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Posts Tagged ‘graduate school’

As a college and graduate school admissions consultant and career counselor, I work with young adults of all levels of motivation, many who amaze me with their talent, discipline and goal-orientation. Often, however, I find myself nudging clients along, usually at the request of their parents, hoping to breathe life into comfortable suburban twenty-somethings who are sadly lacking in passion and purpose.

I have frequently posted about the next generation’s need for meaning and purpose. Occasionally, I encounter a young person who seems to have found a rudder for the future.

Last night, I attended a reception for the children of family friends, a son graduating from Georgetown and a daughter finishing high school and headed for Elon. I had met their parents back in my corporate years. I had known the children since they were babies, but due to geographical moves had not seen them in recent years. The reception was held at the family’s close-knit African-American Baptist church in NJ, which had been a nurturing home base for them despite several relocations over the years.

Ross, a handsome, articulate and charismatic double major in philosophy and theology, spoke about his future, bringing many in the gathering (including myself) to tears. He talked about his extracurricular community service work with inner-city teens in Washington DC throughout his years of study at Georgetown.

Ross mentioned a special connection with a young man who wanted to drop out of high school, because none of his friends had lived to be twenty-one. With such a morbid perceived life expectancy, this disillusioned teenager did not want to spend his “last years” in school. After encountering such a heartbreaking situation, Ross decided to commit two years of his life to Teach for America.

Teach for America is a non-profit organization that aims to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting the nation’s most promising future leaders to teach for two or more years in low-income communities throughout the U.S. The organization was founded by Wendy Kopp after she developed the idea to help eliminate educational inequity in the U.S. for her senior thesis at Princeton in 1989–the year Ross was born.

Applying to Teach For America has become highly popular among seniors at America’s elite colleges. In its first year, TFA placed 500 teachers; in 2010, it received more than 46,000 applications resulting in 4,500 new corps members. These applicants included 20 percent of the senior class at Spelman, where Ross’s mom went to college; 12 percent of all Ivy League seniors; 7 percent of the graduating class at U Michigan-Ann Arbor; and 6 percent at UC-Berkeley.

Dismal job market news for 2011 graduates continue to fill the newspaper headlines, broadcast airwaves, and cyberspace. Recent examples: “Tight Job Market for Recent Grads” (UPI.com); “Class of 2011, Most Indebted Ever” (WSJ.com); “Jobs for College Grads Growing at a Snail’s Pace” (U.S. Chamber of Commerce).

Concerned parents are understandably encouraging their college students to pursue “practical” majors that will give them a good shot at employment. Their greatest fear is that after spending  (or borrowing) $200K for their kid’s education, he or she will have to move back in with Mom and Dad after college is over, with no job prospects. And their worst fears are oftentimes coming true.

Yet, here’s a young man who did not major in accounting or economics to hedge his bets. He followed his heart, studying philosophy and theology. He saw a desperate need in society, and took it upon himself to answer the call to meet that need. Pretty simple. And profound.

Many kids coming out of college these days do temporarily move back with Mom and Dad, to begin a job search, prepare for graduate school admissions tests, get a stop-gap job and save money, or try to otherwise find their way. And I understand that for many college grads, that is a necessary route to take. But it is also deceptively easy to waste several years in a state of suspended animation. Instead, what about changing the world?

I don’t know how much TFA teachers get paid, although I know graduate school partnerships offer benefits ranging from active recruitment of TFA alumni to tuition help. But most important, experiences like TFA change the person who joins forever, and change the young people that member influences.

Ross will be teaching 8th Graders in New Orleans. Can you imagine the impact this smart, centered, charismatic young teacher will have on disadvantaged teens, especially boys, who need a grounded role model?

I work with many college and graduate school applicants writing essays about how they want to improve society. I believe most are sincere. But very few applicants find a way, through their college majors, internships, entry level jobs, or long term career choices, to actually become agents of change. Most people, in the end, settle for survival and perpetuating the status quo. Once in a while, however, someone decides to really change the world.

Related reading: A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All by Wendy KoppStart Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie (founder of Toms Shoes, available September 2011); Global Girlfriends: How One Mom Made It Her Business to Help Women in Poverty Worldwide by Stacey Edgar. Great summer reading for college students to help them incorporate entrepreneurial social action into their evolving life purpose.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World; Finding a Job in a Tough Economy; So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship…What To Do?

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You’re a junior in college, beginning to sweat about getting a job after graduation, listening to all the horrifying urban legends about recent grads from elite colleges who are still unemployed. But there’s not much you can do yet about your future, except nailing a good GPA, posting your profile on LinkedIn, and checking in with your college’s career services office about summer internships.

Ok, so here’s a thought: take the GMAT (or the LSAT, or the GRE–or even all three, what Grad.spot calls the “unholy trinity of graduate school testing) while you’re “still smart.” Within the first three years out of college, you will probably want to apply to graduate school. Especially if the job you are able to get out of college is not what you want to be doing the rest of your life.

But once you get out in the young professional world, it will not be so easy to prepare for grad school. You’ll be getting up early, commuting, working long hours, perhaps with travel. At the end of the day, the last thing you’ll feel like doing is attending a prep class, doing a course online, or even practicing from a book.

