Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Graduate School

Top 5 Tips for Graduate School Seeking Seniors

Many students mistakenly believe the OPCD is not able to help them if they are interested in graduate or professional school. However, we actually have a lot of information and resources to help students navigate the path from college to career, including graduate school! We work closely with the faculty who advise students considering attending graduate school for medicine and pre-health professions, law, business, divinity as well as many other academic paths. Today, we offer the top 5 tips for seniors seeking graduate or professional school.

1.  Meet with the Appropriate Adviser

Since the preparatory process for applying to different graduate programs is so unique, meet with the appropriate advisers to learn more about specific timelines and steps you should be taking right now. They will provide advice tailored to your specific needs and situation.

2.  Update and Tailor Your Resume and Professional Documents

Resumespersonal statements, and other documents for graduate programs are subtly different than those for the world of work. Ensure you are emphasizing the characteristics that make you an attractive graduate school candidate by visiting the OPCD (Reynolda 230) during resume review hours (Mon-Thurs 2:00pm-4:00pm, Friday 10:00am-12:00pm and 1:00pm-3:00pm) to have these documents reviewed.

3.  Figure out Finances

Graduate school is not cheap. Remember that in addition to tuition, there are many other costs associated with graduate school. Thoroughly research all of the costs of attendance and the methods you may pursue to afford the degree. Research potential scholarships, work-study opportunities, assistant positions, and available student loans in order make this investment in your future possible.

4.  Obtain Letters of Recommendation

Every graduate program will ask for recommendations from professors and professional contacts. Connect with your recommenders early to allow them the time they need to write a strong, positive recommendation. Remember that you will not be the only one asking for recommendation letters, so request them early to ensure you have your letters by the necessary deadlines. Don’t forget to include materials they may need to write a recommendation such as your resume or a letter of interest stating why you would like to attend a particular program.

5.  Prepare for Your Interviews

Prepare for your interview by researching the program thoroughly and scheduling a mock interview. Search websites such as Petersons.com or the program’s webpage in addition to discussing the program with Wake Forest alumni and your professors in order to receive additional information and advice to help you prepare for your interview. Also, attend the Graduate & Professional School Day on November 7th from 10:00AM – 1:00PM in Benson 401 to meet with representatives from the different schools to which you may have applied. Furthermore, schedule amock interview to practice your interviewing skills and receive constructive feedback on ways to succeed.

New Passport for Career Success

There is a quote by Winston Churchill that one of my staffers often references: “Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” These powerful words explains a truism about our professional life that we often overlook. Fundamentally, our career journey is just that – a journey.

We truly do not know where our career journey will take us. It is increasingly common for professionals to not only move from organization to organization, but across job functions, industries and careers as well. The Bureau for Labor Statistics reports that the average number of jobs held by Baby Boomers in their working lifetime was 11; we can assume that this number will only increase with the Millennial generation. In line with this theme of a career journey, the OPCD developed a brand new and unique resource for students this year – our Career Passport.

The Career Passport details the most important steps students should undertake each year in order to achieve successful career results at the end of their college experience, whether they attend graduate school or secure a full-time job. Much of the research regarding the Millennial generation states that they are planners; they love to check off the boxes and track their progress to ensure they are on course for various objectives. As a result, we have provided start and completion dates for each of the action steps to insure that students know what they need to accomplish and by when.

At the First-Year orientation program, we distributed the Career Passport to all 1,357 new students, which they really appreciated.  One student commented, “It’s adorable!” which we hope means she won’t ever lose it. The Career Passport encourages students to begin reflecting on their career journey early in their college experience. For first and second year students, we recommend that they take self-assessments, gather career information through a variety of sources and channels, and find internships to begin exploring and understanding the world of work as well as their own personal interests, values and strengths. During the first two years, we are equipping students with the information to make well thought-out decisions in their remaining two years, when the stakes are more significant. As I like to say, “An informed decision is a good decision.”

In their junior and senior year, students develop and execute a personal career action plan depending on their career interests and personal capabilities and circumstances. This involves refining interview skills, leveraging existing relationships to form new networking contacts, and applying for job and internship openings listed both in DeaconSource and other job sites. In addition, the Career Passport helps your student prepare for future, post-graduate job searches.

When preparing for an international journey, there are numerous items on your packing list: your phone charger, adapters, medications, foreign currency, etc. But there is one item that is absolutely necessary in order to even board the plane: your passport. The OPCD Career Passport is equally essential to students at any point of their career journey at Wake Forest. Encourage your students to consult our Career Passport in order to thoughtfully and intentionally prepare for their career journey during and after their time at Wake Forest.

