Career Center must expand

Friday, Feb. 7, I gave a presentation to the Board of Trustees about the need to support new initiatives in the Career Center that maximize the way it supports students. The ideas I presented came from the hard work of many professionals within the Career Center who had listened to students and had thought diligently about how to best meet the needs of today’s Tufts students. The suggestions also came from students I had talked to who had expressed frustration about the internship grant process and about getting an appointment with a career counselor. I met at length with Jean Papalia and Donna Esposito in the Center and I believe that the plan we created will maximize support for students’ unique needs and would set Tufts on the cutting edge of universities in preparing its students for entering the working world.

During my time at Tufts, I have found that most if not every student wants to do an internship related to their career interests. Eighty-five percent of Tufts students have had at least one internship before graduation. Students know that, in a competitive job market, internship experience is one of the most powerful pathways into employment.

Nationally, somewhere between one third and one-half of all internships are unpaid. Likewise, 40 percent of Tufts students’ internships offer no compensation. To ameliorate this financial burden, Tufts offers 40-45 internship grants to students who will not be paid for their summer work. The grant application process is competitive with a deadline in late March. There are a number of challenges with this model. First, 45 grants are not enough to match students’ needs. Also, many students do not hear back from employers before the March deadline, thus disqualifying them from applying for the grants. Even with these challenges, the Career Center receives more than 100 applications for the internship grants and has to turn away over half of all applicants.

With the increasingly mandatory nature of internships, this seems unfair. Tufts must support its students to gain meaningful work experience that jumpstarts their careers, especially those students that need financial assistance. Students whose parents or guardians have the financial means to accommodate an unpaid internship should not be at an advantage for gaining this experience. We need funding for all students on financial aid who wish to work an unpaid internship for the summer. Equalizing the playing field allows Tufts students to succeed, no matter their financial background. I have heard stories of students who would not even apply to full-time unpaid internship programs, because they knew that they would not be able to financially support the experience. I know others who worked nights and weekends to support themselves, in addition to working full time at an internship.

Simply stated, we need more internship grants. We need a system that allows all students on financial aid to be eligible to receive one internship grant to support an otherwise unpaid summer internship. In the proposed system, students would be able to receive this funding after meeting a set of prerequisites, including attending an internship prep course or workshops offered by the Career Center. These classes could cover topics ranging from narrowing in on a career field to writing cover letters and resumes. The workshops equip students with the tools that they need to search for and land an internship. With more funding there would be greater flexibility in deadlines, making grants much more accessible to students who need them the most.

In order to support this plan, it is imperative that we hire more employees within the Career Center. Williams College is half our size, yet has roughly the same number of career counselors that we do. Tufts is falling behind many of our peer institutions in the ratio of career counselors to undergraduate students. Having more counselors will allow the Career Center to match the increasing demand among first and second year Tufts students. This past year, there was double the amount of consults with first and second year students as there were even five years ago. The greater desire for meetings among younger students means that there are fewer meeting times for juniors and seniors. The wait time for a one-on-one consultation averages around three weeks. When you have an application deadline in two weeks and you want someone to look over your resum? beforehand, this system is failing you. Hiring professionals focused on targeting first and second year students would address their unique needs and would allow for greater specialization for juniors and seniors. Instead of providing general support, career counselors would be able to be sector-specific coaches, with counselors specializing in a particular career field.

At my meeting, the trustees spent a considerable amount of time discussing the need to change the Career Center to reflect the reality of the 21st century, and discussed the possibility of online work and group meetings. While I think this is valid, it does not apply to the student who wants someone to look over his resume or wants specific advice based on his experiences. Students still desire the one-on-one connections with career professionals. They also want connections with alums. The Alumni Association made clear that alums overwhelmingly want to support students trying to navigate the job and internship markets. We should capitalize on this convergence of interests and facilitate more interactions and mentorship possibilities between students and alumni.12