The College Board is rolling out a new suite of tools that help students explore careers. The organization also is including a noncollege partner, Year Up, in its Student Search Service. We spoke with Allison Danielsen, executive director of careers and partnerships for the group’s BigFuture platform, about this broad set of moves.
In the Q&A that follows, Danielsen expands on the career tools’ capabilities and talks about the purpose of the College Board’s new work.
You mentioned the goal of providing guidance without being prescriptive. How do these tools seek to thread that needle?
A: Career decisions are personal. We know from our research that many students want to pursue a career they’re passionate about—but it can be overwhelming to understand and plan for the next steps to take after high school. BigFuture simplifies the steps students need to take in the career planning process through a curated dashboard where they can track their progress, access checklists for steps by grade level, and even enter to win BigFuture Scholarships for taking actions that matter for postsecondary success.
Career planning isn’t linear—which is why the new BigFuture experience gives students different entry points to explore careers and the multiple pathways to get there.
- If students are interested in discovering what careers could be a good fit, they can start with the BigFuture Career Quiz. After taking the quiz, almost 1 million students have received a list of 30 potential careers to explore. Early survey results show that the quiz increases feelings of hopefulness and excitement among students.
- Students who already have an idea of what they want to do can search directly for a career via BigFuture Career Search. Students can get a comprehensive view of options by exploring 1,000 career profiles with detailed information on common education level and national and state-level median yearly income and projected job growth. Among surveyed students, 72% expressed interest in the careers suggested by BigFuture Career Search and 74% found the suggested careers relevant to their interests.
- Students can also start by searching for postsecondary education, scholarships, or content, and then navigate to the other tools.
The new BigFuture experience embodies the idea that there are different paths to success, ensuring that all students can see themselves in the planning process. We want BigFuture to be both relevant and actionable for students.
This month, when 3 million students open their PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 8/9 score report, it will ignite career planning. Career Insights is a new score report feature that lists six in-demand careers in a test taker’s state. Adding career exploration information to the score report makes this process ensures career-relevant information can reach more students and inspire them to take action to continue the planning and exploration process on the BigFuture site.
You’ve talked about ensuring that guidance and information is “responsible.” How do you do that?
A: In order for a career and pathway planning tool to provide real impact and drive action, we knew we needed to bring multiple experts and perspectives to the table, so we partnered with experts in the field—like Jobs for the Future, the Human Resources Research Organization, and the National Career Development Association—to make sure those offerings are backed by evidence. By inviting more perspectives into the room, we can ensure high-quality, timely information.
We aren’t just working for students, we’re working with students which means their perspectives are critical to the success of this work to better understand what they value in this process.
- We partnered with Morning Consult to better understand student mindset. Together, we surveyed 1,200 young people, half interested in college and the other half were not.
- We practice continuous discovery with users, which means we’re having ongoing conversations to ensure we are meeting their needs and validating along the way.
What would you want to emphasize about the timeliness and specificity of the data you’re sharing?
A: There are more career options than ever, but students’ access to quality information is lacking. Options for “what’s next” are often limited to careers students have been exposed to in their family, community, or in school. How can students aspire to careers that they don’t even know exist? All students deserve quality and timely information on growing careers.
Our career profiles are populated with the best government data from O*NET and augmented with Lightcast’s proprietary jobs API that updates relevant information every three months—including median salary, growth, and most common level of education.
- Users can drill down to labor market information by state, to better understand local demands and opportunities.
- Users can also see how their interests connect to careers directly on the profile.
That data feeds the Career Insights score report, which lists six in-demand careers in a test taker’s state. That expanded score report is just one element of the career exploration process, aiming to build transparency around workforce opportunities and spark planning discussions sooner. After viewing Career Insights, we encourage students to further personalize their exploration by connecting their test scores to academic skills associated with careers of interest on BigFuture.
- We collaborated with HumRRO to map the math and reading and writing skills measured by the SAT Suite of Assessments with KSAs for occupations in the O*NET database.
- Students have already viewed their score connections to occupations more than 300K times since launch, and we are excited to see students who have historically been less engaged in postsecondary planning utilize the resources.
This first version of Career Insights on the score report is just the beginning.
- Starting in spring 2024, the PSAT 10 and SAT score reports will show students how their academic achievement aligns to typical reading, writing, and math skills for different occupations, with an invitation to do more in BigFuture.
By expanding the information provided when students take assessments, we can help millions of students connect with a wider array of high-quality postsecondary pathways that can lead to successful careers.
