If you’re a senior at Gustavus, graduation is approaching. In 37 days, the class of 2008 will walk across Hollingsworth Field and into the real world of debt, car payments and health insurance.
Chances are most seniors don’t need to be reminded of this fact; if the steady stream of mailings hasn’t served as an adequate reminder, then parents have likely finished the job.
“Contemplating what I will do after graduation has started to dominate my thoughts. Get a job, get a job. It’s like a litany in my head,” said Senior communication studies and sociology major Alecia Gooch.
Throughout the year, Director of the Center for Vocational Reflection Chris Johnson speaks with seniors about the year ahead of them. His advice?
“Don’t panic,” he said. “In your life, you have already made hard choices, and you know you can survive it.”
After completing an internship in a sales position last year, Senior International Management and Political Science Major Matt Toppin faced a challenging decision. He realized, like many do, that the career path he planned on may not truly be right for him. “In my internship, I really felt like what I was doing was not helping others,” he said.
After contemplating how he wanted to spend his first years out of college, Toppin joined many other Gustavus students in committing to work for Teach for America.
Whether it is the Peace Corps, Americorps, Lutheran Volunteer Corps or any other service organization, many Gustavus students have reached similar conclusions about their post-college plans.
Next year, Senior Economics and French major Addie Ryan will research micro-financing programs for women in Morocco as a Fulbright scholar, the U.S. government’s international educational exchange.
She knew from the outset that she wanted to pursue a less traditional route next year.
“Before I heard from Fulbright, I was also continuing the application processes for the Peace Corps and the [Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program,] teaching English in Japan,” she said.
For some students, the choice to work with a service organization after graduation is not as obvious as it was for Ryan. Many students have practical concerns about working for a significant amount of time in a service capacity.
High among these concerns are issues regarding money. Senior Biology Major Danielle Gergen is still making plans for next year, and she has considered graduate school in Europe.
“I want to do the fun things that don’t necessarily go along with getting a ‘real job,’” she said. “But I need to find a way to make my financial situation work.”
Associate Director of the Career Center Cynthia Favre said, “Whatever you are looking for, find out what the program offers.” She explained that many of these programs, like the Peace Corps and Teach for America, allow students to defer their college loans.
Other students share the reservations that Junior Chemistry Major Dave Pearson has about delaying graduate school or conventional employment in order to volunteer.
“The decision is hard because I would like to get involved with something [like a volunteer organization], but I want to go to medical school, and there’s all those statistics about how if you don’t go to school in the first two years after college, you never will,” Pearson said.
Favre advises people to create a timeline for themselves, but stresses that concerns about working with service organizations being a detriment career success should not keep students from considering them as an option.
“I don’t think any employer is terribly concerned about not immediately jumping into the world of work.”
Johnson and Toppin have heard students express concerns that committing a year or two to volunteer could be detrimental to their academic and career goals.
“People [sometimes] think that these service opportunities are such a big time commitment … that in essence you are losing two years of your life,” Toppin said.
Johnson tells students that by participating in these programs, they are “not copping out or avoiding something that matters by just spinning wheels for a year or two.” He said that while people commit to these programs for different reasons, for many it is one step in a planned course of action.
Ryan is one of these people. “I plan on going to graduate school but I feel that world experiences [like Fulbright, the Peace Corps, etc.] would be both rewarding and beneficial to my long-term goals,” she said.
Danny Carlson, a 2006 graduate of the University of Minnesota, is concluding his second year working for Teach for America in New York City.
“There are so many incredible opportunities for our generation to make a difference,” he said. He found it very satisfying to see his hard work turn into results that positively impacted a community.
“It’s one thing to serve and feel good about it, and it’s another thing to be able to point to tangible evidence of your hard work,” he said. “My daily decisions affect whether or not 25 children will have the opportunities they deserve in life.”
With a year of service work under his belt, Carlson stresses that people should not delude themselves into thinking volunteering is without challenges of its own.
“Every day is a challenge,” he said. “Physically, mentally, and psychologically, you are pushed to the limits. But for as challenging as it may be, it can be equally rewarding.”
Ultimately, Johnson said that whether students join a service organization, go to school or find a job in the Twin Cities, “the key is to be real.”
“Sometimes when people say, ‘what I really need is a real job,’ what they are saying is that they somehow feel like they have to conform to the pressures that say, ‘get on that treadmill and just go through the motions,’” he said.
Instead of accepting this mindset, he said, “make sure whatever decision you’re making flows from your identity and who you are as a person.” For some Gustavus students that decision will lead to a “real job,” while for others, it will lead to service and volunteerism.
“The way I see it, we’ll have the rest of our lives to be in the workforce,” Ryan said. “Students should at least look into the wide variety of non-traditional post-Gustavus opportunities and see if one of the many programs could be a fit.”