Internships for pre-meds

Dear Andy,

I have seen a great improvement in career services over the last year and really appreciate your team’s efforts. My daughter is a junior pre-med and has been looking for an opportunity for the summer.  She seems to be having a difficult time finding an opportunity to match a
pre-med student’s needs.  Should she apply for any internship rather than none at all?  Is there a database of internships for pre-meds?

– A Pre-Med’s Dad

Dear P.M.D.,

There are several resources that your daughter should be actively using:

  1. She should contact Professor Pat Lord to get onto the listserv for pre-health/pre-med students.  Then, she will be kept informed about important pre-med news and information.
  2. She should also meet with Dr. Lord once she returns to campus during spring semester.  Dr. Lord can discuss summer opportunities as well her overall strategy and plan for applying to medical schools, including letters of recommendation.
  3. A helpful website listing hundreds of co-op and internship opportunities for pre-med students and students interested in biomedical research: http://people.rit.edu/gtfsbi/Symp/premed.htm
  4. Many universities run summer research programs for undergraduates.  While some of these programs are intended to introduce students to PhD programs, many of them are relevant for and open to the pre-med student.  A link to a list of such programs is here – http://www.the-aps.org/education/ugsrf/sumreslinks.htm
  5. By meeting with a career counselor in the Office of Career Services, she will be introduced to a variety of databases and other sources that would have opportunities that fit her interests.  UCAN and internships.com have many internship and volunteer opportunities for students interested in medicine.

If you daughter proactively engages with the many resources available, she should be able to find an internship that will help her learn more about medical careers and enhance her potential application.  If she is serious about medical school, it is important for her to find a valuable, worthwhile internship.

Microsoft or Teach For America?

Dear Andy,

My daughter is a senior in college. She is a business major and is deciding between 2 job offers…..one is with Microsoft in their finance dept. It seems like a well structured job that would rotate her through 4 different areas and give her a lot of exposure to different areas of finance. It seems like a very good, fairly traditional job.

The other opportunity is Teach for America. Obviously a very different type of job.

The question for you is if her ultimate goal is bschool, law school  or other grad school, do you think one or the other is a better choice?

This is clearly not the major deciding factor, but I’m interested in knowing how these two very different experiences would be viewed by graduate schools.

Andy’s answer:

She’s has two good options: Finance rotational at Microsoft or Teach for America.  In general, she won’t go wrong with either one.

Law schools tend to evaluate candidates primarily on GPA and LSAT test scores.  Of course, good recommendations and essays are important – but I assume that’s a given.  What she does between college and applying to law school should not make that much of a difference in her application (given her two options).  If she wasn’t certain about her desire to go to law school, she should consider working as a paralegal or with the legal counsel in a corporation to help her decide if she really wanted to be a lawyer.

I find that this is the ultimate issue for most young adults regarding law school.  So many smart people apply and attend without really knowing why. I wish that they would ask themselves these questions before starting an application: “Do I understand what the life and career of a lawyer really is? Is it life and career I desire? Do I understand the career options of a lawyer upon graduation?  Are they options that I desire?  Do I understand that if I do not excel in law school that my job search will be VERY challenging – whether I want to be a lawyer or not?”  (Actually, these questions could apply to most graduate school options, but are especially relevant to law school because the schools have so many students, the students are often inexperienced, and the legal job market is tight).

Graduate schools are pretty similar as law schools in their evaluation process.  However, given that she studied business as an undergrad and worked in finance at Microsoft, I wonder how strong her application would be for the graduate school in ______ (psych, public policy, etc…).  Her experience may be more applicable to graduate school if she wanted to go to grad school in Education after working for Teach For America.  Or if she wanted her Masters in Finance or MBA after working for Microsoft in Finance.  The answer to this question is a bit more nuanced depending on what type of graduate school she is considering.

Many of the students at the most selective business schools (e.g. Stanford, HBS) tend to have multiple experiences at good and/or well-known organizations (business + non-profit, e.g. Teach For America, NGO, international development, Congress).  So if she wants a shot to get into one of these schools, she will probably want to consider another contrasting work experience before she applies to business school. In this case, either option is good.

If she’s considering other b-schools or is not inclined to get another job, then either Microsoft or TFA are both good options.  Given her undergrad business school education, she probably knows enough about business to decide if that’s her ultimate career path.  If she had a different undergraduate major, I might suggest that she take the Microsoft job so that she could learn ‘business’ and determine if she really wants to go to graduate business school.