You are now including Year Up in the Student Search Service. Who are you hoping to help by including them? How much of a departure is it for the College Board to include a noncollege destination?
A: We see career success as the destination and education as the pathway to get there. Historically, our resources have focused on information about one key pathway—four-year colleges, but we’ve been expanding our resources to also provide information on multiple pathways. We think of this as an expansion of our mission—we are ensuring our tools and resources are relevant and actionable to all students and all pathways.
In terms of who we are hoping to reach with our resources, the answer is all students. All students deserve information on multiple pathways—and not all paths to a successful future look the same. Our research shows that most students are taking more direct paths to careers, but the majority are unaware of the options.
- 57% of high school graduates are starting in a two-year degree and training program, or joining the workforce directly, rather than enrolling in four-year programs.
- Postsecondary pathways include two-year and four-year degrees, credential and certification programs, military service, apprenticeships, and direct entry to the workforce.
- Only 20% of students have heard a lot about non-four-year options.
Our organization is already reaching millions of students each year through Student Search Service, a free voluntary service that helps colleges and scholarship programs find and get in touch with students who may be a good match. And now by showcasing multiple pathways like Year Up—and not just a four-year degree—we can help more students become aware of the options that can lead to a great career.
And with our Year Up partnership, we can more deeply focus on young people facing barriers to attaining a four-year degree after high school, such as needing to earn money sooner to support their family, not having access to federal financial aid because of DACA status, etc. Informing them of non-degree pathways to success can have a significant impact on their lives, including their ability to get a four-year degree in the future.
We are testing the Year Up partnership in three markets: Seattle, New York City, and Philadelphia. Our primary goal is to understand if we can connect students to quality career-training pathways just as we successfully connect students to colleges today.
BigFuture shows the multiple pathways to reach careers. For example, we recently added more than 500 career and technical colleges. Students can now access information on 4,475 postsecondary institutions: 2,439 four-year programs, 1,018 two-year programs, and 678 technical colleges.
What sort of possibilities do you see for collaboration between BigFuture and industries and states?
A: We are partnering with organizations that have a stake in connecting students to economic opportunity, industries that want to make their growing jobs known to millions of students, and states that want to bring more career and pathway planning tools to their school districts—and we welcome additional partners to collaborate with us to help shape new tools and resources that empower students for careers.
In Rhode Island, for example, we are partnering directly with the state around the SAT suite. Our team is supporting Rhode Island as they are moving to more holistic graduation requirements and are investing in helping students identify career pathways. They have participated in pilots to help us understand the value of the career and postsecondary resources on BigFuture. And in New Jersey, the Newark Public School district is currently engaged in a pilot to help us understand the impact of career information on PSAT score reports set to launch this fall.
We’re hearing more questions about whether moves by states and companies to drop degree requirements will hurt students who would benefit from going to a four-year college, as well as continued concerns about the value of nondegree credentials. What are your thoughts?
A: A successful career should be an attainable option for all students. We see career as the destination and education as the pathway to achieve it. A four-year degree is one pathway. About 70% of jobs will require some sort of education or training, but not every path will start with a four-year degree. Some paths to a four-year degree might start with other steps along the way. For example, students may stack credentials, or they may take a more direct path toward a career before returning to higher education. Not to mention, nearly half of all students in colleges and universities are adult learners.
We can help all students select the best pathway by allowing them to navigate through all available options in one place, including exploring a four-year degree. Through BigFuture, we have the information students need all in one place to take a productive and informed next step after high school.
Yes, a four-year degree remains an excellent investment for students who are able to access this option—but we believe there are, and should be, multiple pathways to success that all students can access.
- In fact, we are partners with Opportunity@Work’s Tear the Paper Ceiling campaign—and through this, we saw that the research shows the majority of U.S. workers are STARs, or “skilled through alternative routes,” rather than through a four-year degree. So when states, companies, or organizations (including our own) take actions to help ensure the majority of people can gain the skills, experiences, and information they need to unlock great careers—it matters.
My mother got her four-year degree and 20 years later, pursued her two-year architecture certification from Dutchess Community College. She built an entirely new career from that combined set of credentials and experience, that allowed her to move out of economic crisis. I was a STAR myself—I also graduated from a two-year program at Dutchess Community College—and gained skills from my experiences, and then pursued a BA while working. While these are just two personal stories, it represents the larger reality that multiple pathways are important.
When it comes to career and college—these options are not, and should not, be binary. Students’ choices should be “both/and” not “either/or.”