Grubbhttps://www1.villanova.edu/university/career-professional.html
Kevin Grubb is the associate vice provost of professional development and chief career officer at Villanova University.

As the class of 2024 prepares to enter the workforce, one thing is clear for this cohort, most of whom entered college at the height of the pandemic: Life is more than a career.

For these young adults, prioritizing well-being and balancing work and life isn’t just a request—it’s an expectation. Students are searching for companies that share their values and allow flexibility. And because this group’s early work experiences were impacted by the way the world navigated the pandemic, many weren’t exposed to the social interactions and in-person work norms that, prior to 2020, represented a staple of workplace engagement.

One of our responsibilities as higher education leaders is to help guide students so they can thrive in their lives and workplaces after graduation. In the past, career guidance mainly meant understanding the job market new graduates would be entering, helping them develop strong resumes and cover letters and preparing them for their first job interviews. Today, we still need to do all those tasks, but we’ve added a new layer to help students articulate what’s most important to them personally as they enter the workforce, such as their well-being. Our conversations with students also include teaching them how to be nimbler amid changes in the workplace, such as when you work, where you work and even how you dress.

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Luckily, the class of 2024 is entering a healthy job market where hybrid schedules are now largely the standard—and a preferred modality of work for students, entry-level employees and office workers overall, according to a recently published survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). In fact, students actually share a greater desire for in-person work than those already in the workplace, with 51% of students in the NACE survey picking in-person, compared to 42% choosing hybrid and just under 7% selecting fully remote work.

Students’ preference for in-person over remote work isn’t all that surprising. The class of 2024 is more concerned about the sense of purpose work brings to their lives and overall work-life balance—and less about their physical location. They are also more cognizant and put more care into where—and with whom—they spend their time and energy. Add in that, for many of these students, the pandemic dampened the typical college experience and it’s no wonder they’re more likely to view in-person work as exciting.

One thing that’s non-negotiable for many in the class of 2024 is flexibility, which has been at the heart of the conversations we’ve been having with students at Villanova University. While it might make sense on the surface for college career officers like me to focus on the job market and industry trends, we lose a key characteristic of this group if that’s all we focus on. The fact is these students aren’t interested in tradeoffs when it comes to career choice and well-being—they see the two as inextricably linked. When employers embrace and focus on the elements of well-being in their recruiting, students are likely to respond with greater interest.

Still, it can be hard for students to pinpoint exactly what they’re looking for, particularly when they may not have been able to pressure test what’s most important due to the pandemic’s impact on in-person internships, social interactions and career discussions. That’s where we come in—but it’s not always easy.

Overall, the new way of doing business combined with the class of 2024’s unique mindset around work adds a layer of complexity for college leaders—one that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Add in the still-lingering stigma around openly discussing work-life balance, and it’s more important than ever that we’re bringing these vital conversations to the table.

These discussions are critical for another key reason. For many years, career services at many universities focused on the transactional—the reviewing of resumes, help locating job opportunities and the like. It shouldn’t be lost on us that the class of 2024’s focus on finding purpose is not only a transformative way to look at the workplace but also a transformative way for how career services should operate at universities nationwide. Many, like Villanova University, already do—we just need to get the word out to those for whom it matters most: our students.


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