Once considered the place for panicked seniors to look for jobs before graduation, college career offices are reporting dramatic increases in use by first-year students looking for an early jump on the employment market.
"College is expensive and difficult ... probably the largest single investment that our students will ever make," said John Kniering, the career services director at the University of Hartford. "It seems natural that freshman year is not too early to start."
Hartford has seen a 37 percent increase in freshman career counseling appointments since 2006, Kniering said.
Freshmen who are concerned about the nation's 9.6 percent unemployment rate and the prospect of repaying college loans don't want to squander tuition money on irrelevant courses.
"This generation of college students is used to being busy and having it all," said Nancy Dudak, the director of the career center at Villanova University near Philadelphia. "They had really packed careers in high school. They just look to continue that intensity when they come to college."
Career centers are also making a concerted effort to target first-year students to ensure more relevant guidance and increase student retention. Duke University has seen a 33 percent increase over previous years in freshmen attendance at career center programs, spokesman Chris Heltne said.
Knowing students' skills and passions is important in an age in which professions can appear -- think social media consultant -- or disappear -- think of the financial collapse -- in the course of a college career.
The career center at Temple University in Philadelphia, which saw a 22 percent increase in use by freshmen last year, held its first event specifically for freshmen in late August. Director Rachel Brown was expecting 50 students but got more than 300.
Some came looking for part-time jobs, but many crowded an area offering handouts titled, "What can I do with this degree?" Liz Decker, 18, of Lebanon, Pa., said she was a declared economics major, but she picked up sheets on careers in economics, law and business.
"I think there's more pressure now to find a job because there are so few," Decker said.
A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed 24.4 percent of 2010 graduates who applied for jobs actually had them. That's up from last year's figure of 19.7 percent, but way below the 2007 level of 51 percent.