Experiential Learning and Career Services: One Institution’s Application of Kolb’s Theory

By Sarah J. Krinsky

College students are faced with many challenges today. Two of those challenges weigh heavily on this population: tuition rates and a competitive job market. Many students question the value of a college degree and the future of their careers given the combination of these two factors. The pressure of securing employment and paying off debt can lead to a quarter-life crisis if graduates fail to secure their dream jobs (Ha, 2017).

How can career services professionals in higher education prepare students for post-graduation? Perhaps the answer lies within institutions that embrace the value of experiential learning. Bennington College in Vermont engages students in experiential learning to foster career development.

Experiential learning is defined as “learning through reflection of doing” (Felicia, 2011, p. 1003).  Institutions that embrace experiential learning pedagogy pave a new pathway that allows students to exhibit more agency in their overall education. As a result, students experience a sense of happenstance in their overall learning (Roberts & Welton, 2022). An important aspect of experiential learning is ensuring that it is well designed and integrated into the curriculum. To achieve integration, many institutions apply Kolb’s theory.

Kolb demonstrated the importance of differentiating instruction based on different learning stages and preferred learning styles (Healy & Jenkins, 2007). Kolb’s (1984) cycle of learning, demonstrates three key components in the experiential learning process: knowledge, activity, and reflection.

  • Knowledge is gained through the concepts and information presented
  • Activity is the application of said knowledge in a real-world setting (BU, 2022)
  • Reflection is the act of the student processing and learning from the experience as a whole.

Experiential learning can be found in private, public, and liberal arts institutions across the US. Whether faculty or centralized experiential learning offices oversee the endeavor, career services professionals are vital partners. At Bennington College, students develop a plan for their education that includes experiential learning. Known as The Plan, students draft a theoretical map with the aim of reaching an identified curricular destination and competencies (Bennington, 2022). As part of their graduation requirement, students are expected to complete four field work term experiences over the course of their time at Bennington, which faculty and students refer to as a Field Work Term (FWT). Since the founding of the college in 1932, FWT has been integral to every student’s experience to explore the world beyond Bennington. Career services professionals are vital partners in the implementation and impact of this program.


To further support students in the search for personal and professional development, the college incorporates career development services into the Field Work Term Office. Merging these resources provides additional guidance and support to students as they seek out internships, apprenticeships, and professional development opportunities that they use to create a network, connect with mentors, and gain valuable first-hand experience. Students then incorporated these valuable experiences into their resumes — all while they build their confidence through advising, mock-interviews, and career-oriented workshops.

Within the Career Development and Field Work Term team at Bennington College, Field Work Term and career counselors provide wrap-around support to students to help them define and shape their experiences in ways that align with their areas of interest. The Career Development and Field Work Term office also work to provide and establish partnerships with employers in ways that connect with the values of the college and ensure that opportunities are tailored to meet the needs of students.

Due to the nature of experiential learning, each experience varies given the student’s unique desire for learning. Through each of the four different applied-learning experiences, however, students gain a fresh perspective and determine the scope of what a future career might look like. Career services staff connect with students and praise them for their effort, strategies, and development, which likely fosters success and persistence. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2007), Dweck highlighted the importance of praising the process, effort, strategies, and improvement. During students’ experiential learning, staff also act as mentors who validated the merits of each experience over the course of their education.


Through the FWT requirement at Bennington College, students gained valuable experience interning or apprenticing at non-profit and profit companies across the globe. Once students successfully completed their FWT, students are asked to submit an essay or responses to a reflective survey that is reviewed by the Career Services staff. This provided students the opportunity to contemplate the unique values and new skill sets they have developed through their experience. Career Services staff work with students to ensure that their experiences are added to their resumes to help indicate professional growth and demonstrate to future employers the work that students were able to perform while pursuing their undergraduate degrees.

Istock 1167549771 Credit Gorodenkoff

In 2022, students pursued opportunities in 27 countries and 34 states in the following areas: performing and fine arts, nonprofit/ public service, journalism, media and publishing, STEM, and entertainment. Over the many years that FWT has been a part of Bennington, students have interned at various organizations such as Google, Studio 360 WNYC, Vermont State Legislature, Rattlestick Players, and International Rescue Committee. These are only a few of the many organizations that students have been able to attain professional experience and later use as they compete in a highly-selective job market. 

The distinctive partnership of experiential learning and Bennington College’s Field Work Term requirement is just one example of the large-scale impact that experiential learning and career services can provide to students. When given more agency to explore different work experiences, students can formulate the questions that drive their areas of interest and expand their curiosity. As a whole, the purpose of FWT and Bennington College’s approach to experiential learning is to help students develop both personally and professionally by gaining tangible skill-sets, networking with prospective future employers, and acquiring hands-on experience so students have a competitive edge once they graduate.



Bennington College. (2022). Career development and field work term for students. https://www.bennington.edu/career-development-and-field-work-term-students

BU. (2022). Experiential learning. https://www.bu.edu/ctl/guides/experiential-learning/

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of mindset. Random House Publishing Group.

Felicia, P. (2011). Handbook of research on improving learning and motivation. Random House Publishing Group.

Ha, L. (2017). Millennials face life after college, finding a ‘quarter-life crisis’ instead of dream jobs. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/08/millennials-face-life-after-college-finding-a-quarter-life-crisis-instead-of-dream-jobs.html

Healy, M., & Jenkins, A. (2007). Kolb’s experiential learning theory and its application in geography in higher education. Journal of Geography, 99, 2000(5), 185–195. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00221340008978967   

Kolb, D. A., (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall.

