Recruiter survey: Penn State ranks among top five for preparing graduates

May 27, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Recognized among recruiters for preparing students for careers after graduation, Penn State has ranked No. 5, and tied with MIT, according to a survey of the nation’s top corporate college recruiters.

In addition to its overall placement, several Penn State academic program areas also ranked in the top 10 in key major categories of preparing graduates to succeed, including

  • business and management (No. 4),
  • education and training (No. 6),
  • communications and media (No. 7),
  • engineering, computing, and information technology (No. 9),
  • humanities, languages, and social sciences (No. 9), and
  • post-graduate studies (No. 6).

For this survey, Penn State commissioned market research and polling firm Whitman Insight Strategies, who worked to utilize best practices from a previous survey conducted in 2010 by The Wall Street Journal among corporate recruiters to determine which university’s students are most well-prepared to succeed in the working world once hired. A similar methodology was used to update the results.

The Corporate Recruiter Survey captures insights on what recruiters are looking for in college graduates and the top colleges and universities where they recruit.

“These findings support what we already know — higher education is a valuable long-term investment for a potentially higher-earning career, and a Penn State degree will prepare you for a successful future,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “The overall results show that recruiters look to big public universities as a means of accessing talent, and Penn State’s top-five ranking shows specifically that our graduates are equipped, across disciplines, with the training and skills that recruiters seek.”

The survey findings also point to the larger role played by public universities in preparing graduates for the workforce and in connecting recruiters to that talent. Nearly 3 in 4 recruiters agree that it’s easier to recruit from the big talent pool provided by public universities, and 2 out of 3 recruiters say they prefer to recruit from big public universities over other types of colleges.

Penn State findings

Of the recruiters surveyed, 85% of recruiters who have hired a Penn State graduate in the past say that the University does a good job of preparing graduates for jobs after college, and 72% believe Penn State does so better than other universities.

One surveyed recruiter wrote that, “I recruit from PSU because of the name of the school and how well they prepare their students for the future,” while a second recruiter added, “they have the skills and the degree that we look for in a candidate,” according to the findings.

Specifically, 87% agree that Penn State graduates have critical-thinking/problem-solving skills — which is one of the most important skills recruiters reported that they look for, and a skill they say is becoming even more important to them today.

The No. 1 trait used to describe Penn State graduates is hard-working, a skill they also see as the top indicator of future success post-graduation.

“As a university, we have a commitment to student career success,” said Barron. “Preparing students to meet the needs of the modern workplace means not only having the resources in place that allow students to have unique, transformative learning experiences — programs that support entrepreneurialism, innovation, education abroad, and student involvement in clubs and organizations — but also a culture that is rooted in cross-disciplinary collaborations.

“These foundational, collaborative approaches stay with our students after they graduate, becoming part of the largest living alumni network,” Barron added. “We’ve seen countless examples of Penn Staters helping Penn Staters to open doors and help set one another on the right path.”

Additionally, leadership qualities were among the skills identified by recruiters that Penn State graduates are best known for — a finding supported by a recent study by LinkedIn in which Penn State ranked No. 2 among top universities for graduating CEOs. Intelligence, work ethic and teamwork skills were additional skills cited by recruiters for which Penn State graduates are known.

On the topic of leadership, another surveyed recruiter wrote that “Penn State is in the top 1% of universities worldwide. It has the largest alumni network in the nation; it combines academic rigor with a vibrant campus life. Granted it also has the highest rating for research universities by the Carnegie Foundation, Penn State teaches students to be leaders with a global perspective.”

Career preparation beyond the classroom

Survey results also showed that recruiters value out-of-classroom experiences. Eighty-eight percent of recruiters agree that participating in activities such as internships, networking, student organizations and research are just as important to a student’s career success as the educational benefits obtained in the classroom.

