Best Practices

Tweaks in FDS Survey Process Lead to High Knowledge Rate at Roanoke

March 22, 2024 | By Kevin Gray

Data Collection
An illustration of a pencil completing a survey.

TAGS: best practices, career development, first destination, graduate outcomes, nace insights, surveys,

Despite achieving a knowledge rate of 90.6% on its most recent first-destination survey (FDS), the Roanoke College career center—known as purpose, life and career exploration (PLACE)—is tweaking the survey’s process to improve it. Currently, the PLACE team is evaluating the most effective timeline for FDS launch.

It has varied its launch timing between five months and five weeks prior to graduation, tailoring to fit the specific graduation timeline. In May 2023, the program was initiated in March, while for May 2024, it commenced in January, synchronizing with the "100 Days to Graduation" event for seniors.

“This deliberate alignment was aimed to bolster our marketing efforts and offer more robust, timely support to students who were still in the process of finalizing their plans,” explains Meghan Jester, Roanoke’s director of career exploration.

“Evaluating the outcomes—particularly those regarding students who were still seeking opportunities or had not responded—throughout the summer and early fall will inform our decision-making regarding the optimal timeline for us moving forward.” 

Roanoke College has a long-standing tradition of conducting the FDS. Since 2020, it has used Handshake for survey collection. However, before this transition, it conducted its FDS and other institution-specific surveys through individual senior consultation meetings with every student before graduation, ensuring comprehensive completion.

“In my capacity as director, I am steering away from this time-intensive approach. Instead, we are opting for a strategy of broader outreach and a more streamlined allocation of our time, particularly focusing on providing elevated support to students who require assistance with their job search and holding deeper conversations around career pathways centered on purpose,” Jester notes.

To encourage FDS completion, the PLACE team actively engages with seniors through various in-person initiatives, such as classroom presentations, organizational gatherings, or celebratory events for seniors, to actively encourage and advocate for survey completion. Staff also enlist faculty members to incorporate survey completion as part of the class agenda.

As Roanoke College’s graduating classes have fewer than 500 students, it offers ample opportunities for personalized engagement with each student.

“Given Roanoke's smaller size, we benefit from numerous distinctive senior celebrations, which provide valuable face-to-face interactions,” Jester says.

“Instead of the individual meetings with all seniors as we previously mandated, we focus on targeted outreach via phone or email to students we haven't heard from or those who indicate they are still seeking opportunities, ensuring their voices are heard before the survey deadline.”

As a new initiative this year, the PLACE team intends to further enhance its outreach efforts by attending the graduation check-in process to follow up with students who have not responded.

“This,” Jester notes, “underscores one of the advantages of being part of a smaller institution: the singular graduation event for all undergraduates, facilitating comprehensive engagement with every graduating student.”

She adds that the PLACE team is exploring other ways to encourage survey completion, including celebrating students as they share their first destinations via social media and other outreach.

PLACE also actively collaborates with several departments across the institution to bolster FDS completion rates. In addition to conducting class visits, PLACE staff collaborate closely with department chairs, sharing the names of students marked as “still looking” or “no response.”

“This collaboration allows faculty members who have worked closely with these students to offer valuable insights into their outcomes,” Jester says.

“Furthermore, we use platforms such as LinkedIn and other social media channels to identify and reach out to students who have not yet responded to ensure their voices are heard.”

Jester offers some lessons learned and recommendations for attaining a high FDS knowledge rate:

  • In terms of effectively encouraging graduates to complete the FDS, PLACE’s personalized approach has proven to be highly effective. Engaging students through in-person interactions has yielded positive results.
  • Additionally, leveraging partnerships across the institution, particularly with department chairs who can provide insights into student outcomes, has been instrumental in prompting completion.
  • Conversely, relying solely on email communication has been less effective in garnering responses. While PLACE does use email as part of its outreach strategy, Jester reports that face-to-face interactions and personalized follow-ups tend to elicit better participation rates.
  • Even at larger institutions, creating opportunities for direct engagement, such as through departmental collaborations or targeted events, can improve FDS response rates through personalized outreach.
  • Encouraging faculty to incorporate FDS completion into their curriculum or class activities can leverage existing academic structures for better engagement.
  • While personal interaction is key, supplementing outreach efforts with technology (e.g., social media shoutouts) can enhance engagement and possibly improve response rates.

The FDS data PLACE collects, compiles, and analyzes are used in multiple impactful ways to enhance Roanoke College’s strategic initiatives and support student success. Results are shared with enrollment management, which incorporates insights into admissions presentations aimed at prospective students and their families, illustrating the value and outcomes of our educational programs.

“We disseminate information about institutions of continuing education and employment organizations to current students, aiding them in making informed decisions about their future paths,” Jester continues.

“We also provide tailored data to individual academic departments, enabling them to assess and potentially revise their program offerings and curriculum to better align with industry trends and job market demands. Finally, details from the FDS are reported to campus leadership, ensuring they have a thorough understanding of graduate outcomes to inform strategic planning and decision-making.”

blank default headshot of a user Kevin Gray is an associate editor at NACE. He can be reached at

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