Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Bachelor’s degree provides foundation for future

Illustration: Kelly Douglas

We shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars and spend four years going to class, but does it really get us anything? Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter were all founded by college dropouts who have now become billionaires. Lately students (and financially shocked parents) have been questioning if an undergrad education is really worthwhile. At Whitman, the Student Engagement Center says it is.

“A bachelor’s degree isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all for success, but the reality is, in today’s economy, nearly all employers or significant positions will expect a bachelor’s degree that contains the kind of training and skills that the Whitman academic experience provides: critical thinking, effective writing, speaking, working in teams, being attentive to diverse ways of thinking and addressing and solving problems,” said Assistant Dean for Student Engagement Noah Leavitt. Of course, the education necessary to succeed still depends on what field a student is interested in and what position  she wishes to pursue. For some career paths, undergrad is simply a prerequisite for the also-expected graduate school.

“A biology student can graduate and get laboratory tech work, and if they’re satisfied and happy with that role, then they can stay, but their opportunity for advancement may be limited if they don’t get more education,” said the center’s Director of Career Development Susan Buchanan. “It’s all about the individual, and what goals they have for themselves.”

For the Whitman students who do decide to continue on to graduate school, a great majority spend at least a year or two off in between, trying to focus their interests and gain professional experience.

“I don’t hear students who say they want to go take a year off and sit on the beach or sit on the couch: they want to do something meaningful,” said Buchanan. “They want to make a difference in the world or make a difference in a community. They want to learn skills. They want to analyze and determine what they want to do with the rest of their lives, kind of test-drive some career options.” One of the most common after-grad activities for Whitties is teaching.

“Students that are attracted to Whitman love learning and love their experience here, and as they come up towards the end, they think, ‘I love this! I want to teach, I want to share this love with other people!'” said Buchanan.   Programs like Teach for America are gaining popularity because of that sentiment and because of the incredible experiences they offer. Thus, the years following undergrad are often one of the major components that employers and graduate schools use to judge applicants.

“Most professional schools, if they don’t require it, they highly, highly, highly encourage students to have one, two, three years after their undergraduate completion before they enroll in their programs,” said Leavitt. “They want that space of time in order for those college graduates to have the chance to work, to be involved in organizations, to be involved in businesses, to learn about communities, to develop skills, to be tested in leadership positions and management positions, to face challenges about work situations before they then go on, drawing on all of those experiences, and then return to the classroom.”

While almost all undergrads stress endlessly about their major, that doesn’t have to be a deciding factor for their career path. The overall skills learned from a liberal arts education combined with the experience and accomplishments both during and after undergrad are more important to future employers typically then the specific major a student selected. While some Whitties follow predictable tracks (classics major becomes a Latin and Greek teacher), there are no prescribed careers for any particular major.

“Whitman attracts students who have interests in many, many things, and they have the opportunity here to explore many, many things. I think that a lot of students are reluctant to pick a major, a career, an internship because they’re afraid that they’re turning their back on some of their other interests,” said Buchanan. “I think that everything is connected, and it may not be, at first blush, obvious that the environment and medicine and social work and all of these things fit together, but they do in fact fit together beautifully.”

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