February 27, 2002

Life After Graduation; Seniors Look Ahead

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With less than three months left before graduation, members of the Class of 2002 are preparing themselves for the real world.

Amidst dire portrayals of perhaps the worst job market in the past decade, many seniors are currently solidifying their plans for post graduation, plans that seem to defy the norms created during the stock market bull run and dot.com phenomenon which lured many recent graduates into the job market.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), graduating college seniors are competing for fewer and lower paying jobs. A recent NACE press release reported that, nationally, college hiring is down 20 percent from last year.

A decrease in recruitment of college seniors presents a major sign that there are fewer jobs available.

“[On campus] recruitment — a general indicator of the market — has dropped back to par with early 90’s. Schedules are even lower,” said Karin Ash, Ph.D. ’99, Director of Cornell Career Services (CCS). A schedule marks a series of twelve interviews that a company recruiter performs during a campus visit.

“We haven’t dropped drastically in number of companies [recruiting] but in the number of schedules,” she added. “Other indicators of a different market are increases in calls from recent alumni who have lost jobs … and a number of rescinded job offers, an increase larger than I’ve ever seen, though it only affects a small number of students.”

Partially in response to the recession and constricting job market, many seniors are choosing to pursue interests that they might have decided against had recruiters been offering huge signing bonuses as is common during periods of an economic upswing. Many graduating seniors have applied to graduate, law or medical schools or have applied to organizations such as Teach for America (TFA), the Peace Corps or Americorps as another alternative.

Other students have chosen to work for smaller to mid-size companies in their area of interest. Several seniors also report plans to travel after graduation, while those still intending to secure a career will take on the job hunt as a full-time commitment after graduation.

“Here we have an economy that’s definitely less favorable than in past years … In some ways, it’s good that people are looking more broadly than in years when the economy [was better]. In these times of recession we have to be open to more ideas, whether non-profits, the government or even smaller to mid-size businesses,” said Bill Alberta, MS ’77, associate director for Information Services at CCS.

According to Ash, there has been an increase in senior applications to graduate, law and medical schools. Many students apply to graduate school to defer entry in the job market and to make themselves more marketable upon graduation.

Exact figures indicating how many seniors applied to graduate schools from the Class of 2002 will not be available for several months. However, Jane Levy, associate director of CCS, explained that law school admission offices can predict increases in the applicant pool by referring to the large turnouts for the LSAT exam in the past year.

Test administrators saw a 19 percent increase in June test-takers from last year, at least a 23 percent increase in October — with October typically having the largest number of takers — and a 26.3 percent increase in December, the largest rise in the last decade. These statistics refer to all test-takers, not just graduating seniors, indicating that many recent graduates are choosing to return to school, perhaps because of the unstable job market, according to Levy.

Mark Greenbaum ’02, a political science major, plans on entering law school next year, partially in response to the current recession.

“I’ve always loved law and I think you should always try to do things that interest you,” Greenbaum said.

He considers the period he will spend in law school to be a “hibernation … after which the sky is bright, the sun is shining and the job market is better. I want to go to law school to avoid graduating school for three years.”

With law school applications rolling, Greenbaum should know if he has been accepted to his top choices — Columbia and Cornell — in the next few weeks.

Greenbaum reminisced about his undergraduate years and advises underclassmen, “you’ve got to enjoy it while you’re here. I wish I could stay.”

Rotem Ayalon ’02, majoring in agricultural and biological engineering, is postponing graduate school and a career in engineering. Instead, she committed to work for Teach for America, a national organization that places recent college graduates in urban and rural public schools.

“I study engineering but I’m not ready to become an engineer. I toyed with the idea of the Peace Corps but decided Teach for America was best for me because I enjoyed teaching.” Ayalon currently participates in the Roots and Shoots program in Ithaca, an organization involved in environmental education.

“I decided I wanted to help out in the U.S., help people that aren’t as lucky as me in my own country,” Ayalon added.

In ranking possible TFA placements, Ayalon sought locations far from Ithaca. TFA has placed her in Rio Grande, TX, her second choice, an area that is 97 percent Spanish speaking. Ayalon expressed her excitement as this program offers the opportunity to explore a different culture and improve her Spanish.

Despite such claims from classmates, the recession did not have a significant affect on Ayalon’s decision to enter TFA. “Personally, [the recession] didn’t affect me … I actually got to the final rounds of interviews but chose not to start working now.”

After she has fulfilled her two year commitment with TFA, Ayalon hopes to pursue further education and then enter the job market.

Speaking of the benefits of TFA, Ayalon said, “you get a great training as a teacher, deferment of loans and a great support system in a [solid] organization. They help you go to grad. school or to pay back loans.”

According to the CCS office, volunteer organizations such as Teach for America and Americorps — domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps — attract students by offering financial assistance to participants.

“Students’ loans are often suspended while they are in, or in other cases, as with Americorps, loans will be forgiven or money offered for graduate school,” Alberta noted.

Ayalon’s classmate Ed Salib ’02, majoring in applied economics and management, has already secured a position as an equity research associate, working for Times Square Capital Management, a subsidiary of CIGNA.

Salib said he believes the job offer, “relates to preparation.” Beginning his career planning early, Salib had an externship with Times Square Capital Management during the winter recess of his junior year which led to an internship this past summer. He continued to interview this year on campus with several other companies but in the end accepted the offer from the company where he had experience.

He advises students in the process of searching for jobs to, “get to know the employer, contact recruiters, current employees, alumni.”

“In financial services, [companies] want educated people but they want to keep [their employees],” Salib noted.

Therefore, Salib plans on pursuing his education beyond his bachelor’s degree after working in the business world for a few years, possibly completing a program which his employer offers.

Mikush Schwam-Baird ’02, a College Scholar in the College of Arts and Sciences, represents the group of seniors that
have yet to confirm their plans for after graduation.

“I’m committed to working in social/environmental justice but whether that means working on prisons, poverty, anti-war issues, civil rights, traditional environmental conservation or something else I’m not sure. I am interviewing with an organization called Green Corps which trains people in environmental organizing and activism, but that’s all up in the air.” Non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) also provide a possibility for post-graduate options.

“Eventually, I plan on going back to school but first I want to see which of these issues moves me the most to work on. Maybe I’ll study development, political economy, government, education, who knows. I’m also thinking a lot about social justice law — law school — somewhere down the line,” he added. “That is, of course, if the novels don’t sell well.”

“The past two to three years have been boom years. A lot of our seniors and juniors think the [job market] situation is unfair but we’re just coming off high years that have been more the exception than the rule,” noted Amy Benedict-Augustine, Director of Career Development at the CALS Office of Academic Programs.

“It’s important for students to remain optimistic, to look at this as a treasure hunt, rather than taking a defeatist attitude … Students do need to put 30-40 hours a week into a job search if they’re serious. They can also look at it as exciting because there are so many different opportunities they don’t know exist, that until they begin researching and making connections they’ll never know about … However, you can’t sit home by the mailbox and work only on the Internet,” Ash added.

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