What Can You Do with a B.A. in English?

“Miss Education” is a public-school teacher in the New York area. Until she finds herself a shiny new career and can leave the blackboard jungle behind, she’ll be posting anonymously.

English Major

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

Ever since I became a teacher, people have spouted this delightful little cliché in my direction, helpfully reminding me how this country views its teachers and its education system: as overpaid babysitters who had no real knowledge or marketable skills, and who only pursued a career in education because they couldn’t get a real job and because teaching seemed easy. (Those people have a point—it must be easy, since a mere half of all teachers quit after the first five years).

I always knew that the saying was a whole lot of hogwash, and I paid it no mind. I would leave the profession at the end of the school year and spend the summer vacation looking for other work. Surely I had marketable skills other than teaching…right? Then I began the job search and started to wonder if perhaps it was true, after all.    Read More →

The Higher-Ed Bubble Breaks

Higher education has been taking it on the chin lately. Maybe with good reason. People are finally asking whether or not students are getting truly prepared for the work world with that high-priced admission ticket called college. Over the last few weeks, there have been several pieces poking at the issue, including USA Today’s Are Ivy Diplomas Still Worth the Price of Admission? and the New York Times’ For Law School Graduates, Debts if Not Job Offers.

Ae we training our students in a way that will pay off for them and America as a whole in the future? You don’t need these articles to guess … but read them anyhow. All of this chatter is good. As someone who sits across the desk from a lot of recent college grads earnestly looking for jobs and then failing to land them (often due to “user error”), I’m more than a little bit obsessed with this topic. It’s clear that many students–regardless of where they went to school–are missing “invaluable higher order thinking and reasoning skills,” as Bob Herbert pointed out in a NYT op-ed.

True, many students have taken the initiative by following the advice of Job Interviews for Dummies and other sources in advance (it’s actually a good book, by the way). But I’ve been struck by how many interviews unravel when taken slightly off course. It’s not entirely the college students’ fault, either. These kids aren’t only stressed-out about failing job prospects (college unemployment is at an all-time high)–they are also feeling completely duped by the higher-ed “system.” A cushy college experience is not translating to a cushy job. And they know it.

Right now, the best universities are starting to integrate career management curriculum into classes so that their students get the skills while in college to go out and find multiple jobs over decades. Others are starting to add in alumni career services. Initiatives like this are good, but they are not nearly enough, both in quality and quantity.

Job-hunting programs should start at freshman orientation and be brought through all four years of college. Networking skills shouldn’t be hived off to the Greek system, because that skill is and will continue to be the number-one way to land a job. Unfortunately, it will take the giant sucking sound of cash endowments shriveling up before most colleges make real change happen. In the not-too-distant future. I imagine many college-educated alumni across the country will wake up and realize that they got ahead in their careers not because of their degree but because of their own hard work and ingenuity. And the checkbooks will close.

Many of you out there interview recent college grads and hire interns. How do you feel about this subject? What can colleges do to prepare students better for the workforce and for longer careers–where delayed retirement and job-change velocity is sure to affect them?

[Photo by Dave Herholz/flickr]

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