Before You Commit to a Graduate Program…

There has been a lot of news in the past few years about how some universities don’t do enough to help students get jobs after graduation. While there are some really supportive graduate programs and amazing career centers, there are also many schools who don’t do enough to help students access opportunities. This has always baffled me. The more that a college can help students prepare for post-graduation life, the more likely those students will be able to pay for loans, and the more likely those students will be willing (and able) to donate.

So, if you are thinking of going back to graduate school, here are a few things to check first for each school you are considering. It will take a bit of extra work on your part, but do you really want to go to a school that doesn’t care enough to support your career goals?

1.       Do they have an online career center presence?

Google career services to see if they have an online career site. If they do, you may have to be a student to get past a certain point, but you want to make sure the site exists and looks like it has been updated in the past six months or so.  

2.       Do they have a dedicated career team for graduate students?

 Ideally, you want to make sure that the school has services targeted to your degree. Call them and ask what services they have for graduate students in your field. They should:

a.       have more than one person on staff for appointments (keep in mind if there is only one person and they quit, then those services temporarily disappear). That said, if it’s a very small program, they may only have one person on staff.

b.       have hours that work with your schedule where you can meet with someone in person or via phone and review your cover letter, resume (or CV), prepare for interviews and help you set job search strategies.

c.       have an online job site and active employers (relevant to your career interests) that come to the school to recruit graduate students in your field. If you are in a very specialized program, this isn’t always possible.

d.       have networking and/or employer events targeted to graduate students. Ask the office for a list of events that they had in the past six months.

e.       have career counseling services available for alumni. Sometimes this is outsourced or provided through the alumni office. 

3.       Do they have any statistics on full-time job placement rates for your program?

 It may not be possible to get this, but I figure it couldn’t hurt to ask. If they do have statistics on this, try to drill down a bit. Were the students who got jobs placed in a position related to your field of study? For example, did special education graduates become teachers or office managers?

4.      Do they have an active and supportive alumni network? 

Once you speak with the career center, check out if there is an active alumni association that you can connect with as a graduate student and as an alumnus. Once you look online, email the association and ask:

a.       about the career, networking and online events they have had recently (see if you can get a calendar of past and upcoming events). If so, where were those events held? If you are planning to move to San Francisco after graduation and there is no alumni presence in California, that may impact your decision.

b.       if they have a job board for experienced alumni (nice to have but not necessary).

c.       if they have an active online networking system for alumni.

5.       Can you speak with current students and alumni?


a.       what they think of the career services offered.

b.       if they thought they were able to access relevant job through the school.

c.       if the school had dedicated recruiting and networking opportunities with employers.

d.       what additional career and job support they would like to see.

 I am absolutely biased, but I believe you can tell whether a school values students based on the career services they offer. If the services feel like an afterthought, then chances are you as a student are also an afterthought. You want to be a part of a university that cares about you and your future success.

How can I get a job if I don’t know what I want to do with my life?

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