Skip to content

Opinion | Students should not overlook the value of their university's Career Service

Although the post-graduate landscape may look daunting for students. Ella Woszczyk details how university career services may be taken for granted with the help it offers.

By Ella Woszczyk, Deputy Editor

University career services have had a bad reputation for decades. The question is, are they deserving of this reputation or do students need to be more realistic on what these services can offer?

Students looking to enter the 2024 graduate job market are not in an enviable position. Cost-of-living crisis aside, graduate vacancies reportedly dropped by a third in 2023 with entry-level roles appearing more competitive than ever before. It seems that a 1st class degree from a top university no longer promises the professional success that it once did. 

Employers now recognise the imperative of having a diverse workforce. An increased focus on improving social mobility means that in many cases, students no longer need that benchmark 2.1 degree to secure places on coveted graduate schemes. This movement away from strict academic cut-offs is undoubtedly positive, but it does mean that current students must turn to work experience to ensure that they still stand out amidst their equally as employable peers.

University career services are often criticised for offering impersonal and outdated advice that fails to support students entering the ever-evolving graduate job market. As a student worker at the University of Bristol’s careers service, I do feel that higher education career advisers are doing their best to provide an effective and helpful support system. 

You could walk into our campus careers service tomorrow without an appointment and receive tailored advice on your CV, cover letter, and application form, alongside relevant signposting to a huge array of career resources. You could also make an account on the Bristol career website right now to discover all of these resources yourself, as well as an extensive list of job opportunities and informative networking and career events. Free (inasmuch that we don’t pay any extra upon our tuition fees) support services such as these are not to be taken for granted, and sometimes just being able to speak to someone with an impartial and informed view can do tons for your self-confidence. 

Being an employee of the careers service, I know how challenging it can be to answer every single question to a high and specific standard. It also means I appreciate just how much effort Bristol’s career consultants invest in helping students realise what it is that they want and need. If you don’t have any idea what you would like to do after university, they can give you options. 

sticky notes on corkboard
Photo by Jo Szczepanska / Unsplash

Robbie, an Alumni Mentoring Coordinator at the Careers Service said: “I’m biased probably but I think our Careers Service does more than most other Universities I’ve interacted with to reach out and support students from under-represented groups and diverse backgrounds.

It is challenging for us in the sense that not only do we need to be constantly updating what we deliver to students to ensure it is relevant and up to date in career advice terms, but we also need to ensure we deliver it flexibly. We know student life at Bristol can be demanding and time is at a premium. I think we are a service that works hard and has plenty of resources compared to some other universities.”

I am inclined to agree with Robbie, particularly as I’ve known career advisors to push aside their other responsibilities to prioritise helping students with last-minute application deadlines and upcoming interviews. 

However, on the topic of supporting students from more diverse backgrounds, UK university career services may unitedly fall short in the support they can offer to international students, though I wouldn’t say that is completely their fault. 

2021 report run by HEPI found that just 52 per cent of international students felt that their institution satisfied their career needs, despite an 82 per cent majority saying that the career support they expected to receive was “important” or “very important” when picking their university. 

The argument that international students “pay more for less” has perhaps strengthened since the current government’s hostile restrictions on student visas. The plan to “bring legal migration down to sustainable levels” has made the skilled worker route even more challenging to pursue. Finding a graduate job is difficult enough without the added consideration of securing citizenship. For any international students currently concerned about this situation, I’d recommend referring to UKCISA or the Support for International Students pathway on MyCareer.

UK nationals probably do not realise and therefore cannot empathise fully with all the intersecting challenges faced by international students split between countries, continents, and job markets. Though I welcome corrections on this matter, I don’t think there is even a free and easy service that international students can use to quickly find and convert their international grade equivalents. 

It seems impossible that the 70 or so team of Bristol career advisors can be equipped to answer all the questions of more than 27,000 students from over 150 countries and across 542 undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Advice often requires signposting to other departments such as the university’s Visa team, which of course prolongs the anxiety-inducing process of finding essential answers.

University career services can only work within the budget and resources given. I believe that university leadership needs to rethink the structure of their career support to reflect the difficulties of contemporary job markets. Rather than place all the pressure on a single service, the university should seek to employ more specialist advisors with strategic knowledge and assimilate them throughout the university across faculties and departments.

We are all guilty of ignoring the careers service emails in our university inboxes. I don’t think I realised we even had a careers service until the end of first year; my part-time job selling luxury body wash wasn’t particularly getting across my passion for writing. 

Having now engaged thoroughly with the service, I have personally been offered some really valuable advice and can confidently say that my CV is looking better than ever. 

Though university support services will inevitably have their shortcomings, students should be more sympathetic to the challenges and limitations of a service at maximum capacity. Likewise, this sympathy should operate both ways and university administrators should consider a more in-depth analysis of their current services, to reassess their intersectional effectiveness in the context of a growingly complicated job market. 

Featured image: Brooke Lark // Unsplash