Questioning career choices

As graduation looms closer for USF undergraduates each year, some students may feel secure with the careers they have chosen to pursue. Others, however, may be wondering whether the major they declared in their freshman or sophomore year still feels like the right choice.

“Students express a number of concerns regarding their future careers,” said Career Center Director Drema Howard. “But perhaps the two that most often come up is whether the career they choose today will be a valid career choice for the future and whether their current work experience, as a student, will be enough to get their foot in the door of their chosen career field.”

Student loans present added pressure for graduates as both interest rates and the cost of education increase. Howard said she has noticed an increase in the “number and dollar amount of loans that students must have to pay for their college expenses.”

“In most cases, students will have to begin repaying these loans after graduation, so I think there is increased stress and pressure on students, due to the financial burdens they’ve taken on,” she said. “But with the cost of higher education today, many would not be able to obtain their goal for a college degree without loans.”

With an increasing financial burden, many students might abandon their aspirations to pursue fields in which jobs are more economically stable.

“I have seen students that do not tap into their passions because they feel obligated to have or realize economic success,” said Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Tracy Tyree.

Each student faces different financial responsibilities.

“A student might feel that money is the key to getting everything they want,” Tyree said. “Or they may need to support their family.”

Tyree said a career can be more than “just putting food on the table,” and that a university’s purpose is to “provide a unique experience for the student, so that they can be better citizens, good decision-makers and critical thinkers.”

She said the university is also responsible for “opening a world of possibility” to students by showing them the options for doing something bigger.

One example Tyree gives is USF’s Center for Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, where students can find opportunities distinctive of the college experience.

Alternative spring breaks, for instance, provide students with positive first-hand experiences that they may not otherwise get in their lives, she said. This includes cleaning up the shore of Florida’s Biscayne National Park and tutoring the children of migrant workers in Florida’s Centro Campesino.

These alternative breaks, Tyree said, may compel students to pursue jobs that have more meaning for them, though lesser pay, than jobs in corporate America.

Public service is not as narrow a field as some might think, Howard said. It has a wide range of job options with a focused goal.

“I view these as careers in local, state and federal government, military, public interest organizations, non-profit organizations, health care and education,” she said. “Public service careers typically focus on serving others, helping solve problems that negatively impact society and its citizens.”

A few examples of public service agencies include Teach for America, AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has spoken to students about career choices. In a commencement speech last month at Wesleyan University, he said graduates should pursue public service “because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition.”

The number of students exploring careers that provide the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others appears to be increasing.

“There seems to be resurgence among new graduates who seek employment that puts them in jobs where they have a desire to make a difference, to change the world for the better. And this is the case regardless of the major,” Howard said. “I don’t think the desire to make a difference or change the world has diminished at all. In fact, I believe there has been a resurgence of interest in serving others and seeking ways to make this a better place to live not just for our country, but for others throughout the world.”

Tyree said universities are responsible for helping students make educated and informed decisions and to be productive members of their community no matter which path they choose to take.

After a college or university has fulfilled its responsibility to educate its students and apprise them of all their options, However, Howard said, in the end, “the choice must come from the student.”