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April 16, 2008

Today's Graduates Look to Fill the 'Gap'

After being in school nearly their whole lives, participating in clubs and sports teams and volunteering for good causes in their spare time, seniors are now facing the unknown of what to do after graduation.

Increasingly, say officials, today’s college graduates are staving off a long-term plan and filling the immediate void with a short-term option.

“For most college students, the next step has always been evident. The end of college marks the first time in which the next step is absolutely unclear,” says Stacie Hagenbaugh, director of the Smith College Career Development Office (CDO). “ ‘Gap opportunities’—ones like Teach for America and AmeriCorps—hold great interest for students who are overwhelmed by that.”

Statistics reflect that. Teach for America, for example, reported increases in applications each of the past few years. Nationwide, the number of applicants grew from 18,500 graduates in 2007 to 24,714 in 2008, according to Kerri Keafer, a Teach for America recruiter.

At Smith, the number of applicants to the national corps of graduates who teach in low-income communities jumped from 34 to 47. Smith's acceptance rate to the highly selective program is consistently more than twice the national average.

Hagenbaugh attributes some of the increase in popularity of “gap opportunities” to their ability to buy time for students to decide their next step. Making a commitment to a few years of service gives graduates a window of time to thoughtfully consider what to do next while serving in a role they consider worthwhile.

“It is a great thing for college graduates who don’t want to look past two years,” agrees Emily Taylor ’08, who will soon receive her bachelor’s degree in government, with a minor in environmental science.

Taylor, the current Student Government Association (SGA) president, follows Megan Ambrus ’07, the previous SGA president, by enlisting in Teach for America. Ambrus is finishing her first year in a Connecticut school system; Taylor has been assigned to teach in San Francisco, Calif.

Taylor was attracted to the program because she wants to “pay back” the good fortune from which she benefited, she said. It will also allow her to forgo graduate school applications for a few years while not hindering any future possibilities. “It opens a lot of doors and doesn’t close off any,” she says.

Current applicants seem less and less worried that they will be sidetracked from their career goals if they volunteer—one of the main concerns vocalized in the past, notes Teach for America’s campus representative Emily Schoch ’08.

“Over the past few years people have been more open to the idea of Teach for America,” says Schoch, as an alternative to “jumping into a low-level position.”

Teach for America’s partnerships with businesses and graduate schools benefit graduates who are considering any future paths, she adds. The organization touts its agreements with potential employers such as Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, General Electric and Google, and with graduate schools such as Harvard, Stanford and Yale universities.

Taylor seems in no rush to jump to any decision about her future beyond graduation. Eventually, she may enroll in graduate school to further her study of science and pursue environmental public policy, she says.

But, “there is no rush,” she adds. “I’m 22 and I have years ahead of me—plenty of time.”


4/16/08   By Kristen Cole
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