On Saturday, all my nearest and dearest will gather together for the wedding of my son, Josh, to his long-time sweetheart, Ati. I don’t bring my home life into the blog as much as I once did, but the year when Josh applied to college for his undergraduate studies gave me a chance to think about the admissions process from the applicant’s perspective. I revisited the topic four years later when my daughter, Kayla, was doing her own college search.
Now they, their friends, and my age-20-something relatives are at another stage in life that has been equally illuminating. They’ve all completed their undergraduate studies and they’re navigating those years when they need to lay the groundwork for the decades to come. Some have already gone to graduate or professional school. Others are trying to figure out their next steps. All of them feel a certain pressure to work it all out soon. Listening to them has helped me connect to the issues our applicants are thinking about, beyond the technical aspects of the application.
What we in Admissions have always known is that those first jobs are hugely helpful for students who need to sift through their options. Two of Josh’s classmates, in particular, present an interesting example of the benefits of working before graduate school. They both had been inclined toward political science/international relations with a regional focus on the Middle East. As a result of the work they pursued after graduating, one has maintained the regional focus but decided to pursue it through international education. (That would be my almost-daughter-in-law.) The other worked in Washington, DC for two years before deciding that the field wasn’t for him, and he is now in medical school. Two students with similar interests, now following very different trajectories as a result of their first jobs.
As for Josh, he is in his second position with his second post-graduation organization, which he likes very much. Given a choice, he will pass on the graduate school experience. His first job was not a winner for him, and he has other friends who are similarly enjoying or muddling through their first positions, some more clearly directed than others. This is a reality we observe all the time from our perch in the Admissions Office. Some folks have their career path clearly defined by age 20. Others are still testing the waters, often in many different lakes.
The U.S. economy is much stronger than it was in 2008 when Josh started college, or even in 2012 when he graduated, but I know that it can still be tricky to find the perfect first job. So many organizations want to see experience on a résumé, even for entry-level positions. That pushes the need for internships into the undergraduate years, so that students can graduate with a reasonable portfolio of experience in hand. Kayla is fortunate to have had an internship that led to some contract work and then to a full-time job with another organization. Without the internship, I’m sure her job hunt would have been more difficult. When current undergraduates ask me about gaining work experience, I try to take the broadest possible approach — there’s a job out there, and the first will lead to the next. The trick is to find something that provides some benefit — either in transferable skills or, at least, in the soft skills that employers always want to see. And don’t go to graduate school until you’re certain you know what you want from your education.
I acknowledge that I often put on my “mom hat” when speaking to applicants and incoming students. Sometimes I consider what I would want someone in my position to say to Josh and Kayla; I think it’s important to be direct with prospective students who could use a little advice. I draw a lot personally from my observations of my (now adult) children and their friends and I think my work has benefited from my dual perspective, which helps me connect with the experience and decision-making of our applicants and students.
Now I’m looking forward to a wedding. Josh and Ati are a two-Jumbo couple — both having graduated from Tufts. They have their jobs, they’re getting married, and they’re on their way!
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