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5 initiatives that give grads a leg up after college

group of graduates with diplomas

Some argue that the value of an education is best gauged by how marketable graduates are after college. While it's statistically a bit easier for new grads to land jobs — hiring for the Class of 2014 is expected to increase 8.6 percent over last year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers — some graduates are more prepared than others. These days, several schools are dedicated to helping enrollees succeed both during and after college. Here are five unique ways institutions are helping graduates land jobs.

1. Work experience, guaranteed

Grades matter, but employers are equally, if not more, interested in what you do outside the classroom. Among the 700+ employers surveyed by Marketplace and The Chronicle of Higher Education, internships and jobs students held while in college trumped academic performance or GPA.

Which is why schools like the University of Pittsburgh ensure that students are able to land resume-building experiences. Pitt's Internship Guarantee and Prep Program offers enrollees a series of group workshops and one-on-one appointments that cover resume writing, networking, interviewing, social media search and job hunting skills. After students complete the prep program, the school assists them in the search for an internship, research opportunity or extended volunteer gig, as well as by reaching out to employers and recruiters and helping students stay on top of deadlines.

"It's not a requirement that they do a internship through the University of Pittsburgh, but we're giving them all the resources they need to help secure one," says Alyson Kavalukas, Pitt's internship coordinator.

Internship guarantee programs are available at several institutions nationwide including the University of Memphis, Simpson College and Bowling Green State University.

2. Built-in jobs

Students at the any of the five United States military academies don't sweat their post-college job because they have one before they even set foot on campus. After finishing their college tenure, graduates of the academies spend five to eight years doing military service.

"As one of the smallest of the five federal service academies, we offer a quality higher education experience that emphasizes leadership, physical fitness and professional development," says David Santos, communications director for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. "Our cadets devote themselves to an honor concept and go directly into positions of leadership in service to others" after graduation.

Unlike other graduates, these young adults won't spend their days digging themselves out of debt. Students of all U.S. military academies receive a full scholarship, including room and board, and a paycheck while in school.

3. Paid semesters off

Students at Northeastern University in Boston are used to taking a semester off. Thanks to the school's cooperative learning program, students can take a co-op prep class then leave school and spend an entire semester working full-time in a paid position in their chosen field.

Co-ops are available in more than 36 states, 114 countries and on every continent — including Antarctica.

Students can complete up to two co-ops during a four-year college tenure (or three co-ops over five years) and graduate with up to 18 months of professional work experience, plus invaluable networking contacts. The strategy is paying off for Northeastern grads, more than half of whom receive job offers from their co-op employers. Ninety percent of Northeastern alumni land full-time jobs or graduate school admissions within nine months of leaving college.

4. Required research or field experience

Internships aren't the only way to cut your teeth in the working world. At Longwood University in Farmville, Va., all students are required to complete a directed research project, internship or field experience such as a practicum or student teaching work. And it's no joke. The experiential component can require anywhere from 120 to 600 hours of work depending on the student's major.

Sarah Hobgood, assistant director of Longwood's Academic and Career Advising Center, says that the flexibility of the experiential program gives students the opportunity to tailor their work to wooing graduate school admissions reps or landing a job after college.

On top of offering a resume boost, Longwood's experiential component "gives [students] a network because they're making connections as they're out there carrying out these experiences," Hobgood says. "They're building that professional network."

5. Work College programs

Admission to Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky., comes with a promise that you'll spend all four years of your college tenure on the job. One of seven federally recognized Work Colleges in the U.S., Alice Lloyd and others like it require all students to work part-time for the school while they're taking classes. At Alice Lloyd, students often start in janitorial, groundskeeping or kitchen jobs, and they may have the opportunity to move into managerial positions during their latter college years. As a reward, all Alice Lloyd students receive a scholarship equal to the cost of tuition.

"The purpose of the work program is really two-fold," says Alice Lloyd executive vice-president Jim Stepp. "One, it serves as a way to help us keep the promise of a tuition guarantee by keeping costs lower than what they would be otherwise. The other benefit is we take the work program seriously. Students are learning how to work."

On top of gaining job training skills, Stepp says that the program also provides students with soft skills employers are looking for, such as the ability to show up on time and work in teams.

"Without a doubt, there's a major advantage for students who graduate here," Stepp adds.

Sources:

Admissions: Financial Aid, Alice Lloyd College,
http://www.alc.edu/admissions/financial-aid/

Falcon Internship Guarantee, Bowling Green State University,
http://www.bgsu.edu/career-center/falcon-internship-guarantee.html

"The Role of Higher Education in Career Development: Employer Perceptions," The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 2012,
http://chronicle.com/items/biz/pdf/Employers%20Survey.pdf

"A College Degree Sorts Job Applicants, but Employers Wish It Meant More," Karin Fischer, The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 12, 2013,
http://chronicle.com/article/The-Employment-Mismatch/137625/#id=overview

Sarah Hobgood, Assistant Director of Longwood University's Academic and Career Advising Center, Interviewed by the author, May 14, 2014

Alyson Kavalukas, Internship Coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh, Interviewed by the author, May 14, 2014

"New College Graduate Hiring to Increase 8.6 Percent," Andrea Koncz and Kevin Gray, National Association of Colleges and Employers, April 16, 2014,
http://naceweb.com/about-us/press/new-college-grad-hiring-increases.aspx

Cooperative Education and Career Development FAQ, Northeastern University,
http://www.northeastern.edu/coop/students/faq/

David Santos, Communications Director for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Interviewed by the author via email, May 15, 2014

Guaranteed Internship Program, Simpson College,
http://simpson.edu/career/internships/guaranteed-internship-program/

Jim Stepp, Executive Vice President of Alice Lloyd College, Interviewed by the author on May 16, 2014

Internship Guarantee Program, University of Memphis,
http://www.memphis.edu/internships/guarantee.htm

Internship Guarantee & Prep Program, University of Pittsburgh,
http://www.studentaffairs.pitt.edu/cdpa/internship-guarantee-prep-program

"The Academy Commitment: Affording College is Not the Question," U.S. Air Force Academy,
http://www.academyadmissions.com/commitment/

Admissions: Tuition, U.S. Coast Guard Academy,
http://www.cga.edu/admissions2.aspx?id=71

West Point Prospectus, U.S. Military Academy,
http://www.usma.edu/admissions/shared%20documents/wp_prospectus.pdf

Member Colleges, Work Colleges Consortium,
http://www.workcolleges.org/member-colleges