Given the wide variety of paths that Wesleyan alumni take after graduation, guiding students toward their first job can be difficult. Though most of us would rather postpone the job search until the threat of unemployment is staring us in the face, the Career Center would have it otherwise. Counselors will meet with students as early as freshman year to begin talking about the future, even if not about specific careers.
Associate Director of Operations Anne Santaniello explained that the center is available whenever students are interested in assistance, be it the beginning of freshman year or the summer after graduation, and that there is never a wrong time to begin thinking about the future.
“I can tell you that it’s healthy to eat Cheerios, but if you hate Cheerios, that’s not going to do anything for you until you decide you’re going to eat them,” Santaniello said. “That’s what we do here: when you decide that you need us, we’re here. Wherever you are is where we’re going to start with you.”
The center typically focuses on summer positions when working with underclassmen. Santaniello emphasized that while some internships and volunteer positions do turn into paid jobs, they are not the be-all, end-all of employment. Doing anything, from working at Starbucks to interning with a nonprofit organization, is beneficial for both resumes and the students’ own understanding of hir strengths, weaknesses, and goals.
“We try to tell people that what you do in your freshman and sophomore year is just as useful if it helps you decide [what you don’t want to do] as it is if it turns out to be your career,” Santaniello said.
Though some industries actively recruit former summer interns to paid positions after graduation, that practice is generally limited to finance, consulting, and, on a lesser scale, nonprofits. The real benefits of summer internships, Santaniello argued, are exposure to various industries and opportunities for networking. Internships do not necessarily have a strict connection to future careers.
Similarly, as most students have heard countless times, one’s choice of major is not necessarily determinant of one’s future career—particularly at a liberal arts institution like Wesleyan.
“Students at Wesleyan learn how to think,” Santaniello said. “I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter what their major is, but when they tend toward the ‘liberal artsy’ side it can be anything; they can go anywhere with it. It’s about finding your passion. It may not lead you directly to a specific job, but having a passion for something will help you figure out what you want to do.”
President Michael Roth agreed that students’ passions for their undergraduate studies are key to preparing them for any number of careers.
“I believe it’s important for students to get a broad liberal arts education, which equips them with the habits of thinking and patterns of work necessary to solve complex problems in a rapidly changing world,” Roth wrote in an email to the Argus. “No matter what field one pursues, broad training is critical to allow for adaptation to tomorrow’s challenges.”
Because of the myriad paths graduates take, the Career Center is rarely able to pinpoint the most popular employer or graduate school for any given class year. However, approximately 15 to 20 percent of seniors go directly to graduate school, and approximately 80 percent of students acquire some sort of additional degree within ten years of graduating.
The Career Center conducts a yearly survey of destinations for new graduates and received a response rate of 64 percent from the Class of 2012. Twelve percent of survey respondents went to graduate school and 47.5 percent found full-time employment in their first year, distributed evenly among arts and communication, education, business, health professions, nonprofits, and law. Santaniello explained that the University’s alumni are notable for the breadth of careers they pursue: at most, maybe 10 graduates will find themselves employed at the same company, hardly forming a substantial percentage.
“It just speaks to how diverse our population is, how diverse their interests are, and how great they are,” Santaniello said. “They can go anywhere. They can do anything. I think it’s really terrific that it’s not all one path: it’s not all finance; it’s not all advertising; it’s everything. That sometimes makes what we do [at the Career Center] a little challenging, because we’re trying to find things that appeal to everyone. But by the same token, it’s a lot of fun, and it doesn’t get boring; everyone wants to do something different.”
Students presumably choose liberal arts colleges such as Wesleyan precisely because of their interest in fostering a diverse range of interests. Roth expressed his belief that students should retain that flexibility and open-mindedness as they enter the job market.
“College is not a good investment if one prepares only for the first—and likely the worst—job he’ll ever have, rather than preparing for a meaningful and productive career over many decades,” Roth wrote.
Having seen generations of students through the career process, the staff of the Career Center knows better than to preach an overly pre-professional doctrine.
“One of the things we try to tell people is that certainly your first job is highly unlikely to be your last job,” Santaniello said. “You’ll get a job—you will get one. It may take a little while, but you’ll find something—but that’s not necessarily where you’ll stay.”