Serious Thoughts on College Career Services
Since ceasing my employment with The University of X a few months ago, I have been looking for a new job. I recently visited my undergraduate alma mater’s Career Services office (because they also help alumni) even though I was really worried about the idea.
The reason I was worried is probably not what you are thinking. You may not realize this, but the “Career Service” office is often not a “service.” For a moment, let’s forget that the college has a vested interest in having its potential donors be employed and making as much money as possible. There are other vested interests that many of you may not be aware of.
I’ll start with the big one. If you are enrolled in law, medicine, or another program that normally leads to careers in a specific field, the college needs you to choose that field for the institution’s sake. If too many law students choose to do something other than law, it can make the school look bad when rankings time comes around. (There are also a few industrious applicants who ask about this.) Some programs find a way around this in their promotional materials by telling people that “90% of our graduates are employed within 3 months of graduation.” What they fail to tell you is that half of those people are selling cosmetics door-to-door. I have a feeling that these graduates didn’t take on so much debt to end up selling cosmetics.
But back to rankings: if you consider going for a Ph.D., you need to understand a few things up front. Most importantly, a strong program will probably not accept you unless your application materials say “I want to become a professor.” Doctoral programs recruit new students based on the professor jobs its graduates receive. (And again be careful. Some programs will say that 90% of their graduates secure academic appointments after completing the degree. That number can include Visiting Assistant Professors who only stay at a college for a year or two. It can also include a large number of people who teach for less than what a Wal-Mart cashier makes. The key word to hunt for is “Tenure-Track.”) But if you are nearing the end of your program and decide that you want to do something else, you can often expect that Career Services will encourage you to pursue the career that typically flows from the degree you are pursuing, even if it is painfully obvious that you should be doing something else.
Moral of the story: Remember that your college has financial and reputational concerns of its own and Career Services exists to serve those, not you. This is why I love my undergraduate Career Services office so much. It’s in their interest to help me because so many people with graduate degrees forget about their undergrad colleges. In their eyes, I’m a donor in the making. And the undergraduate college’s academic programs don’t benefit at all if I choose one career path over another. Although it’s counterintuitive, and even though it really helped to also speak with a specialist who knows about the unique problems facing Ph.D.-holding job applicants, the undergrad institution’s office has been an excellent resource.
Things turn out better when Career Services’ goals match your goals.