As college prices rise and the unemployment level of college graduates remains at usually high levels, many parents and students are asking more questions about what a degree from a specific college will do for them after graduation. Too many of today’s college students are drifting and
struggling to launch after graduation.
That’s why we need more programs that blend the transition between college and the workforce, ideas like AmeriCorps, Teach for America, Venture for America, and hundreds of other
employment experiences and fellowships that give students a chance to work in a structured environment alongside adults of all ages.
I had such an opportunity the summer after graduating from Ithaca College in 1995: a Pulliam Journalism Fellowship at The Arizona Republic in Phoenix. It’s where I received some of the best
advice from seasoned reporters and editors to launch my career.
At the time, the fellowship brought together a group of recent college graduates from all over the country to work as reporters at the two daily newspapers (the city only has one now). We were expected to contribute just like any other reporter in the newsroom. I worked on the business desk, and had the opportunity to fill a void covering technology. This was 1995, and the Internet and World Wide Web were just entering our daily vocabulary. I had a chance to write articles on everything from the growth of Internet cafes to a short profile of Steve Ballmer of Microsoft fame.
But we were also treated as students still learning our way in a business. We had regular sessions with a writing coach and were treated to a series of guest lectures from some of the country’s best-known journalists. And because we were working alongside adults –and doing a real job, not
just making copies – we had plenty of opportunities to get advice about what to do and where to go after our three-month gig was over.
My focus until that point had been all about work and career. It was during that summer that I learned balance in life is important. The advice came from Clint Williams, an editor at the paper. Near the end of the summer, many of the fellows were figuring out where to focus our job search or weighing job offers.
Many of us didn’t know what to do next. What would make us happy?
Clint had a rule of thirds for happiness in life. He told me to ask three questions: Are you happy with your job? Are you happy where you live? Are you happy who you’re with (depending on your circumstances that could mean friends, spouse, partner, etc). If you answer Yes to at least two out of three, you found your spot for the moment. If not, you need to make a change to one of them.
The advice brought clarity to a decision about whether to accept a job in southern Pennsylvania or the coast of North Carolina. I chose Wilmington, North Carolina (for the job and the location) and I haven’t looked back since.
I’ve asked those three questions many times since that summer of 1995, especially when confronted with job offers, opportunities to move cities, or just when I need a reality check. Indeed, they are good questions to ask every so often as a mental check-up.
It’s also a piece of advice I give to interns. So much of the college experience these days is seen as a transaction--an education in return for a job--that recent graduates often lost sight of the fact that there are other factors to consider in life. For example, many of the interns I’ve met in my time in Washington, D.C. want to start their career here. I always encourage them to explore
other cities and regions of the country. The question about whether you're happy with where you live is sometimes difficult to answer if you only experienced the nation’s capital.
There is much a recent college graduate can learn about life in those critical months after commencement, and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity for help in launching my career alongside reporters and editors, doing substantive work, and getting good advice. Photo: gui jun peng/Shutterstock
Jeffrey Selingo is editor at large at The Chronicle of Higher Education and author of the forthcoming book, College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students, scheduled for release on May 7. Sign up for updates on the book here and receive a free
PDF workbook, Making the College Decision, a perfect way to get a head start on College (Un)Bound for students, parents, and counselors.