Roberts, J., & Welton, A. (2022). The 10 commandments of experiential learning. Inside Higher Education. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2022/08/03/foundational-best-practices-experiential-learning-opinion


Sarah KrinskySarah J. Krinsky, BA Anthropology and Sociology, MS Arts Administration, is the Assistant Director of Field Work Term at Bennington College, Bennington, VT. Currently, she works with students to provide guidance and support as they navigate and explore internship, apprenticeship, volunteer, and professional development opportunities to build the skill sets and pre-professional training in preparation for career-readiness. She may be reached at sarahkrinsky@bennington.edu

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Joana Joe Daou   on Wednesday 05/31/2023 at 12:42 PM

After reading this article, I really thought about the implications of how I continue to serve my students when thinking about post secondary goals. My students who have Individual Education Plans (IEP's) need to look at other post secondary placements that allow them to pursue a career that matches their personality and what they plan to do. Therefore, when teaching a course, I keep Kolb's theory in mind when students research a career path, research the college courses they need to fulfill in order to obtain that particular degree, and look at what the job entails on a first hand basis by interviewing others already working in the field. Providing the necessary supports for students who may have a learning disability is critical to their success to make sure that they are able to fulfill the application requirements and to take the necessary steps to be able to get a degree in this particular area. As a school counselor, understanding what is currently happening within the job market allows us to relay this important information to our future students whom we will serve and advocate for.

Nancy Perez   on Saturday 06/03/2023 at 09:13 PM

This article showed me how I could better assist my future students in career readiness. Many students today, specifically high schoolers are helped with getting into college and are then let go to venture for themselves. However, upon graduation there is no guarantee they will find a job in the career they are interested in or are not sure how to begin finding one. With experiential learning students can get a head start on what they want from their future careers and what form of learning style will work best for them.

Christopher J. Needham   on Sunday 06/04/2023 at 07:09 PM

I feel this is an excellent program/learning style and it should be implemented in all colleges and universities. The reality is that what students learn in school is very often quite different from what their actual job/career will be. Kolb's Theory that combines learned content, field experience, and then reflection is the perfect way for students to find themselves and experience the realities of a chosen career. Also, students have a hand in what knowledge and professional development they desire as part of their 4 Field Work Terms. These students will have a leg up on other job applicants because of the connections they have made prior to graduation. In a world as competitive as it is today, students need all the help they can get.

Anderson Nance   on Monday 06/05/2023 at 09:41 AM

This is an area that I whole heartedly believe in. I agree that experiential learning helps students to grow personally and professionally. It also allows them to truly learn if this is what they want to do with their time and energy. Growing your professional network is huge and for certain underrepresented groups within our community it is a complete unknown. This is the type of learning that can sky rocket a students future. This is hopefully what we can create more of within my district. This also forces me as a school counselor to continue to grow my professional network and create connections that will create more avenues for my students to explore and learn.

CHRISTINE GRIFFIN   on Monday 06/05/2023 at 12:10 PM

The idea of a Field Work Term requirement is so practical in its ability to create an opportunity for students to get real life experience on their journey to develop ideas for their future career. I wish every college had this requirement, rather than the strong suggestion to land an internship at a place of hopeful employment post-college. Experiential learning can be so helpful as students develop ideas for their career and gain real experience along the way.

Nicole Krause   on Monday 06/05/2023 at 05:59 PM

I feel that schools should have more opportunities for students to experience resources that are focused on career development. I learned about experiential learning and how the steps of knowledge, activity, and reflection helps students to gained knowledge in a specific career field, while also learning to applying that knowledge and learning from their experiences. I hope to provide my future students with effective and interesting career development opportunities to further enhance the knowledge and skills needed to perform effectively in their careers in the future.

Jillian Esposito   on Monday 06/05/2023 at 06:18 PM

This article highlights the reality that many students have - struggling with tuition and not getting a job. It was insightful to learn about experiential learning and Kolb's theory. I can see how experiential learning can be effective with giving students hands on experience before they leave high school. Helping students get internships, apprenticeships, and professional development opportunities, can help them better understand what real life will look like. I look forward to incorporating experiential learning in my future school counseling position.

Kayla Wunder   on Monday 06/05/2023 at 10:12 PM

One example of the significant benefits that experiential learning and career services may offer to students is the unique collaboration between experiential learning and the Field Work Term. Students can create the questions that drive their areas of interest and broaden their curiosity when given more freedom to investigate various work situations. The overall goal of FWT and Bennington College's approach to experiential learning is to aid students in developing both personally and professionally through the acquisition of concrete skill sets, networking opportunities with potential future employers, and gaining first-hand experience to give them a competitive edge after graduation.

One example of the significant benefits that experiential learning and career services may offer to students is the unique collaboration between experiential learning and the Field Work Term. Students can create the questions that drive their areas of interest and broaden their curiosity when given more freedom to investigate various work situations. The overall goal of FWT and Bennington College's approach to experiential learning is to aid students in developing both personally and professionally through the acquisition of concrete skill sets, networking opportunities with potential future employers, and gaining first-hand experience to give them a competitive edge after graduation.

Pucci Angell   on Tuesday 06/06/2023 at 09:28 PM

I really like the idea of experiential learning and feel that it is an effective way to set students up for success once they graduate and head into the working field. I like how it gives them insight to what their career may look like in the future. This also allows them to reflect on if what they are doing is what they truly want to do once they graduate.

Evan A. Cornell   on Wednesday 06/07/2023 at 10:22 AM

I certainly agree with the benefits of experiential learning from my own experiences. The importance of good advising in these situations is crucial, as they help to highlight the experiences on the student's resume.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.