September 2017

College is the time many people start figuring out what they want to do for a career. This time of discovery can be exciting — and daunting. Do we really know what we want to do for the rest of our lives at 19?

Carleton College has created a unique tool to help college students along this path of discovery. The tool looks at majors of graduates and their careers. “Pathways was designed to better understand the career trajectories that Carleton students take,” described Alfred Montero, political science professor and director of advising at Carleton College. “We wanted the project to look at what types of majors students received and eventually what type of careers they embarked on.”

The visualization is an interactive web application that shows the major of graduates and their career field. The major is on the left side of the visualization and the careers are on the right, connected by a line. These lines that connect major and career have different thicknesses that correspond to the number of graduates with a specific major and a specific career.

Carleton career path visualization

Once the tool was designed and developed it was used by advisors to help students start thinking about their majors. “We started using it to show students, particularly first- and second-year students, that their selection of major does not limit their career options,” Montero said. “Majors should be what students are interested in which certainly can inform a career path, but with the liberal arts these majors are not limiting.”

Advisors also use it to help spark critical thinking about students’ future career during junior year. “It became a very useful tool to help link academic choices made by students and possible career outcomes,” Montero said. “The tool enables students to answer their own questions about what they can do with their education.”

Carleton also uses the tool to talk with prospective students and parents. Many prospective students feel the pressure of having to know their major before going into college. The visualization tool communicates that with the liberal arts the student doesn’t need to know their exact career path. “The tool in part was created to bring some clarity around the liberal arts to parents and students,” Montero said. “Liberal arts enable students to have skills that meet the needs of all types of careers, regardless of major.”

In this way, the career path visualization tool highlights the strengths of a liberal arts degree. Student with a liberal education gain expertise in skills like critical thinking, problem solving and team work that are vital to every career field.

And with many careers changing rapidly, these types of skills are even more important. “We are preparing our students not for jobs of today or even jobs of the future but jobs we don’t even know will exist,” Montero said. “Communication skills, decision making, the ability to connect with people of different backgrounds, project management — these are skills that will continue to be important in the future and our students learn no matter what degree they receive.”

Craving another interactive career path tool? Check out The Hamilton Project’s new tool that looks at career paths and earnings of graduates within a college major.

By Tom Lancaster