The Transition From Higher Education to Professional Work: Field Experimental Evidence From Engineering Majors
43 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2018 Last revised: 10 Jan 2019
Date Written: October 22, 2018
Young people typically pursue decades of investments in academic training before finally entering into the professional labor market. Does this (late) timing of first exposure to the professional labor market come with tradeoffs? We investigate the causal effects of timing of first exposure to professional work experience on 2,243 undergraduates from a top-40 US Engineering program. Individuals were randomized as to whether they first engaged in a first 6-month full-time professional work term either beginning in second or third year of the program. We find no evidence that the earlier exposure affects subsequent academic performance. We do find, however, that earlier exposure leads higher-quality students to more frequently take jobs in Engineering and to enter into Engineering graduate programs, upon graduating. These effects do not appear to be driven so much by differential accumulation of human capital and skills or social capital and industry connections. Rather, the evidence is consistent with earlier exposure and experimentation in the labor market—before educational investments are fully sunk—leads to more adjustments and better matching between students and chosen areas of specialization.
Keywords: Human capital, education, STEM, Engineering labor supply, labor
JEL Classification: J2, I21, I26, O3
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation