As CWRU's seniors graduate, what lies ahead for them in an uncertain economy?
Issue date: 4/23/10 Section: News
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Some are now considering graduate school as a means of staying off the tightened job market or avoiding loans and a poor economy. "I'm seeing more students coming in and debating the question of, 'Do I go to grad school or do I look for a job?'" said Poppleton.
Brittany English was able to choose both, but only after recently deciding to forgo her plans to attend law school. "I was actually going to law school up until Christmas break," she said. "I took the LSAT, applied, got in." Since getting into law school, however, English has learned about graduate programs for higher education administration, something she's researched and determined is a better fit for her right now. "I didn't know if I had the passion to go straight to law school right now and to dedicate all my time and all my energy and money towards something that I wasn't quite sure I wanted to do," she said. Currently deciding between Kent State and Akron University for her M.Ed. in administration, English will also have a graduate assistantship at Lake Erie College. There she'll work as a residence director for programming and training.
"It's going to be interesting, being in charge of an entire RA staff and in charge of a residence hall," she said. "But it'll be a new experience and something that I'll learn from. Now that I'm going into an area that I know I'm passionate about, I'm excited to learn new things and to meet new people and make those connections."
Poppleton finds that making connections can be a good strategy in this kind of job market. According to him, students should always be talking to their networks. "You want to network and go through personal and professional connections," he said. "In these times, companies are going to rely more on referrals from employees that they already have, or from friends."
He also warns against using graduate school to avoid the job market and the economy, which he believes may be a poor decision. "Graduate school is not necessarily a place to find yourself or explore opportunities, unlike undergraduate education," he said. Poppleton also stresses that a higher degree of learning doesn't always guarantee better job opportunities. "What happens is you get an advanced degree and you look at positions that will require that advanced degree… but the problem is most of those positions also require a certain number of years of experience," he explained.
Of course, some students just want to go to graduate school. "I planned to go to graduate school since I entered Case Western," said senior Maggie Davis. Davis claimed the economy and current job market had no influence on her decision to attend graduate school, although it was not until halfway through her undergraduate career that she decided on law.
"I love law and policy, specifically in how it effects biomedical sciences," Davis said. "From talking to many professors, and doing a self-evaluation of my own skills, law school was the best path for me to take to achieve my future career goals. It's going to be a tough three years, but I am actually looking forward to learning the skills for assessing information and formulating arguments that law school teaches."
Davis may be doing what she loves, but numerous other students nationwide are looking at law school too. She feels as though her applications were probably affected by the high volume of applicants this year to graduate programs in law. "I applied to a wide range of schools - safeties, 50/50s, and reach schools - similar to when applying to undergraduate programs," she explained. "From a total of 13 schools, I was accepted into all of my safety schools and most of my 50/50s, and waitlisted at a few more of my 50/50s. In another cycle I might have been accepted into more instead of waitlisted, and potentially made it into the reach schools. However, it's difficult to tell with any admissions cycle."
While most students focus on the choice between graduate school and a career, others have made more creative decisions. Steve Stumphauzer, a political science and international studies major, will be going to Africa with the Peace Corps after graduation. "It seemed to combine a lot of things I was interested in, things that seemed like a really good idea. Because part of the reason why I'm studying what I am, with poli-sci and all that stuff, is because I just want to be able to travel and get out there and see what there is in the world. I figured the Peace Corps is a way to get paid doing that," he said.
If the Peace Corps hadn't worked out, Stumphauzer, like so many others, would be looking for a job right now. He knows that the job market has only tightened, and acknowledges that he may even elect to stay in Africa for an additional two years if the state of the economy doesn't improve. "After the Peace Corps, my plans are doing whatever I figure out I'll be doing when I'm in the Peace Corps," he said, laughing. "I wanted to be able to take some time off and focus on something else, I guess, as a way of figuring out, okay, what do I really want to do?"
But his decision to travel with the Corps also serves a more practical purpose. "One of the perks associated with the Peace Corps is that for a full year afterwards, you have non-competitive eligibility for federal jobs, which means basically your resume goes to the top of the stack and actually gets looked at, which is helpful," he said. "So, the plan is: Peace Corps and then go to D.C., find out where I want to fit in there, and then once I have something, go to grad school and move on."
Students who aren't looking for long-term jobs immediately still face the challenge of planning for a future after graduate school (or, as the case may be, the Peace Corps). Many hope that by this time, the economy will be in better condition, and the job market less competitive.
"Post-grad school I do intend to go to law school," said English. "I still plan on going, and after two years my LSAT scores will still be valid. Ultimately, after that I'd like to work in student affairs, like judicial student affairs, or student activities and leadership. I just kind of want to remain on a college or university campus."
"There are a lot of options, but nothing concrete right now," said Stumphauzer. Stumphauzer is considering a career in the United States intelligence community, but may also utilize his minor in theater to find a program that brings theater and art education to other people.
For the rest, finding a job will be hard, but Poppleton believes the situation is improving. "You don't want to get discouraged and you don't want that to come out in any of your application materials," he said. "It's easy, if you're not getting the result, to get discouraged and then maybe your cover letters have a little bit more bite to them because you're frustrated or you stop tailoring your resume to the position. It's very easy for [human resources] professionals to see that." Poppleton advises graduating seniors seeking jobs to change and "customize their approach" if they hope to find anything. In other words, each of a student's applications needs to be considered carefully, needs to be unique, and needs to cater to the needs and expectations of the position it applies to.
"It's difficult," he said, "but you need to stay positive."