Career Bridge Programs Help College Grads Find the Right Jobs

Career Bridge Programs Help College Grads Find the Right Jobs
portrait of Anne Dennon
By Anne Dennon

Published on December 9, 2020

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The vast majority of college seniors don't have a job lined up when they graduate. In the rush to start earning money — and pay back student loans — most college graduates don't end up using their major. In fact, many who have just finished college work a job that doesn't even require a degree.

That initial leap between college and your first job is critical for professional success. Studies show that college grads who start off underemployed — meaning they're working a job for which they're overqualified — tend to stay underemployed.

Studies show that college grads who start off underemployed — meaning they’re working a job for which they’re overqualified — tend to stay underemployed.

Traditional college career services, which usually include activities like going over your resume or helping you draft thank-you letters, can only go so far. To help grads get the jobs they went to school for, educators say it's time to embed career development in academics.

This is where college-to-career bridge programs come in. These programs — which can be managed by colleges and universities, nonprofits, private companies, and the U.S. government — help students translate their college education into practical workplace skills, make industry contacts, and establish a career in their chosen field.

What Are College-to-Career Bridge Programs?

Historically, higher education has ignored the gap between college and career. With student loan debt at an all-time high, and so many graduates unemployed or underemployed, the value of a college degree has come under intense scrutiny.

Career bridge programs hope to solve this problem by providing college students and recent grads with services like mentorships, career training, and professional education and development.

These programs also aim to close the opportunity gap. Underserved students face unique barriers to education and job success. Enrolling in a bridge program allows them to gain the professional knowledge and ongoing support they need to bolster their skill sets, identify career opportunities, and confidently enter the workforce.

Here's an overview of what career bridge programs can do for students and recent grads:

  • Help students prepare for and access early career opportunities
  • Educate students about the job application and interview process
  • Provide the skills training and real-world experience that land people jobs
  • Foster relationships between colleges and employers to build career on-ramps
  • Reverse-engineer career prep so graduates' abilities match job-market demand
  • Help college degrees fulfill their professional potential

Many bridge programs operate independently of higher education institutions through private companies and nonprofits. While privately run programs aren't yet accredited — meaning they don't accept government financial aid or award degrees — some are in the process of seeking accreditation.

Bridge programs set you up for jobs, but sometimes that path to full-time employment is direct. Companies may hire the most promising participants in their programs or assume participants will stay on with the business. Other bridge programs may have you rotate positions within the company before letting you choose the role that best suits your skills and interests.

What Career Bridge Programs Offer College Grads

Mentorship Networking Access to partner employers Career coaching
Professional development opportunities Hard- and soft-skills training Communication development Database training

Both the length and cost of a college-to-career program can vary significantly depending on the company or organization that hosts it. Shorter programs last anywhere from just a few days to a month or two, with privately run workshops normally costing in the range of $5,000-$12,000 — that's about the same price as one year of in-state public college.

Other bridge programs, namely those offered by companies to budding employees, provide internships and training completely free of charge with the aim to help kickstart or accelerate an employee's career. These programs typically last several months to one or two years.

Popular Career Bridge Programs


Bridge Programs Teach College Grads Relevant Skills

Employers say college graduates often show up on their first day without the skills they need to succeed. According to a 2018 survey, roughly one-third of employers indicated that colleges and universities have failed to prepare students for jobs.

Top Skills Employers Look For in College Grads

Critical thinking skills Communication skills
Listening skills Interpersonal skills
Attention to detail Digital literacy

Sources: SHRM, SHRM

Meanwhile, students usually expect to pick up skills on the job. Nearly all recent college grads anticipate receiving formal training at their first job, but just two-thirds actually do. Increasingly, entry-level positions ask for both a bachelor's degree and a couple years of experience.

College-to-career programs can help graduates develop workplace-ready skills in a shorter time frame. They can also add an impressive line to your resume. As more bachelor's degrees flood the market, students are looking toward extra credentials to help raise their chances of standing out.

How That First Job Out of College Impacts Your Future

College-to-career programs may feel like overkill after roughly two decades of continuous schooling, but being intentional about how you put your degree to work can have a reverberating effect. A first job that's unrelated to your degree, or doesn't require one, can place you on what one recent study calls a "permanent detour."

“Those who start out behind tend to stay behind. For the 4 in 10 college graduates underemployed in their first job, the cycle of underemployment becomes progressively more difficult to escape.” Source: — The Permanent Detour Link: More Info

According to the study, individuals who take on menial or low-skilled jobs right out of college are five times more likely to remain underemployed after five years. By contrast, the majority (87%) of college grads who land jobs that require a degree continue to be appropriately employed five years later.

That first job sets up career trajectories in lasting ways. Economists say the sooner you start your career after college, the more money you'll make over your lifetime. Delaying that "real" first job by spending extra time in school, taking a gap year, or getting a job that doesn't require a degree can all eat into your projected earnings, not to mention make it harder to achieve your professional goals.


Feature Image: SeventyFour / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Feeling first-day-of-college jitters? Learn what to expect and how to prepare for the first day of class. Looking for a good school in the Southwest? Check out our list of the top 10 online colleges in the southwestern United States. Students can make college life easier by bringing 10 documents that are essential for study, work, and other aspects of student life.