As we get further into the semester and as planning for the next year becomes necessary, many graduating seniors are wondering, “what should I do next year?” Maybe they have already decided to go to graduate school or to enter the workforce, but are asking themselves, “How do I start applying and know where to apply?”
For those seniors out there who have been thinking about these very questions but have no idea how to begin to answer them, Betty Rozzelle from the Center for Career Development and professors from The University have some advice.
Before even beginning to think about how to apply, seniors might feel as though they must decide if they want to go into the workforce, go to graduate or professional school, or do a year of long-term service after graduating in May. In October or November, when applications for the latter two must be started, that decision may seem daunting.
Well, for those seniors, the good news is this: you don’t have to make that decision right now. Betty Rozzelle, an assistant director in the Center for Career Development, advises students who are undecided on which path they wish to take to apply to all of those things which they are considering.
“Some people [who come in] are saying, ‘I’m not sure if I want a job or [to attend] a [graduate] school,’ and then what we do is we work on applications for both so that as the process unfolds they can gain clarity about what feels right to them,” Rozzelle said. “It’s difficult in September to know how you’re going to feel come April or May as you’re nearing graduation, so it’s nice when the springtime rolls around that you potentially have some opportunities in terms of job openings or graduate school.”
Regardless of the path a student decides to take, they will at some point need to prepare a resumé and a cover letter for those positions. Since each of the paths are different, a student applying to things in multiple paths will likely have a different resumé for each different path. So, a student applying both for jobs and for graduate programs will likely have one resumé which they send to the industry employers and another which they send to the graduate programs.
Rozzelle expanded on what to focus on when writing a resumé, explaining that a resumé is designed to highlight a student’s strengths, regardless of what those strengths may be, which are most relevant in their applications.
“We’re going to focus on work experience and leadership roles [in regards to job applications]. With applying to graduate programs, we would probably highlight research experience, teaching experience, if someone was in honors programs such as SJLA. With long-term service, we would probably go more into a description of about the volunteering that someone did,” Rozzelle said.
The Center for Career Development has services to aid students in many of the aspects of applying for jobs, including preparing resumés. They can also help with writing cover letters, working through the actual applications, or guiding students through mock interviews.
In addition to taking advantage of those services at The Center for Career Development, they frequently have networking opportunities and will run networking trips to different major cities such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.
Many seniors have heard that networking is important and they should network as much as possible. However, some may not understand the purpose of networking and why networking is important.
According to Rozzelle, the importance of networking is not necessarily connected directly to receiving job offers, but rather networking can help a student understand how to make themselves a stronger applicant for the jobs to which they are applying.
“A lot of students when they apply to any of these, they feel uncertain and hesitant. The ability to learn to network is more and more important,” Rozzelle said. “It is possible that an alumni is in a position to tell the Human Resource Office that an alumni applied and recommend them. It’s probably more likely that [networking provides] advice and suggestions that help you to have a stronger application.”
There are multiple ways in which students can network and connect with alumni of The University. In addition to the networking trips, Rozzelle encourages students to join LinkedIn and connect with alumni and previous employers that way.
In many ways, what has been discussed thus far can apply to any path which a student may take after graduation. Often, however, the process of applying for graduate programs can be quite different from the process of applying for jobs or long-term service positions, especially from the perspective deciding where to apply. So, what about graduate programs?
When it comes to applying to them, one of the biggest challenges students face is deciding how many schools to apply to, and then deciding where to apply. The answer to the first question will depend largely on the intended area of graduate study. For example, a student looking to study mathematics will likely want to apply to between eight and nine schools, while a student looking to study a more popular field such as biology may want to apply to as many as 15 or 20 schools.
As with many things, cost also plays a role in determining that number. Graduate applications all have an associated fee, so as the number of schools increases, the overall cost also increases. Sending test scores and transcripts to each program also adds to the cost of applications. However, many programs will offer fee waivers for those whose financial situation does not allow them to pay for the applications. In addition, many universities will offer a fee waiver to students who participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) or internship at that university.
Once a student has decided on how many schools to apply to, the next step is to decide where to apply. This decision has a couple of parts to it. First, a student should complete an initial search for potential programs. This likely will involve a heavy use of Google and various online rankings. Among programs in the desired field of study, students should focus on looking for programs which have a large number of faculty in the particular discipline which they wish to pursue. Different disciplines will produce different initial lists of schools; for example, a student who wishes to study molecular biology will likely not apply to the same schools as someone interested in studying marine biology.
At this point in the search for programs, the student does not need to worry about having “too many” schools on their list. Narrowing those down comes later.
This process may take some time, as the student visits the websites of each of the programs and decides if it could be a good fit. Once the student feels as though they have a comprehensive list together, it is time to move on to the next step, which is talking with their professors.
Speaking with professors can be particularly helpful in a number of ways. When a student goes to speak with their professor, they should be sure to bring their list of potential graduate programs with them. From looking at the list, the professors can advise the student on any programs they may have overlooked that would be a good fit for their interests, to which schools to definitely apply, and where the fit may not be as good as they thought. Professors can also explain what kinds of steps the student needs to take to increase their chances of being accepted to programs. For example, a science professor may encourage the student to reach out to specific faculty members with whom they wish to work.
The final step in choosing schools is to actually narrow down the list. Professors from The University have offered some helpful advice on this front. They said once the list of schools is concrete, to choose those school to which you definitely want to apply. From the remaining schools, group them by those which have similar characteristics. For example, group together the large state institutions in rural settings, or group together the smaller programs at private institutions, or group together the elite programs that are likely reach schools. They then advised choosing one or two of the schools in each of those groupings and applying to those.
If the list needs to be shortened further after that process, follow a similar process by grouping schools together based on different factors and eliminate additional schools in that way. Conversely, if the list has room for more applications, select some of the schools originally eliminated and do apply to those. This type of decision-making process can make it feel less overwhelming to students on this path. Instead of choosing eight schools out of a list of 16 or 17, they are only making a decision between two or three schools at one time. Before they know it, they have their finalized list.
Most importantly, however, for all seniors is this: do not panic. Many recent college graduates will tell you that they are still not entirely certain of what they want to do long-term, or that they didn’t make that decision until late in the game. Not knowing what to do after graduation, even as a senior, is neither uncommon nor particularly concerning. There is still plenty of time after graduation to figure out what you want to do in life.