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Opinion

University departments need to incorporate career planning into curriculum

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September 28, 2007

This is my fourth and final year as an undergraduate English major. Every time I introduce myself to someone and tell them my field of study, I am always faced with the same question: “so are you going to be a teacher?” I can’t tell you how sick I am of hearing those words, and how much I dread having to reveal to anyone what my major is.

But the question is one that many English majors themselves face. What sort of work can be done with this degree? Everyone assumes the only respectable career is teaching. Going into my program I had no idea what else I could do, and unfortunately, the curriculum offers no course to help students find a place in working society once we walk off campus with out diplomas. I was lucky enough to get the information I needed from my advisors.

The English department is not the only one on campus with this problem. Art majors, music majors, and even math majors get a wealth of information about how to perform in their fields, but they don’t get any practical information regarding what their options are beyond teaching the next generation.

Knowing how to play a piano or solving differential equations are wonderful skills that will apply to those career fields, but you don’t exactly see a classified ad that reads “full-time pianist wanted; competitive salary,” or “wanted:  someone to solve equations—40 hours per week with benefits.”

What is the point of getting a four-year degree if you don’t know what to do with it? I chose my major because I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing something I love. That means that I should be able to learn not only the nuts and bolts of my field, but also how those apply to the real, working world.

Universities offer programs because they have potential for a lifetime of work. Students need to know exactly what it is that they can accomplish with their education.

Some departments do offer a careers class, but they are not always required. While it is great that the option is there, too many students might not be aware that it’s available. Even those students who feel they know where they are going after graduation would benefit from having this sort of course on their transcript. College is supposed to prepare students for their permanent careers, and the more options graduates are made aware of, the better their chances of getting a fulfilling job.

The education department here has established a national reputation for preparing its students for their careers, but not everyone in a non-specialized or philosophical field wants to be a teacher—nor can they.

The journalism department has the right idea. Majors and minors both are required to take at least one practicum course in whichever sub-category they are specializing. But beyond giving journalism students the practical experience in the most likely field they will be entering, professors frequently expose the multiple and varied careers that apply to the field.

As a journalism minor, I was initially upset by the fact that I would be forced to take a practicum that trained me for a job I felt I wouldn’t be interested in as a career. I initially thought that it would simply be a waste of my time, and time is something that is precious to a graduating senior.

But even if I don’t do that exact work after graduation, I have come to realize that it at least exposes me the experience, and any experience and exposure in your field is appealing to employers.

No one will get the ideal job right out of school, but we all should be prepared for whatever job we get. And that, I believe, is the entire purpose of the University.

Katrina Styx is a student at UW-River Falls.