A Tale of Two Graduates

May 31, 2017


career preparedness
Ilana Shaiman (left), stands with a classmate at her graduation from Rutgers University in May 2017.



As the Class of 2017 graduates into a changing job market, how do they feel the college experience has prepared them for the future and for employment?


At some point in the discussion Ilana Shaiman apologizes. “Is all of this sounding just a bit negative?” the recent graduate asks. Having completed a degree in Journalism and Spanish Language at Rutgers University, she’s describing her thoughts on emerging from four years of college into the brave new world of work, and, like many of the 1.8 million students who will be earning a bachelor’s degree this year, she has concerns. “It’s not that I haven’t appreciated my college experience — I’ve really loved it, and for so many reasons,” Shaiman explains. “I also believe that getting a degree is important, but I’m just not sure what I should be doing next, and that’s what really worries me.”


Counting the Cost

While the value of college is often touted in terms of the experience it offers students and less for how it prepares them for a well-paid job post graduation, many students are finding that a bachelor’s degree is no guarantee of landing the career of their dreams — or an expected boost in earnings. In a recent Barnes & Noble College survey of this year’s graduating students, 68 percent of respondents expressed concerns about earning a sufficient salary, and, right behind that were fears about finding any job at all — and for good reason. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual cost for undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board for the 2014-15 academic year was $16,188 at public institutions and $41,970 for private nonprofit institutions.


It’s the practical skills graduates need to master that will also make that kind of investment pay off and is Shaiman’s current preoccupation as she works on putting together the perfect resume. “I really loved all of my professors, and they were great at helping you with your major,” she says, “but I’m just really not sure that you learn enough in college to prepare for life afterwards — it’s not geared to help you with something like how to write a cover letter,” she adds.



University of Denver Anthropology major, Daisy Leach, will graduate June 10.



The co-curricular support students receive in college, particularly in the form of career mentoring, is becoming an even more crucial element of their success. “I first started thinking about my career when I was deciding which field schools to apply to in the beginning of my junior year,” recalls Daisy Leach, who will be graduating this June from the University of Denver. “I was new to all of this, so the help and guidance of my professors was invaluable,” she says. Between her junior and senior years, Leach, originally a business major, was inspired to change her career track after taking an Anthropology course and later attending a field school program in Columbia, South America. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” she says. “My professors shared their knowledge and advice on each field school I was considering, which helped me narrow my decision. They talked to me about each program, the faculty members associated with each field school, which programs offered college credits, and the pros and cons of each program.”


Leach now says the guidance and industry knowledge she received from her professors she would never have gotten on her own. An added advantage, she also points out, was that kind of support not only assured her of her decision, but also helped ease her parents’ minds as well. “I was going to be spending a month and a half in the jungle — with no communication — so they were a little worried and concerned.”


Learning Life Skills

With uncertainty about how to approach the next phases of their lives, it’s not surprising that many college graduates are choosing to opt for delaying the oftentimes intimidating job search. According to Barnes & Noble College Insightssm, many students are thinking about furthering their education with over one-third of respondents enrolling in a graduate or professional degree program. It’s a trend Shaiman has also noticed, with many of her fellow students eschewing the world of work by going to grad school. “One of my professors told me about a PhD program that she thought I should apply for, but I want to get some work experience first — even though I feel like I know more people who are doing exactly that,” she says.


Colleges should take note, however, that students overwhelmingly found their decision to attend college a good one, with over 89 percent saying it was “moderately to very valuable,” according to Barnes & Noble College research. Shaiman and Leach both agree. Currently mulling over a few job opportunities, Leach says she’s excited about the future, while Shaiman is discovering she’s already using some of the skills she’ll need in her job search. Personal networking helped secure an internship opportunity last summer, while the help she received from a school counselor helped her get started with her resume. “I really do value all of the experiences college has given me,” Shaiman concludes, “but at the same time, I’m really super in debt right now, and just think there has to be a better way of getting and paying for an education.”



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