Have you been to the Career Center recently?
With job deadlines swiftly approaching, many Washington University seniors are rushing to the Career Center for guidance—and for some students, this visit will be their first in four years. How is that possible, you ask?
Many people simply don’t see the benefit of going. In fact, several students, from freshmen to seniors, believe that our career services don’t measure up to those of other top-tier universities. But is this because our Career Center is truly lacking, or are students simply unaware of all the resources available?
Mark Smith, assistant vice chancellor and director of the Career Center, has actually noticed a dramatic increase in student involvement in various career-oriented events over the past several years. The Career Center scheduled a total of 1,500 individual counseling sessions in 2005, according to Smith, but last year it scheduled around 9,000. At a recent New York City networking reception (which the Career Center holds in major cities every year during winter and summer breaks), 300 students participated—200 more than expected.
Despite these numbers, however, the fact remains that many students are not satisfied: Junior Marley Teter has been to the Career Center only once for an advising appointment, but she was disappointed. Teter said, “They didn’t have much to offer me as a theater major.”
Similarly, senior Julia Smythe of the Sam Fox School complained of a lack of companies representing the design, animation and visual arts fields.
Like Teter and Smythe, some students feel the Career Center needs to focus on the needs of students across all disciplines, rather than spending so much energy on students interested in fields like consulting and finance. Smith recognizes that companies such as McKinsey and Goldman Sachs are major players on campus but said that the Career Center tries hard to represent the interests of all students.
“We do a lot of surveys to take away some of the guesswork when we bring in new companies,” he said. “We try to figure out what students want.”
After recent surveys indicated a growing interest in non-profit organizations and NGO and international companies, Smith made sure to bring representatives from companies like the Clinton Foundation, Amnesty International and the Guggenheim Foundation to the career fair held several weeks ago.
“We want to help students no matter what they want to do,” Smith said, “but the fact is that there are some employers that are more likely to come on campus than others because they have the resources to do more entry-level hiring.”
It seems that most students who believe the Career Center is inadequate simply aren’t aware of all that is offered. Senior Suzan Sim had never been to the Career Center before.
“I just never thought they’d be helpful,” she said. “Now that I’m a senior, I feel the pressure to go, but otherwise I wouldn’t really have considered it.”
But after learning more about some of the programs available, Sim admits that she feels she missed out.
“If I had known they were doing all these things, I definitely would have been more likely to go before,” she said.
After sophomore T.J. Morgan visited the Career Center for the first time this week, he explained that he wasn’t sure how helpful it would be for him.
“I always just assumed it was something that you do later, like as a senior, to get ready for jobs and stuff,” Morgan said. “I don’t know what they can really offer younger students.”
But after learning more about some of the resources, Morgan, like Sim, also feels he has missed a lot of opportunities.
“I would have liked to go to some of the things designed specifically for sophomores, but I didn’t even know about it,” he said.
Even if you are unsure of what you want to pursue, the Career Center can help. The center provide various kinds of testing for students to help them discover what their talents and skills are or what industries would be the best fits for them.
“I think some students kind of shy away from coming in [to the Career Center] because they don’t have a real direction, so they assume that there’s nothing we can do. But we can always do something, we can help them figure it out,” Smith said.
A graduate of Harvard University, Smith believes that Washington University’s career services are actually better than those of most of the Ivy League schools. The University’s Career Center emphasizes individual counseling, a resource that many Ivy League students do not have access to.
“We have more counselors than Harvard and several of the other top schools,” Smith said. “Most of the Ivies do counseling in big programs, so a career counselor will just lecture to a large group of students. But I find it is much more helpful to have one-on-one conversations with students.”
Some of the Ivy League schools, according to Smith, have a slight advantage because more employers visit their campuses. But Wash. U.’s Career Center is working hard to level the playing field.
“We’re really trying to build up our brand and sell Wash. U. to employers,” Smith said.
He has compiled pamphlets of information to give to employers, explaining the quality of a Wash. U. education in comparison to other, better-known schools. He explained that employers need time to catch up to Wash. U.’s rise in the rankings before we start seeing as many companies on campus as Princeton, Yale or Harvard. Aside from talking to employers and trying to bring more companies to campus, the Career Center is always working on new programs to help students. The stipend program, started just a few years ago, has grown dramatically. Smith hopes to keep this program running strong.
“The Career Center gave out about $150,000 last year [in internship stipends]. I really want to keep that growing and take it to the next level,” he said.
The Career Center hosts interview and résumé workshops, as well as employer information sessions on a weekly basis. The center has various programs designed specifically for freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors, and tailored to their individual needs. They also host several shadowing and mentoring programs to promote alumni-student relationships across all fields, as well as off-campus trips to visit industry-specific companies in major cities like New York, Washington and Chicago.
“I know it’s frustrating for students that the onus really falls on them, but that’s the way it has to be,” Smith said.
Students have to be the ones to take action and find out what the Career Center has to offer.
“My message to everyone would be: You just have to give us a chance,” Smith said. “I really believe it’s worth it.”