As the spring semester nears and USC seniors prepare for graduation, the lagging economy has led many job-seeking students to modify their post-grad plans. Some have dodged the career hunt entirely, favoring graduate school as an option to duck out of the real world until the market improves.
During times of economic instability, many students who have recently earned a valuable bachelor’s degree will dive back into academia for a master’s degree and safe haven.
Students who advocate for this investment in education have a valid argument; those discouraged by sparse employment prospects might build their skills and then re-enter the job market when the economy strengthens. Seniors must not be too hasty to rely on further education as the solution, however, because not all career paths will benefit from an additional degree.
Rather than return to college and become prisoners to additional student loans, it might be more prudent for students to recast their career expectations and continue applying for jobs. By widening their pool of prospects to include various industries and types of positions, students can bolster their ability to secure a job.
“It started off as desperation,” said Nikki Ryu, a senior majoring in business administration, of her decision to apply for positions in finance, management and education. “But it has turned into an opportunity to open different doors that I didn’t know were there.”
Ryu said she submitted a résumé to every listing for which she was qualified on USC’s On Campus Recruiting website. She has already received one job offer, and continues to interview for others as she awaits the outcome of her application to Teach For America, a non-profit that recruits recent college graduates to teach in various low-income communities as part of a two-year program.
This method of starting one’s career in a role a student might not have considered originally is becoming more common. Students might apply a bachelor’s degree in engineering to operations management, or a background in journalism to an advertising agency. Blair Jason, a senior majoring in international business and Chinese, had an internship experience based in entertainment, yet said she found it valuable to restrategize during the job hunt.
“Entertainment doesn’t pay well and their focus is not the same as mine. Then I applied for consulting jobs but they want students with an IT background,” said Jason, who recently accepted an offer to join British Petroleum’s rotational program. “I just became open to anything where I could pursue and develop a career. And BP was the choice.”
Students might consider alternative career paths not only to secure a first job, but also to determine the effectiveness of different degrees. Students working first jobs in an industry with which they are relatively unfamiliar have the opportunity to observe which graduate degrees prove most successful for earning increased pay or as a link to an ideal career.
Although some master’s degrees are required for professions, such as medicine and law, most professionals must use their discretion in deciding whether a second or third degree will make a significant impact on their desired career path.
Some factors to consider when choosing a graduate program include whether alumni have earned increased pay or opportunities for upward mobility. Ultimately though, students must decide whether the cost of an additional degree will result in equal or greater value added to their careers and long-term goals.
“I think it’ll be a matter of whether it makes sense in the career path I choose to follow,” said Ryu, when asked about her post-USC options after returning home from a final-round interview with a San Francisco bank. “I hope to go to grad school at some point — it’ll just be a matter of the opportunity and the time.”
For now, Ryu said she will consider employment in a diverse range of industries. She said that although pursuing multiple paths made her nervous, “casting the net really wide has helped me learn about myself, and help me learn about other opportunities that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”
Scouring for jobs amid the recession requires boldness and persistence. And whether students continue the quest or apply to graduate school instead, all can benefit from a broadened view of how to apply their educations.
“My vision of what I can do with a theatre degree has really expanded,” said Shaheed Sabrin, a senior majoring in theatre and minoring in entrepreneurship. “My preferences would be directing and acting, but through the career fair, I came to realize that there are other opportunities for me even if they are not labeled as acting. I can be a spokesperson, or a sports journalist. So I’m not limiting myself.”
Kelsey Clark is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism.