If you are a Christian working with college students in vocational formation—whether you’re a college employee (private, public) or a parachurch or church leader—and interested in engaging in these topics, please let us know: here.
Within my first month of working at The King’s College, I had to put up a sign: When Door Is Closed, Do Not Disturb. Our “open doors” culture—which is great for accessibility, communication, and collegiality—was killing me.
When I joined King’s as director of vocational and career development, the position had been vacant for several months, which meant students were lined up to get advice from me before I even arrived. To complicate matters, I had no formal training or experience in career counseling, and I’m not a counselor by nature.
I didn’t come to King’s, though, mainly for the job. I came mainly to work with its visionary president, Greg Thornbury, and to be a part of God’s work at the school.
While here, however, I’ve come to realize that being a college career counselor or coach might just be one of the most strategic jobs that any person, especially any Christian, can have. Here are four reasons why.
1. You can influence what culture looks like in 10 years.
“If you want to know what culture will look like in 10 years, visit a college campus now,” Tim Keller observed at a City Campus Ministry event a few years ago. But I’d go further. If you want to influence what culture will look like in 10 years, work on a college campus now.
The problem, of course, is that churches—as churches—can’t get on most campuses. Plus, in the coming years, we’re only going to see more and more debate about whether, and how, parachurch organizations like InterVarsity can stay on them.
We need other ways, then, for Christians to engage with students, and employment is one of those ways. Although few of us want to pursue the long and arduous career path of becoming a professor, many of us can serve students directly by working in college administration in, say, career counseling or coaching.
2. You can help shape students’ understanding of meaning.
College is often when we decide what values and principles we want to internalize and what worldview we want to adopt. Studies show that 80 percent of entering college students expect to answer their spiritual questions about the purpose of life while in college.
It’s not just professors and classmates, though, who guide students’ moral development; it’s their career counselors and coaches, too. When students come to me, they don’t just want work; they want meaningful work. They want to contribute to the common good and human flourishing of their communities.
Rooted in a strong theology of faith and work, I’m able to have thoughtful conversations with them about what “meaningful” means in light of the gospel and how it plays out in different industries—from finance to politics to filmmaking and more.
3. You don’t have to find students; they find you.
At some level, all jobs are sales jobs—and most of them require you to convince others that they need what you’re selling. Students, though, know they need career coaching. They want it. Calling, especially as graduation approaches, is a felt need.
Felt needs often present the best opportunities to share the gospel. People with felt needs—like ostracized tax collectors and lonely lepers—constantly sought out Jesus. He didn’t have to find them; they looked for him. He loved them, healed them, and then drew them into their truest, deepest need—to be forgiven.
When students come to me for career coaching, they’re often nervous, fearful, and anxious. They’re looking for internships and jobs, but they’re afraid they won’t find one—or, if they do, they’ll hate it. In our conversations we’re able to go into deeper questions about identity, belonging, and faith. At King’s, a Christian school, I can do this directly, but I know career counselors and coaches at other colleges who seize these opportunities, too.
4. You can introduce them to the gospel through your friends.
I love introducing students interested in certain fields to my friends already practicing in those fields. Having lived in New York City for 11 years, and having been involved with Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith & Work, I’m able to connect students with believers working in theater, journalism, finance, TV production, entrepreneurship, and more.
Through informational interviews, students not only get to hear practitioners’ stories and see whether particular career paths are good for them, they also get to hear how God is at work in their communities. Plus, for career counselors at secular institutions, these interviews can be strategic tools for introducing students to believers who can speak more directly than you can about the gospel.
[Note: If you’re a working professional in a college town, let the college’s career development office know you’re available for informational interviews with students. They’ll feel well served, and you’ll get to meet students, too.]
Being a college career coach may not be one of the most lucrative positions for Christians to pursue, but it’s certainly one of the most strategic. Every college—private, public, secular, Christian—has a career office, and nationally there are over 45,000 people working in those offices. In fact, there are almost 300 positions open right now at places like MIT, the University of Illinois, and more.
Too many college career counselors and coaches measure success merely by the job placement rate of their graduating seniors. Although this is important, it’s not the only metric of success. My prayer is that more Christians will see this job as a strategic position and be a part of raising up the next generation of students to be a people who embrace true meaning, understand the breadth of God’s work in the world, and love the world to life through their vocations.