Your test-taking chops will not be as sharp after a few years in the professional world. It’s hard to imagine now, because you take exams all the time. But remember doing a varsity sport in high school? In-season you were in great shape. Off-season, if you didn’t work out at the gym or go out for a daily run, you got rusty. If you didn’t continue to play the sport in college, you wouldn’t even think of walking in cold to a competition.

Testing is that way too. The farther you move away from an academic environment, the more rusty you become. So take the tests now. And if your’re not sure what kind of grad school you may be interested down the road, you might want to…take them all.

Related posts: Your College’s Career Center, Can I Get an MBA if I Wasn’t a Business Major in College? Preparing for Business School: GRE or GMAT?, Time to Apply to B-School?, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship…What To Do?

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Summer internships, especially paid ones, are tough to land in any economy. But it is especially difficult during a period of  high unemployment. And you are competing with the huge population of baby boomlet students, just as you did in the college application process. So it is possible that you were not able to get an internship for this summer. However, there are many valuable alternative ways to spend a college summer, which will be personally gratifying and resume-building as well. Here are ten ideas:

1. Take a course. Get a requirement out of the way, especially a hard one. Give it full focus, perform better, and have an easier workload this fall. Or take an elective at an accredited school near home if your college will give credit. If you attend a private college, take summer courses at your state university to save money on tuition. For exposure to elite academics in a stimulating urban environment, consider Harvard Summer School, London School of Economics, Georgetown, GWU, Columbia, NYU, or USC, to name only a few.

2. Attend a workshop. Gain professional tools as valuable as an internship, or perhaps more.  If you didn’t land that Wall Street summer gig, how about four weekends at the CFA-accredited Investment Banking Institute, offered in ten U.S. cities? Its student price is a bargain compared to executive education at prestigious universities, and you’re free during the week to do hourly work to pay for it.

3 Beef up your technical proficiencies. Add to your professional toolkit for a future job. Let’s say you are a fine arts student interested in exploring applied visual arts, such as digital graphics, videogaming, web design or animation. Buy a software program through Academic Superstore, which offers reduced prices for students. Or enroll in a non-matricultant online course (i.e.,  Academy of Art University.) The fine arts metaphor translates to any field.

4. Do volunteer work in your field. For medical, education and helping professions, it is essential to develop your human contact capabilites, not just academic skills. Volunteer work can help you assess the rewards and frustrations of dealing with clients in your prospective field, as well as different working environments. It may strengthen your grad school application. And it will undoubtedly enhance your experience as a human being. You will never have more time than you do right now to “give back.”

5. Do research. What about approaching a professor  to do unpaid research? Structure an independent study for academic credit. Undergraduate research is expected for graduate school applications in academic, science and medical fields (see Science Magazine‘s Science Careers and Student Doctor Network). If you plan to go into the workforce after college, research demonstrates your initiative and deep knowledge of your field. Your professor may also have connections that may lead to an entry level position.

6. Travel. Do one of your own college’s study abroad programs led by your own professors, other schools’ renowned programs (i.e., NYU, Syracuse, Boston U), or external programs that partner with universities (i.e., IES, CSA). You will enrich your experience in your major, or in your life, and you will never have as much time as you do now.

7. Take grad school prep courses and exams. If you plan graduate school straight from college, take advantage of this time window (vs. during a regular semester). If you plan to join the workforce and are considering eventual graduate work, take the test now. Tests are valid for five years. You’ll never be “smarter” than right now! Click here for GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, or GRE.

8. Learn a foreign language. Master a language for an employment edge in the future, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or Hindi. Enroll in a college course or Berlitz program, or buy Rosetta Stone (this incredible software could even teach me, the most “unlikely to succeed” language student!). Consider Middlebury‘s renowned language schools, University of Chicago’s intensive language program, or University of Virginia’s Summer Language Institute.

9. Do informational interviews and job shadowing. What do you want to do when you grow up? Finally you have time to find out! Unless you grew up under a rock, you know adults in careers that hold interest for you. Your parents, extended family, family friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors: and people they know. It’s a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. Whether they are young professionals or high-powered veterans, they’re likely to agree to an informational interview, since you are not specifically asking for a job.

Ask about rewards and frustrations, long term career path, and lifestyle. Remember, people love to tell their story and give advice, so let them!  Ask to “shadow” an individual for a day and find out what “life in the trenches” is really like. The bonus of this approach is, it often leads to landing a project, internship or job later on, directly or indirectly. Every time to meet with an adult professional face-to-face, you will learn something that will help you in career exploration, job interviews, or career decision-making.

10. Earn money. If you can find a semi-skilled summer job, that can also fit the bill. You may be able to take a workshop or online course in your spare time. The money you earn may allow you to do some educational travel at the end of the summer. Working during the summer may free you from having to do part-time work during the school year, resulting in stronger academic performance.

There is nothing more noble and than self-sufficiency, responsibility and elbow grease, and you can be sure future employers will be impressed with a proven work ethic. A summer job requiring physical labor in an outdoor environment can actually be a refreshing break from academia. There is always something to be learned from every experience, from supervisors, co-workers and customers. Soak it all in.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er-Internship, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn? Does Your College GPA Matter? and What Is Informational Interviewing?

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