Stronger economy improves '04 job prospects

by Colin Barry | 6/13/04 5:00am

As the nation's economy rallies and business confidence continues to grow, this year's graduating class will leave Dartmouth with substantially rosier prospects for the future than College alumni of the past several years.

Dartmouth Career Services officials assessed the job market as "good and getting better" -- important to the probable majority of graduating seniors who plan to join the working world soon after commencement. Smaller numbers of '04s will immediately go on to graduate school or work as volunteers.

Last year's graduates walked the stage at a far more uncertain time and, in College-conducted exit polling, many were unsure even as to whether they wanted to work or continue their educations, Career Services Director Skip Sturman said.

"According to surveys, approximately three times as many graduating seniors in 2003 were undecided about their future plans than in 2002," Sturman said.

Sturman predicted that more of this year's graduates will leave with jobs, and those who don't will have an easier time entering the workforce.

Only 51 percent of last year's graduating seniors listed employment as their anticipated primary activity for the following fall.

"I'm guessing that we'll see more people going on to employment again, but I don't know how much higher the numbers will be," Sturman said. "I think there's certainly been an uptick in employment opportunities."

Monica Wilson, an assistant director at Career Services, noted that every year many Dartmouth students receive their diploma with no job lined up for the summer.

"It's important to remember that between 15 and 30 percent of students graduate without firm plans," Wilson said.

A substantial minority of graduates will elect to stay in school to pursue more advanced degrees, although probably not as many as last year.

A record-high proportion of last year's senior class decided to continue their education at graduate or professional schools -- about 25 percent of the class of 2003 went directly to graduate school upon completing their education at Dartmouth.

While Sturman said he doubted that as many of this year's graduating class would go straight on to further education, he spoke of a general widespread tendency toward additional degrees.

"I think there's been an overall trend recently towards going on to more postgraduate study," Sturman said.

Career Services officials noted that last year's graduates particularly flocked to law schools.

"Law school continues to be very attractive to Dartmouth students," Wilson said. "I know law school applications went up drastically a few years ago."

A significant proportion of Dartmouth graduates who join the workforce will not enter the private sector. Career counselors and students themselves described a swell in socially-minded employment opportunities.

"There's been a great deal of interest in not-for-profit opportunities and in socially-responsible businesses," Wilson said. "I think it's a growing awareness."

Wilson speculated that economic factors might have contributed to the decision of many Dartmouth graduates to pursue socially or politically-conscious employment.

"When the economy turned, people became more open to looking at different fields and I think that's carried over to this year's graduates," Wilson said. "At Career Services, we've also worked very hard to help promote a wide variety of opportunities."

Tsering Kheyap '04, who plans to teach social studies in a Bay Area secondary school after graduation, said she decided this past fall that she would prefer not to work in the private sector. Many of Kheyap's classmates came to similar conclusions and declined to participate in the high-stakes, competitive world of corporate recruiting.

In recent years, College graduates have indicated interest in a more diverse set of disciplines than ever before in the College's history.

Higher numbers of graduating seniors express serious interest in the arts, entertainment, and medical and scientific research than ever before.

Positions in perennially popular fields like consulting and finance usually remain highly sought-after, but Dartmouth graduates have branched out more and more.

"I think people may be looking at a wider array of fields than they did five years ago," Sturman said.