I was all set to apply for post-graduation jobs this past winter break. Or so I thought. My Internet browser was set to a job-search Web site, my cover letter was adjusted to each individual company and my resume was printed on crisp white paper – complete with my educational background, internship experience and extra-curricular activities. What I wasn’t prepared for was a mini-panic attack. As I glanced at potential full-time jobs on my computer, my heart sank. Had four years at MSU already passed? Am I really about to graduate? And most importantly, am I ready for the “real world”? While I still have a couple more months left to ponder these questions, L.A., I am not alone in my apprehensions – I am sure the majority of my peers are asking themselves the same thing. [grad11]
But there is still one more question to ask. How well has MSU prepared us for the world after graduation? Whether it’s graduate school, a traditional 9-to-5 job or service-oriented work, in this dire economy, the stakes are higher than ever and a student’s undergraduate experience is crucial. With this in mind, I set out to sort through the university’s various initiatives and programs aimed at preparing students for the “real world” – whatever that may be. I also surveyed a variety of graduating seniors on how well they felt the university has prepared them for their future.
I think you’ll be surprised to learn, L.A., that the majority of students seem to have little to complain about.
Graduate School
For many students, a bachelor’s degree is not the end of their educational route – in fact, nearly 30 percent of MSU students decide to continue their education with graduate school, according to the university’s 2006 Destination Survey. It should come as no surprise, L.A., that finding a graduate school, and being accepted, is no easy feat. Hours of filling out applications, building up the resume with extra-curricular activities and taking standardized tests are often reminiscent of applying to a four-year college during junior and senior years of high school – only more difficult. So how exactly does the university work to prepare students for this future?
Chris Foley, a field career consultant for James Madison College, is one of many advisers within MSU’s Career Services and Placement network who works closely with students applying to graduate schools. According to Foley, in 2006, nearly 40 percent of James Madison students went on to grad school, with a large number attending law school. With higher-degree programs being such a popular option, L.A., Foley makes assisting students a top priority. “James Madison is small enough that I am able to meet one-on-one with a lot of students,” he said. “Our faculty are really knowledgeable about the application process, so they are also working with students to get things done, too. I refer students to outside help as well, such as an admission representative, standardized testing prep and Web resources. The advising piece for me is to get them started, encourage them and point them to [the] right resources.”
Advisers through Career Services and Placement are not the only people who actively assist students, however. While MSU’s graduate school caters most of its efforts towards current graduate students, they are also present at many undergraduate events, according to the school’s dean, Karen Klomparens. “We are always willing to help undergraduates prepare for a higher-degree program through lectures and special presentations,” she said.
So L.A., how exactly are these efforts resonating with students?
English senior Brittany West has completed her grad school applications and is planning to attend either the University of Chicago or Boston College in the fall. Overall, she was pleased with the application process, and thought MSU and her English professors adequately prepared her. “I think the application process went pretty well,” she said. “My professors helped me edit my cover letters and essays. The college also set up planning workshops and offered tips on how to get into grad school.”
[gradschool] However, L.A., that is not to say West didn’t find the process to be challenging at times. “To apply for an English graduate program you have to take the GRE subject test and it is really hard,” she said. “In class we don’t read all the authors that we need to get a good score.” According to West, the college also does not prepare students for the long papers that are required for grad school applications. “The longest paper I have had to write for school was about 15 pages, but grad schools want a 20-25 page writing sample. A lot of times people will have to write a whole new paper just to apply. I will say as far as theory goes, however, I have taken good classes here that will help you think they way you need to in order to get into grad school.”
Political science senior Justin Withrow agrees. “All of the preparation classes that my advisers recommended were critical in my success on the LSAT and acceptance to law school.”
However, Withrow, who is undecided on which law school he will attend this fall, wishes the university would hold more workshops and LSAT study sessions. L.A., because most study courses are done through outside vendors, and can cost up to $2,000, it makes sense students would like the university to offer a cheaper, more convenient alternative to standardized test preparation.
The Traditional 9 to 5
While grad school is a popular option for students, the majority use their diploma to land a full-time position, with many settling into the traditional 9-to-5 job after graduation. But in the current job market, L.A., getting a “real job” is harder than it looks. Students need more than a degree to stand out against other applicants.
According to the university’s Career Services and Placement Web site (a site that most seniors are familiar with), MSU provides students with academic advising, job and internship postings, resume workshops, mock interviews, recruiting events, career workshops and special lectures to help them gain a competitive edge in their job search.
“I think an internship is the most beneficial thing a student can do to get their foot in the door and prepare for a full-time job,” said Kerry Monroe, a communication senior specializing in public relations. “An internship is the experience that will put you over when you are applying for a real job, not necessarily your course work. With that said, I think the university and all the organizations on campus prepare you more for an internship than a real job. They prepared me for that first step.” [job]
Beyond help with finding an internship, Monroe also utilized the university’s other resources, including memberships with pre-professional organizations, academic advisers and career fairs. In fact, Monroe found her future position with Kohl’s Corporate Headquarters while attending MSU’s Career Gallery in October.
“I researched companies before [the career fair] and prepared to meet the companies that I was really interested in and wanted to talk to,” she said. “After talking with Kohl’s I went home and applied on MySpartanCareer.com. A lot of people don’t like career fairs, but I thought it was great. They put all the information out there for students, but it is up to students to take the initiative. Students have the resources, it just depends how serious they are about getting a job.”
