October 2, 2004

Post-grad existentialist crises less severe this year

A survey found that more members of the class of 2004 had concrete plans for after their graduation than the students in the preceding class.

For the past two graduating classes, Career Advising and Planning Services, formerly Career Advising and Placement Services (CAPS), has conducted surveys asking fourth-years about their post-graduation plans. CAPS is now using this information to better serve current and future students in the College.

In May 2003, 22 percent of graduating fourth-years said that they were going straight to graduate school or a professional program. 34 percent had already been hired into the workforce, and 44 percent did not know what would happen after June 13. In May 2004, the percent of fourth-years who did not know what they would be doing after graduation decreased to 40 percent. The 2004 study also found that the number of outgoing students heading directly to graduate school or a professional program was 21 percent and the number of students going into the workforce rose to 38 percent.

Director of CAPS Liz Michaels, who heads the project, attributed the decreased uncertainty to the increased use of networking, the resources at CAPS, and the Alumni Career Network, a group of over 7,000 alumni willing to be contacted by students about jobs. In 2004, 56 percent of outgoing students said they networked to find their job—up from 48 percent last year.

CAPS began the project because it needed to compile information on students' post-graduate plans to distribute to prospective students, current students, faculty, administrators, and parents. "It was becoming increasingly problematic not having this information," Michaels said.

CAPS, which already used the information to create a new website with information for English and History concentrators, is telling students about the survey results to help them search for jobs. The survey results, taken the month before graduation, suggest that students have more luck knowing what they will do after graduation if they begin searching for jobs earlier. Of the 40 percent of fourth-years in May 2004 who did not know where they were headed, around 69 percent had started their job search less than four months before.

Last Monday's kickoff barbecue for fourth-years, now a three-year-old tradition, centered on what CAPS learned from these surveys. "Students were surprised by where they were finding themselves, so a big part of the kickoff…is to help students use the information that they have to make more informed decisions, whatever they may be," Michaels said.

Along with speeches from administrators, faculty, and alumni, Assistant Vice-President for Student Life and Associate Dean of the College Bill Michel, along with Michaels, presented some of the statistics gathered from these surveys. The speeches by Dean of the College John Boyer, Will Burns (A.B. '95, A.M. '98), Jennifer Fortner (A.B. '98), and Dean of the Division of the Humanities Danielle Allen elaborated on the problems raised by the surveys' findings and provided personal anecdotes on post-graduation job- or school-searching.

Will Burns, now the senior advisor to the Illinois senate president, said that he did not do any job searching during his last year of college. Instead, he was occupied with a protest against the University. His group eventually won what they were protesting for, he said, but he found himself working as a telemarketer after graduation. Through his network of friends, he found a position at the Blue Gargoyle that he described as unglamorous but rewarding.

Other speakers said that the job search is as time-consuming as attending an extra class, saying a thorough search usually takes from four to nine months, and from 10 to 15 hours per week. "It's like another class, and it's not like a blow-off class," Michaels said.

Jennifer Fortner, a vice-president at Goldman Sachs in the Investment Management Division, emphasized the time that it takes to find a job and the importance of finding one that fits, describing the time after college as a time of "introspection."

Danielle Allen stressed the importance of finding an "intellectual home," and the time and thorough searching necessary to reach that state.

Fourth-year in the College Stella Yee, who went to the senior kickoff event, said she found the statistics depressing. "I had actually thought that more Chicago graduates would know what they wanted to do in the future."

Lee said she had already known how long it would take to find a job, and was planning on using alumnae in her sorority to aid her in the job search. She is also applying to graduate schools.

Gabe Molina, also a fourth-year in the College, is less prepared. "I'd never thought about how long the job search actually takes until they told us that, and since I don't even spend 10 to 15 hours a week doing homework, I doubt I'll be spending that much time looking for a job. I'm hoping that one will just land in my lap."

The surveys for outgoing fourth-years are being given in conjunction with the surveys taken by returning students asking questions about their summers. CAPS has created the Chicago Student Network website, which lists and describes students' summer activities.

Michaels said that the data show no significant differences in post-graduation plans due to factors such as race, gender, and income level. She said Chicago's statistics were similar to those of other elite institutions.