As you can see, I can’t offer a concrete answer that one is significantly better than the other. They are both good options – and the right one for her likely depends on your daughter’s experience, preferences and future vision.

Pre-Med isn’t for everyone

Each year, about 30% of the incoming class indicates that they are a Pre-Med.  After four years, only 5% actually end up going to medical school.  Along the way, these “Post Pre-Meds” must re-set their career direction – and possibly have difficult conversations with their parents.

Meredith Smith had dreamed of being a doctor since she was three years old.  She and her parents assumed that it was the only option when she entered Wake Forest in 2006.  Meredith soon learned that chemistry and biology in college was very different than in high school; and she needed to find a new direction.

In my interview with Meredith, she shares her journey from Pre-Med to Communications and German; to great marketing and public relations internships; to the summer business management program; to becoming a Wake Forest Fellow working with the Office for Personal and Career Development.  She has built a solid foundation for her business career.  Meredith_Smith_32k

It’s OK if your student learns that they’ve lost interest in being a doctor.  With the help of the career office, professors and many others around campus, your student can find other interests, passions and career directions.

Help them by accepting their decision and supporting them through their transition.  By moving through this transition quickly, they can begin exploring new options as soon as they are ready.

Dear Mom and Dad

Dear Mom and Dad,
Graduation is just around the corner and I am looking forward to seeing you! Before you arrive, I was thinking about all the questions you’re probably going to ask me and my friends. I realized that some of these questions might cause some uncomfortable moments, so I wanted to answer your questions before you get here (then you don’t have to ask them when you’re here!). Based on my answers, you can probably figure out what the questions are.

1) No, I don’t have a job.

2) Well, the job market is really bad. The media isn’t exaggerating. Now, I know I could have started my job search earlier and I have been networking a lot. The CMC director (who totally rocks, by the way) told me that companies didn’t really started conducting serious interviews until April. Before then, most companies were laying off people and had hiring freezes. Plus, I had to complete my graduation requirements. It would have been a disaster if I didn’t graduate AND didn’t have a job.

3) Don’t worry. I am not alone. About 30% of my class hasn’t received an offer and another 10% is looking for a better offer than the one they have. It’s pretty similar at other top business schools, and even worse at less prestigious schools. Many of those who have jobs are returning to the prior employer or summer employer, returning to the same career as before business school, or starting a company (which is not technically “employed” unless they already have funding, I guess). It’s harder for students like me who want to do something different than before b-school and/or in a new location. It’s especially difficult for international students due to the U.S. employment climate or due to the challenge of doing a long distance job search far from their home countries where they plan to return.

4) It was similar in 2002-2004, the period after the dot-com boom. The CMC director (did I tell you he rocks?) says that this recession is even worse because it has broadly penetrated many industries. That downturn was more concentrated on technology, venture capital, i-banking and some consulting. The hopeful news is that in the last recession, most of the graduates had jobs within 3-9 months after graduation and had moved on to really good jobs after a couple of years.

5) I am prepared for this and expect to move jobs a few times in this first phase (1-10 years) after b-school. As the market improves, there will be good opportunities and given my MBA education, I am well positioned to seize those opportunities when they appear. I certainly have a much bigger career vision than to work for just one employer and stay there for my entire career.

6) Yes, I know it sounds so uncertain and risky. But that’s life these days. One of the big reasons I came to b-school was to begin to build the knowledge, frameworks, tools, experiences and network to be prepared to face a dynamic world of opportunity. That’s one achievement of which I am certain. Don’t worry, I have learned how to think about managing risks and I will be applying these frameworks to my career choices. Although it’s a little nerve-wracking right now, I really am excited about my future.

I hope these answers address your most pressing questions. I am glad that we have all that out of the way. Now when you get here, we can focus on celebrating with our family and my friends. You are going to LOVE my friends!

This outstanding school has provided me an amazing experience where I have not only learned about business, but much about myself. Thank you so much for all your love and support.

Your loving son,
The Chanster

Class stats

Everyone’s wondering how our second year students are faring in this terrible job market. We don’t have exact data on every student, but we estimate the following:

40-50% have accepted a job

10-20% have an offer

5-10% plan to start a company

20-45% are seeking

My sense is that this year’s numbers are actually similar to last year. The main difference is that the majority of seekers this year are considerably more anxious about their job prospects (which is completely understandable given the state of the market). Although the economy began to crash last March with Bear Stearns’ demise, last year’s class was not affected as 94% had offers at graduation and 98% had offers by 3 months after graduation.