Of course, L.A., there is no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to getting a job after graduation. A successful job hunt often depends on the individual student’s resume and major, and most importantly, the economy and job market.
“The economy is drastically hurting my job search,” interior design senior Katherine Brummel said. “When I came in as freshman, interior design jobs were more easily obtained and the bad economic times has hurt that. The fact of the matter is that companies are not growing, especially not jobs for entry-level designers. Ninety-five percent of the jobs I find on the Internet are asking for a minimum of three to five years experience.”
Despite the poor job market, however, Brummel also believes the university could do more to help students prepare for, and find, a job. “I know career fairs are huge for other majors, and I would definitely utilize it, but our major doesn’t have one. Also, internships are not required for interior design majors, so the college doesn’t do much to help us find an internship. Most of the help I have received has been from my professors, because they have edited my resume and portfolio. But other than that, I have done the majority of the researching and editing on my own.”
However, Brummel was extremly pleased with her study abroad experience in the United Kingdom two summers ago, and feels it is a great experience to have on her resume. “The employers I have talked to say they weigh study abroad just as heavily as an internship, and it makes a person’s resume stand out. I think that MSU has done a good job making that available.”
Service-Oriented Work
Increasingly, students are opting to choose an alternative route after graduation, L.A., with many taking part in service-oriented work. Service organizations such as Teach for America and the Peace Corps offer students what they see as a transition after graduation, and a chance to make a positive mark on the world. “I think service-oriented work is a growing trend and in general, students want less to start their real lives at 22,” said Betsy Mott, a journalism and international relations senior. “There are a lot of different ways to become an adult without getting a ‘real job’ right away, so think people are starting to move away from that and are instead going into more service-type work.”
With students drawn to service-oriented work, L.A., it is important for the university to continue preparing students through international exposure, cultural awareness and volunteer opportunities.
Accordingly to Foley, however, there is not one single way to prepare students for service-oriented work. “To say to a student, ‘This is the one way to get in,’ would be a disservice, because there really isn’t only one way,” he said. Instead, the university works to provide undergrads with a wide array of cultural and service-oriented initiatives, including study abroad, alternative spring break and volunteer opportunities through the Center for Service-Learning as well as individual colleges. In February of each year, Career Services and Placement also hosts the Government and Non-Profit Career Fair (formally the Call to Serve Fair).
“The Government and Non-Profit Career Fair attracts organizations that a student looking for service work would find interesting,” Foley said. “We develop personal relationships with these recruiters and allow students to get in touch with them firsthand. Most service organizations are looking for a student who brings a unique set of skills and demonstrates leadership and excellence.”
Many students utilize these various programs, L.A., and for the most part, they appreciate the university affords them the opportunity to prepare for a future in service-oriented work.
According to Pete Richards, a recruiter with the MSU Peace Corps office, MSU has been very successful in both promoting service-oriented work and preparing students for a career in it. There are a growing number of MSU students going into the Peace Corps – and similar organizations – which Richards believes to be a direct reflection of the university’s efforts. In fact, L.A., MSU is fifth among universities for the number of actively serving Peace Corps volunteers, with 80.
While MSU’s relationship with every organization is different, L.A., the university and the Peace Corps work closely together to offer guidance to those students interested in entering the Peace Corps. “Our recruiting office is jointly funded by both the Peace Corps and our sponsoring organization with the university, MSU’s International Studies Program,” Richards said. “We concentrate on recruitment and awareness, along with aiding students in the application process. I think the university does a great job of preparing students and it shows in the number of volunteers they produce.”
Mott is one such student who is looking to join the organization after graduation. She found her passion for helping women and children in developing countries while doing her James Madison field experience and hopes to continue the work through the Peace Corps. “James Madison requires students to do field experience to get them out of the classroom and gain real-world experience,” she said. “The good thing is that you can gear it towards whatever you want, and I did my field experience at a home for teenage mothers in Lesotho. While I didn’t learn about the opportunity through MSU, and it wasn’t directly related to the university, it was a James Madison requirement that lead me to do it.”
[la] Mott feels prepared for her potential work in part because of her time at MSU, and certainly through her field experience. “All of the advisers I talked to were really helpful and supportive, but didn’t necessarily know enough [about the work I wanted to do in Lesotho] to point me in a useful direction. I had to find the opportunity mostly on my own…However, I don’t think the university should ever be expected to make everyone involved. There are a lot of opportunities available for those who want to be involved in service-type work.”
From Spartan World to Real World
We both know, L.A., students are known to complain – sometimes with warrant – about various university issues. When it comes to being prepared for graduation, however, it seems the majority of students are pleased with MSU’s initiatives and feel the university does its part to provide them with adequate resources and opportunities. In fact, I could not find someone that was outright displeased with their undergraduate experience. Most students understand that while the university can offer guidance, it is ultimately up to them to prepare for their own futures.
Perhaps West sums it up best – “MSU is a huge university and there are a ton of resources and opportunities on campus. I think that getting involved is the student’s responsibility. If you did not look and you aren’t prepared, then it is not the university’s fault.”
And while I agree with West – and feel confident with my journalism degree from MSU – L.A., I am still very unsure as to what the future holds. I am sure we all are.

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