In mid-February, we are just beginning the process of speaking to admitted students who have yet to decide where they will attend in the fall. These are students whose higher-education experience hasnít even started and they are looking forward to it with great anticipation. But it's still not a bad time to think about life after the UVM experience is over, about careers and professional and graduate school. After all, this matter is on students' minds. The 2012 CIRP Freshman Survey, based on responses of nearly 200,000 full-time students at over 280 four-year colleges, reveals that 88% of the first-year class says that "to be able to get a better job" is a very important reason for attending college. This proportion is at an all-time high for the survey, well above the 68% figure in 1976.
This widespread feeling about the job benefits of a higher education acknowledges the fact that college-educated students have substantially higher lifetime earnings than do those who don't attend college. This is true whatever the state of the economy. But the feeling also reflects anxiety about jobs, even for college graduates, in the wake of a difficult recovery from a serious economic recession. So, students are looking for guidance during college towards a successful life after graduation. What can we, in an academic college such as the Honors College, sitting outside the career center, do to help?
First, we should understand that there is no need to rush to the nitty-gritty of job search. But there is a need for students to be mindful of what will eventually make for a successful life after UVM and to work to accomplish those things in each of their four years on and off campus. It turns out that among the very best things for job or graduate-school success is academic success. Employers want from job applicants what professors want from their students: hard work and determination, reflected in good grades; knowledge of a wide variety of disciplines; the abilities to communicate well, reason carefully, solve problems, and collaborate with others; and the development of the maturity to be an active and self-responsible learner. In the Honors College, the focus of our entire curricular plan is to build these competencies and we encourage and support students as they pursue them.
Second, we can help students by encouraging them to take part in what is called experiential learning. These are activities in which students are able to apply, extend, and test their knowledge and can occur in a variety of settings. Students can take part in mentored research, scholarship, or creative activities; apply their classroom knowledge in communities outside the university; learn from academic experiences abroad; or work as interns. In all of these cases the learning is enhanced by academic reflection during or after the experience. Here, too, what's good for academics is good for careers and graduate school. Research shows that experiential opportunities enhance greatly student learning outcomes. They are valued and, in many cases are essential, for job success or application to graduate or professional school. So we can help by bolstering the number, variety, and academic content of opportunities for experiential learning such as internships, undergraduate research, service learning, and study abroad. Promoting undergraduate research at UVM is a key activity of the Honors College. We were given a $500,000 gift last year by the family of Rob and Carolyn Brennan to build our program of summer research fellowships. Undergraduate research also prepares students for our thesis requirement. We encourage service learning among our students and help students fit it and study abroad into their schedules. In a recent initiative, our students have begun to tutor young learners at nearby Edmunds Elementary School.
This considerations lead to the third point. For many students, the connection between academic direction and career possibilities is unclear. It is one thing to be a math major. It's another thing to know how that major choice relates to a satisfying career. Experiential learning opportunities can help. In them, students can learn what areas in which they exercise their skills and apply their knowledge feel rewarding. But we also need to provide other avenues, inside and outside the classroom, for students to explore how their emerging interests relate to possible careers or lead to further education. The Honors College has been providing such an opportunity with its Professional Development Forum (PDF), which has helped students understand the transition between study and possible career paths, as well as matching students with two UVM alums in their fields of interest. This successful program has been run by Brit Chase. In the future, Honors College students will receive support from an enhancement and deepening of the UVM's overall career success effort, with new initiatives to be launched later this spring.
With solid academic success, experience in applying their learning outside the classroom, and exploration of potential career paths behind them, students are ready to take practical steps towards succeeding in life after UVM. Here is where UVM's Career Services office can help, involving students in the activities traditionally associated with career preparation: networking, interviewing, writing cover letters, and other aspects of the job search. But it should be clear that a successful life after UVM depends on much more than this and that the Honors College can help students along the way.
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