Given the state of the market, I’m not expecting us to hit those numbers this year. Back in 2003, about 80% had offers at graduation. It could be pretty comparable this year. For those who graduate without a job, we continue to support them throughout the summer and even beyond, as necessary.

By the way, it’s completely different for first year students. Each year, almost every first year gets a summer job (even back in the last recession). And many of those job offers close in May. So if you’re a first year, don’t fret.

Do the above class stats surprise you?

Thinking about b-school

From a discussion with Rita Winkler, an admissions officer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB).

Rita: Given the economic downturn, how does this affect the job prospects for applicants considering business school?
Andy: Applicants must make their decision about applying to business school separate from what’s going on in the economy. Why? The economy is unpredictable and the future is uncertain – always. No one knows what the market will be like in two to three years. It could be better or worse (We all hope it will be better!).

Rita: What does the CMC do to help students find jobs when the economy is weak?
Andy: The CMC has developed relationships with many organizations who enjoy hiring Stanford students. However, in times like these, even those organizations may not be hiring. One of our key goals is to teach and guide students to become strategic career managers so that they are equipped to manage their job search while at b-school and throughout their careers when they are alumni. We deliver numerous workshops, job search programming, and 1-on-1 advising to help students successfully find opportunities, especially at smaller organizations. Smaller firms are more likely to be hiring in a down economy. They are also more able to create a job – where one did not exist before – for a great candidate like one of our students. In addition, the CMC helps students tap into the supportive and responsive alumni network. In the last downturn, the CMC asked alumni to create projects and jobs and the alumni responded positively. This is possible at Stanford because so many of our alumni are top executives at their organizations and they really care about the school.

Rita: In what other ways do our alumni help students?
Andy: Alumni are especially valuable in educating students about a wide range of careers and organizations. In addition, they are mentors, business advisors, and networking contacts. Many are angel investors or institutional investors that fund student-developed businesses. Our alumni are even more responsive in regions far from California. If you contact alumni in any location outside the SF Bay Area, they will be very responsive because they love helping Stanford MBAs and hearing what’s happening back at the GSB – one of their favorite places on the planet.

Rita: How does the job search experience vary for first year students?
Andy: Every year, including the post-dot com recession years of 2002-2003, 100% of job-seeking first year students have obtained a summer job. Organizations find it valuable and easy (and less of a commitment) to hire an MBA student for a summer job or project. In addition, students are less selective about their summer job choice. Although it’s easier for first year students, they are always very anxious throughout the process because they’ve never been through it before and the outcomes are uncertain.

Rita: What percent of the graduating class had job offers back in 2002-2003?
Andy: 78-83% of the class graduated with a job offer, which was more than we would have expected given the state of the economy – especially in Silicon Valley. When the job market was hot (’06-’08), 87-92% of the class graduated with a job offer, so it wasn’t dramatically different in the numbers. But it felt very different. In ’02-’03, many students accepted jobs that were not their 1st choice dream job, but it was better than no job at all. On the positive side, many were able to transition to their 1st choice career path within two or three years after graduation. We expect that this year (’09) will be even more difficult than in ’02-’03 because the downturn has negatively impacted almost all sectors this time around.

Rita: Do you help students who do not have jobs after graduation?
Andy: Yes. We have a comprehensive set of resources offered by our Alumni Career Services (ACS) team. We offer executive coaching and workshops all over the world. The online alumni job board has thousands of jobs posted each year. And the ACS website and newsletter has numerous tools, resources and articles to address post-MBA job search and career management issues. Each year, we remain close to each student without a job and provide whatever support s/he needs.

Rita: What would you recommend to applicants who are considering applying to the MBA Program this year with regards to their future job search?

Andy: I would ask them to consider the following three things:
1) Clarify their personal purpose for getting their MBA. What are you hoping to achieve by getting your MBA? Understand if, and how, having an MBA will help you move towards the career you wish to pursue. There are some careers where an MBA is not required (and some where having an MBA is actually not desired).
2) Given the state of the economy, set realistic expectations for what you can achieve in the short term. What’s your expected timeframe for achieving your goals? Envision the ideal vs. realistic vs. worst cases. It’s better to “hope for the best and be prepared for the worst”. With the correct expectations, you won’t be disappointed. And if the market turns positive, then you’ll be very happy.
3) View the MBA as an asset with long term value. I know so many alumni in their 40’s and older who reflect on their careers and remark how valuable and meaningful their MBA has been in influencing the direction of their careers and lives. Your investment will payout in multiple dividends over your lifetime, so get ready for a long, enjoyable ride.

Any advice you’d give to folks considering b-school today?