Future movers and shakers get started

By Joel Lanceta

Life has changed vastly since the Class of 2004 entered the University as first-years in fall quarter of 2000, when then Vice President Al Gore and George W. Bush were neck-and-neck in the presidential election, the stock market had just begun to feel the dot-com bubble burst, and September 11 was a day that carried no special importance.

Having experienced some of the most tumultuous years in recent U.S. history, U of C fourth-years are now faced with the tasks of finding jobs and futures in a recovering economy still reeling from the war on terror and government spending deficits. It is a far cry from 2000, when the job market was more attractive for recent graduates to jump into businesses. So how are some fourth-years planning their lives after Chicago?

According to a recent New York Times article, this year’s class of graduates is the first in the “millennial generation”—students born since 1982 who have come of age in the 21st century. They have a strategic, cautious approach to entering the work force. Experts say that because of rising fears of unemployment and uncertainty, today’s graduates are more prepared upon leaving college and more focused in their thinking on the “long-term.”

“A lot of the things that we associate with the generational break come from this graduating class,” said Neil Howe, a co-author of the best-selling book Millennials Rising, to the New York Times. “Millennials believe in preparation, in their track records. They’re thinking about what kinds of careers they’re going to have.”

Liz Michaels, the director of the Career Assessment Program Services (CAPS), said that many career-conscious fourth-years visited the CAPS offices looking for help with their resumes and to find new job opportunities.

“We have seen 321 unique seniors in either one-on-one hour long appointments or in walk-ins thus far this academic year,” Michaels said. “We saw these 321 students an average of 1.76 times each.

Last year’s senior survey showed that 22 percent of the Class of 2003 went straight to graduate school, 34 percent had a job waiting after college, and 44 percent were undecided about their plans. Although data for this year’s fourth-years have not yet been compiled, Michaels says the statistics will show that more students have jobs waiting for them. Michaels said that more companies went through CAPS and their job fairs recruiting students this year than in the last two years, due to the improved economy.

Melissa Quintos, a fourth-year in the College concentrating in economics, has known she wants to become a teacher since her second year, after learning about the Teach for America program—the national non-profit organization that recruits college graduates to the classroom—from CAPS and on-campus recruiters.

“It was the first thing on my list that I wanted to do,” Quintos said. “Teach for America had been recruiting on campus all the time and I was interested. So I applied early to the program and I got in.” Citing her fondness for children and her desire to do something meaningful in teaching, Quintos will start working for Teach for America this fall as an elementary school teacher in Baltimore.

Overall, the University had one of the highest candidate selection rates this year for Teach for America, with 16 seniors out of the 48 who applied from the University for the 2004 corps being accepted and 12 of them accepting the position.

Krystal Samuels, a fourth-year in the College concentrating in psychology, had a more ambitious post-graduation plan: becoming a financial advisor for American Express in Rosemont, Illinois. Samuels found the position during the Virtual Career Fair, in which companies posted job openings online through the CAPS website. “It was pretty hard getting the job,” Samuels said. “The interview process was a whole week-long torture,” she added, noting that she had to meet with both vice-presidents at Rosemont, and take three different tests—one of which required her to get a customer to sign up for an American Express credit card. “I got the customer to sign up—that’s why I think I got the job,” she said. Samuels said that she plans to stick with her job for now, as it makes substantial money from hourly wages and the rest is commission.

Alexa Martin, a fourth-year human development major, also has a job waiting for her after graduation as a medical assistant in a north-side Chicago clinic, but she is not planning on staying with the job; she’ll apply for graduate school in a year to get her Ph.D. in social psychology. “I’m taking a year off before going to grad school just so that I can have some time off not studying,” Martin said. “It’s really easy jumping from one school to another school, like the transition from college to graduate school isn’t difficult. But I definitely just want to be sure I really want to go to graduate school, and you’re only 21 once, so I want to do some things I would never be able to do during school.”

Martin hopes her job at the clinic will help her future experiences working with patients as a social psychologist. She said some of the schools she plans to apply to include Stanford, Columbia, and Harvard.

Some students have already jumped the gun and gone straight to professional or graduate school. Alan Hoffman, a fourth-year physics concentrator and R.A. of Dewey House, has been accepted and will go to MIT graduate school this fall, where he plans to get his Ph.D. in physics.

“My first choice was Stanford, but I wasn’t accepted and MIT was offering a lot of money to me,” Hoffman said, “MIT couldn’t really top my experience here, but I’m looking forward to it as a new school. I’m also looking forward to going to school with prettier girls.”

Of course, there are still those students pondering what their lives will be like after college. Stu Fox, a biological science major and fourth-year, said he didn’t have any definitive plans once leaving the school. “I’ll be working at the Field Museum until September,” Fox said, “then, I’ll probably be dancing for nickels on the Redline.”

For the fourth-years who are undecided, Michaels said that they can still try to find job opportunities and school advice through the Chicago Alumni Network and the newly launched Chicago Student Network. The Alumni Network consists of 7000 U of C alums who can be contacted for internship and job advice, while the Student Network, with 1500 current U of C students, has the job and internship records of returning students over the summer. Fourth-years who want to use the networks better hurry; they can only use the CAPS network programs up until their CNET accounts expire six months after they graduate.