“An important element of a Penn State education includes opportunities that take learning beyond the syllabus,” said Barron. “Our ranking among recruiters is supported by the framework of key institutional initiatives that encourage students to engage in the rich diversity of out-of-the-classroom experiences offered at Penn State — leveraging our entrepreneurial ecosystem to pursue a business idea, engaging in community leadership, undergraduate research, or other co-curricular activities — all with the focus of being on target to graduate.”

Barron further explained that initiatives like Invent Penn State have fueled countless student startups and given them valuable experiences in building businesses from the ground up, from idea to marketplace. Academic offerings in entrepreneurship and innovation also equip students with skills to meet the ever-evolving needs of the workplace.

Other initiatives like the Student Engagement Network, a joint initiative between Undergraduate Education, Student Affairs, and Outreach and Online Education, connects students with out-of-the classroom experiences to spur learning and growth. Opportunities like research, internships, co-ops, study abroad, service-learning, artistic creation, participation in student and professional clubs and organizations, peer mentoring, and philanthropic service have been shown to enhance students’ development and better prepare them for life after graduation.

“We encourage growth and development for learners at all stages in their careers,” said Barron. “Through an educational model supported by more than 20 campuses across the state, including World Campus, we are able to meet students where they are and instill a sense of lifelong learning and continuous improvement toward career success.”

Survey findings also show that experiential learning combined with career preparation resources are critical, as 84% of recruiters say that the graduate applicant pool is more competitive than ever before.  

As a national leader among large universities for collaboratively managing career services, Penn State offers comprehensive services to help students find jobs, including having the resources and services in place to provide an array of programs that help to connect recruiters to talent and students to the career opportunities they seek, preparing them to succeed in such a landscape.

Since 2018, Penn State has used a single, integrated career enterprise system for 37 career units across the University, which enables all students, alumni and employers to post and view career opportunities. As the largest college career operation, students and alumni participated in 17,000 on-campus interviews, 42,898 career coaching sessions, and 73 career fairs with 4,600 employers in attendance in 2017-18.

And even before the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual recruitment was an emerging trend that is supplementing in-person recruitment across the country. According to the survey, 9 in 10 recruiters indicated they typically use both in-person and digital/virtual methods to hire students out of college. Furthermore, 84% of recruiters agree that virtual recruitment is an emerging trend.

Supplemental to on-campus interviewing, Penn State Career Services offers virtual interviewing via Nittany Lion Careers. Recruiters will often initiate real-time, virtual interviews as first-round alternatives to on-campus or phone screenings. Resources such as InterviewStream, an online practice interviewing platform, help students prepare for virtual interviews — whether live or pre-recorded. The office has also recently expanded its virtual career services counseling opportunities to help students navigate the global job market and to stay on track with their career goals during the pandemic.

This includes a strong virtual recruiting program, which is critical to meeting the needs of students from all Penn State campuses and academic colleges to offer equal access to recruitment opportunities.

“As a national leader among large universities for collaboratively managing career services, Penn State offers comprehensive services to help students find jobs,” said Barron. “Virtual recruiting is an option that makes it easier for any organization — from a large, private corporation to a small, nonprofit — to connect with our students, as it takes time, money and geography out of the equation.” 

Lifelong career services and resources also are available to alumni through the Penn State Alumni Association and the Penn State Smeal College of Business Alumni Career Services Office.


A group of public and land-grant universities, including Penn State, worked with market research and polling firm Whitman Insight Strategies to conduct this survey, using best practices established by The Wall Street Journal for a 2010 survey on a similar subject. The quantitative poll of 334 Corporate Recruiters who are decision-makers when it comes to hiring students for jobs directly out of college was conducted from Oct. 7–17, 2019. Recruiters were sourced from nearly three dozen industries and recruited graduates for top public and private companies, nonprofit organizations, as well as smaller firms and organizations to gain a holistic view of the recruiting landscape.

Recruiters ranked universities based on which best trained, educated and prepared graduates for success once hired. Recruiters ranked schools on an overall level, and in the major categories they recruit from. Secondarily, recruiters provided their perspective on several topics, including the skills, attributes, etc. they look for in a hire.

Last Updated May 27, 2020