On-campus career closets aim to increase students’ career-building confidence

Career center officials at several U.S. colleges and universities, including the University of Washington (UW), Virginia Commonwealth University, and Hofstra University, have created “career closets,” on-campus resources that allow students to select new and gently used professional attire, Inside Higher Ed reports. Students visiting the closets can “shop” for clothes they need for interviews, work, and other career-building activities free of charge, reducing attire costs, as well as the cost of traveling to stores.

The outfits in most of these career closets are supplied by clothing drives and donations from parents, alumni, university faculty and staff, and professionals who shifted to remote work during the pandemic. On some campuses, career closets have adopted a library model, where students can drop in and borrow clothes to be returned, while other closets are open only by appointment and limit the number of items students can take out at one time. 

“Higher education is not cheap at all and, personally, I worked multiple jobs while I was at Hofstra and I still do,” says Ashlei Rivera, a second-year master’s student in marketing at Hofstra University, who has used its career closet for interviews. “I think it’s just a wonderful, wonderful resource.”

Related: Georgetown Scholars Program helps low-income students build professional wardrobes >

Boosting students’ confidence

At UW, the Husky Career Closet has had a positive impact on students, who can keep the clothes they pick. In a voluntary survey, 82% of students who have used UW’s career closet said the clothes have increased their confidence at interviews, meetings, and other work events, and 73% reported that it has decreased the stress they feel in preparing for those events, even if they are virtual.

Briana Randall, executive director of the Career and Internship Center at UW, says she’s working on ways to keep the closet well-supplied. Randall used a grant for the closet to purchase sought-after items that are rarely donated, including business-casual blazers and men’s shoes. However, she says that with grant money running out, “We don’t really, at this point, have a sustainable way to get product that would work for our students, because we let students keep the clothes.”

GSP grants seek to shrink career preparation barriers

At Georgetown University, the Georgetown Scholars Program provides programmatic and financial support to first-generation and low-income students, including a Necessity Fund offering microgrants for unexpected and/or emergency costs such as mental health/counseling and medical costs. Through Professional Development Grants, GSP helps cover professional attire and other items and activities related to career preparation and attainment, including travel to interviews and attendance at professional and extracurricular conferences.

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